Yankees Are Left Penned Up by O's
Saturday, April 7, 2007
NEW YORK, April 6 -- More than one general manager polled this offseason chuckled at the Baltimore Orioles for spending more than $40 million to remake their bullpen. Who but the Orioles, they said, would spend so much money when most teams look for cheap hidden talents to fill those spots?
But the Orioles had seen too many games squandered last season because of a bad bullpen, which had the second-worst ERA in the majors. Closer Chris Ray established himself as an elite closer, but what did it matter if Baltimore could not get a lead to him or if he had to exhaust himself by pitching more than one inning?
So the Orioles spent the money for situations just as the one that appeared in the sixth inning of their 6-4 win over the New York Yankees on Friday. Starter Adam Loewen exited the game after five innings with a four-run lead, meaning the game would be decided by the Baltimore bullpen. John Parrish, Chad Bradford, Jamie Walker and Danys Baez sent the game to Chris Ray, who recorded his first save of the season. The bullpen allowed just two runs in four innings, not a bad achievement against the Yankees.
"That's why they signed us," Walker said. "They gave us pretty . . . good money and all of us a three-year deal, so we all look out for each other. And we root for our teammates. Tonight it worked out."
Said outfielder Jay Gibbons, "That's what we paid for."
The Yankees thrive on these types of situation. Their lineup is built with the sole purpose of exhausting the opposing team's starters and then pounding the relievers who replace them. In theory, relievers are considered lesser talents than starters because most are failed starting pitchers. The select few who thrive in such roles demand high salaries, such as the Orioles paid to Bradford, Walker and Baez.
Bradford and Walker combined to strike out Alex Rodriguez and Jason Giambi in the seventh to quell a rally. Baez, a closer for most of his career, pitched a perfect eighth inning. Ray, who last season was called upon to pitch more than one inning 15 times, marveled at how he didn't have to warm up in the eighth inning. He calmly watched his bullpen mates in the seventh and eighth innings and did not get up in the bullpen until the top of the ninth.
"If you don't have a great group of guys behind you, you're not going to save too many games," Baez said. "You guys saw last year how many times Chris Ray worked in the eighth and ninth inning. Then he's not going to be fresh for the next day. You need your closer fresh for the next day. That's the key."
Loewen's ability to thwart the Yankees has been well documented (2.63 ERA in 24 innings last year), yet he relied more on guile than deception on Friday, and perhaps no pitcher on the Orioles staff is more equipped to do so. Loewen, a self-coined baseball junkie, admitted he watched hundreds of Yankees vs. Toronto Blue Jays games while growing up in Canada, and from that his inquisitive mind began to devise strategies on how to pitch to the Yankees. Loewen said he was familiar with the Yankees by the time he reached the majors.
Early on in the game, it was clear Loewen would not be dominant. But perhaps his ability to work out of trouble against a stacked Yankees lineup is yet another indication the Orioles may have a special talent. Loewen escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third by forcing a pop out from Giambi and a groundout by Hideki Matsui. In the fourth, Loewen had two runners on base but forced groundouts from Melky Cabrera and Derek Jeter. It was a considerable show of composure for a 22-year-old. Had his pitch count not risen to 89 pitches because of his early struggles, perhaps he would have lasted longer than five innings. In those five innings, Loewen allowed two runs and five hits.
"Two years ago, I had a lot of practice with runners on base because of my lack of control," Loewen joked.
"It really doesn't bother me when some guys get on."
Apparently, it doesn't bother Baltimore's new relievers either.