Ex-O's reliever waits for call

Commentary

July 06, 2008|By DAN CONNOLLY

Observations, opinions and musings from last week in major league baseball. Former Orioles outfielder Jay Gibbons, now attempting a comeback with the Long Island Ducks of the independent Atlantic League, has become the poster boy for Mitchell Report players looking to get back into big league ball.

He's not the only one, though. In fact, he's not even the only ex-Oriole-turned-Duck looking to shake the Mitchell Report stigma.

Former Orioles reliever Todd Williams is also toiling with Long Island, hoping he gets another chance to pitch in affiliated ball.

"I have yet to be given the excuse of the Mitchell Report," said Williams, 37, who had a 2.66 ERA in his first 19 games with the Ducks. "It's hard to swallow. If I knew there was a reason I couldn't play, I'd go home. I'd have no problem. Somebody just tell me that."

The report stated that Williams once bought the steroid Winstrol from former New York Mets clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski. Williams said it was laughable to allege that he ever used steroids, but he never took a public stand about his inclusion.

"I've never said why I was in the report because it is a lose-lose situation," he said. "People hear it, they are going to think you are lying or they don't want to hear excuses. So for me, it's like why [address it]?"

Williams, who pitched for the Orioles from 2004 to 2007, had a rough, injury-marred season last year and was released by the Orioles in June. He didn't catch on with anyone but assumed, once healthy, that he would get a spring invitation to some training camp.

He had been in affiliated ball since 1991. He aimed to go to a camp, as he always did, and try to win a spot, at least at Triple-A. But he never received a call.

"Suddenly it was December, January, February, and I was like, `What's going on?' "

What's going on is a double standard based on productivity. If a guy is a productive major leaguer coming off a strong season, the Mitchell Report is forgiven and forgotten. Stars such as Andy Pettitte, Brian Roberts and Jose Guillen haven't lost a beat post-Mitchell Report.

But many of the guys who were on the fringes, the ones who aren't guaranteed to help a big league team and had the Mitchell Report stigma, faded away. And they'll have trouble earning a second chance.

Maybe that's not fair, but, in many cases, it's reality.

Save-Rod

It might not be one of baseball's most cherished records, but it is a record nonetheless, and it could be shattered this year.

Los Angeles Angels closer Francisco Rodriguez notched his 34th save Wednesday to tie the Atlanta Braves' John Smoltz (2003) for most saves before the All-Star break. And Rodriguez had a week to pad it. Thanks to a great rotation that always keeps the Angels in the game and a mediocre offense that never completely pulls away, Rodriguez is seemingly in a save situation every time he pitches. His 34 saves entering the weekend came in 40 appearances.

He is on pace for roughly 63 saves, well ahead of Bobby Thigpen's 57 for the Chicago White Sox in 1990. Rodriguez, 26, has not had more than 47 saves in a season.

Wild-card parity

Just because a team is in the wild-card hunt at the All-Star break doesn't guarantee a playoff run in September. The 2005 Orioles, who were 1 1/2 games out of the wild card at the break and finished 21 games back in that race at season's end, can testify to that.

But look deeper into the numbers, and even the teams that are leading the wild-card race at the All-Star break are far from locks to make the postseason.

Since 1995, 15 of the 26 teams that have claimed wild-card berths were trailing in that race at baseball's unofficial midway point.

Conclusion: Playoff tickets aren't yet available in any city. There's lots of baseball left.

Prepare Lee's Hall bust

The All-Star teams will be announced today, but the starting pitcher assignments won't be made for probably another week. Given the way he has pitched for a struggling club, Cleveland Indians left-hander Cliff Lee (11-1, 2.26 ERA) is the likely American League starter. If he is, then get his Hall of Fame plaque ready. Based on history, anyway.

The All-Star Game has been played at Yankee Stadium three times in the venerable park's history. And each time, the AL starter was a future Hall of Famer: Red Ruffing (1939), Whitey Ford (1960) and the Orioles' Jim Palmer (1977).

dan.connolly@baltsun.com

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