Julio puts another save in bank

O's closer a little shaky vs. Twins before steadying himself to notch No. 23

August 09, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

The bullpen gate swung open yesterday, and Jorge Julio began his run toward the mound at Camden Yards. Only later would he slam the door.

It took the usual three outs, which didn't come without a little tension.

Usually automatic since his meltdowns in May had fans clamoring for a new late-inning specialist, Julio let the tying run come to the plate in the ninth before retiring Minnesota's All-Star center fielder, Torii Hunter, on a grounder to second. A 97-mph fastball shattered Hunter's bat, secured the Orioles' 4-1 win and completed their three-game sweep of the Twins.

Julio got ahead of Minnesota's Jacque Jones with a 95-mph fastball, then struck him out with a slider that produced an ugly swing. Cristian Guzman pulled a double to left field, but Corey Koskie flied to left on a 98-mph fastball. Cleanup hitter David Ortiz walked, and catcher Brook Fordyce headed toward the mound while motioning for third baseman Tony Batista, who served as his interpreter. They were joined by pitching coach Mark Wiley.

Fordyce instructed Batista to pass along a simple message: Relax and throw it right to his mitt. Don't let the hitters get back in the count.

"I said, `You don't have to throw 200 miles an hour.' I don't know if he thought he didn't have his best stuff," Fordyce said.

Earlier this season, a lead might have disappeared as quickly as one of Julio's fastballs. But he turned Hunter's bat into kindling, and save No. 23 was official.

"He was trying to throw everything 130 miles an hour instead of 97," said manager Mike Hargrove. "He was jumping out of his delivery, and it was causing him to miss everything."

Said Julio, who walked the leadoff hitter on Wednesday before preserving a 6-4 victory: "I feel like I couldn't throw strikes yesterday or today. It's something that happens when you're real excited. It's more important for me to go 1-2-3 all the time. When that doesn't happen, you don't feel good."

It would have been easy for Hargrove to give up on Julio three months ago after walk-off homers by Tampa Bay's Randy Winn and Cleveland's Matt Lawton in successive appearances. Instead, he decided to give the young closer more time.

Julio's save total leads all major-league rookies, and he has allowed only one earned run in his past 27 outings covering 28 1/3 innings.

"I was concerned," Hargrove said. "He needed to have success after giving up the ghost [the walk-off homers against Tampa Bay and Cleveland] in two straight ballgames. He came back out and had some success and really has thrown pretty consistently ever since then. One of the main ingredients of being a good closer and a consistent closer is having a good, solid makeup. And he's exhibited that."

Fordyce said: "I think he realized that as long as he throws strikes, he's going to be effective. A couple guys are going to hit him eventually. They're going to cheat and get a first-pitch fastball. But he's got to realize that's one in a handful."

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