There's more to Riley story

ORIOLES FOCUS

Baseball

A Look Inside

July 11, 2004|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

It seemed inexplicable at the time, which is why everybody had such a good time trying to explain it.

The Orioles sent starting pitcher Matt Riley to Triple-A Ottawa and sent left-handed reliever John Parrish to the mound to start Wednesday night's game against the Tampa Bay Devil Rays. The results were predictable.

Parrish struggled in the unfamiliar role and the Orioles' bullpen was stretched to the limit again in an ugly loss, sparking a new round of questions about the way the franchise has handled - or mishandled - its young pitchers this year.

Now, as legendary broadcaster Paul Harvey would say, it's time for the rest of the story.

Riley was coming off a horrible outing in Philadelphia, but he had pitched very well in his previous start, so there is little debate that he would have been the better choice to start the series finale against the Devil Rays. The real reason he didn't should not surprise anyone who has been following his star-crossed career.

The Orioles cast the demotion as performance-related, but several sources inside the organization confirmed that the move was made to send a message to the young left-hander, who apparently has not matured as much as he wanted everyone to believe when he reported to spring training this year.

Riley was sent ahead to Philadelphia (from Kansas City) last Thursday so he could be rested for his Friday night assignment. He was coming off a strong, six-inning performance against the Atlanta Braves in which he gave up just one run and struck out seven, and club officials were quietly hoping that he had turned the corner after an uneven and injury-marred first half of the season.

Instead, club sources say, he wasn't exactly fresh-faced and ready to pitch when he arrived at Citizens Bank Ballpark late Friday afternoon. When he was supposed to be laying low in Philadelphia, he was traveling back and forth to Baltimore, and apparently showed up in the clubhouse late after getting caught in northbound holiday weekend traffic.

The Orioles staked him to a five-run lead in the first inning, but he gave up three runs in the bottom of the first and was removed from the game with two runners on base and no one out in the second.

Fifteen innings of outstanding relief later, the Orioles won the longest game in club history, but not before burning up the bullpen and forcing young right-hander Daniel Cabrera to close the game just two days after a seven-inning start.

Riley's maturity and good judgment have been an issue since he was first invited to major league spring training camp in 2000. He put off veteran teammates with his brash demeanor and was arrested after an altercation with police outside a nightclub in Fort Lauderdale. The charges eventually were dropped, but Riley was sent back to minor league camp.

He was optioned immediately after Friday night's game, but manager Lee Mazzilli would say only that the 24-year-old pitcher needed to go to the minor leagues and work on being more consistent.

What he probably wanted to say was that Riley needed to go somewhere and work on being more professional, but he declined to elaborate on the situation Friday.

So, why didn't club officials just come right out and say that Riley was being punished for his indiscretion? Because they can't.

Baseball's Basic Agreement prohibits club executives from making punitive roster moves, so a public announcement could have led to a grievance by the Major League Baseball Players Association.

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