BALTIMORE -- On Friday night at Memorial Stadium an amazing, stupifying and altogether almost unbelievable event transpired. The capacity crowd could only gasp in incredulity, too stunned to respond.

Gregg Olson gave up a run.

And he blew a save.

Olson had not allowed a run here since July! And he'd permitted only one run -- o-n-e r-u-n -- in his previous 42 appearances, encompassing 61 innings since July 31.

Of course, he knew he couldn't flirt with perfection forever.

"I knew that it couldn't keep up, but I kept telling myself that it might," said Olson, grim and angry at himself, even though his Baltimore Orioles won the game the next inning. "I know better than to think I'm going to go out every night and be perfect. But you feel so good, so comfortable and confident. . . .

"I'm punishing myself right now. I expect to do my job -- no matter what."

Gregg Olson knows he isn't perfect. He just expects himself to be. And, for almost a year, he has come close. That's a tough tightrope to walk at 23.

In all of baseball history, no relief pitcher has ever announced himself like Olson, and few have ever had a streak of purity like the one he's been on since July 31.

In that span, Olson saved 25 games, won four, obviously lost none and only blew one save -- on a wild pitch. At the moment, his season ERA is 0.51 in 22 games and his career ERA in 96 games over three seasons is 1.23. That's so far beneath the major league record -- 1.82 by Big Ed Walsh in the dead ball era -- that it's hard to fathom.

All of Olson's statistics seem impossible. One home run allowed -- in his career. In his last 62 innings, 29 hits; the league hits about .150 against him. Lefties are even more helpless against him than righties because his fastball tails away from them and his curve, probably the best in the game now and one of the sharpest ever, dives down and in so rapidly it's almost unhittable.

Olson started '89 by converting his first 15 save chances on his way to being rookie of the year and the Orioles' MVP. This year he started with 14 in a row.

In his brief career, Olson has been the most effective pitcher in big league history. By far.

Sure, it's "only" 96 appearances. Only 131 innings. Just 50 wins-plus-saves. Less than two full seasons really. One good shellacking could change the numbers some. One bad month could alter Olson's mystique.

But what fun is that kind of talk?

We're in a Mark Fidrych or Fernando Valenzuela mode here. Kid Phenom: Is He The Best Reliever Ever? But nobody seems to realize it. Fortunately for Olson.

After his blown save on Friday, only one writer approached Olson for a post-mortem. Baltimore is a nice hiding place. You get to sin, or succeed, in private while you grow up.

Just as Olson's scoreless streak approached mega-story proportions a month ago (41 innings), he was shelled for an infield hit (originally scored an error), two wild pitches and a sacrifice fly. Now, as the preposterous idea of allowing One Run in a Year began to appear on the horizon, Olson has escaped again, just in time.

On Friday, Olson gave up what may come to be known as a Typical Olson Run. Everything conceivable went wrong and he still almost survived. For openers, Olson was pitching for the sixth time in seven days -- the heaviest workload he's ever had. Next, he gave up a soft opposite-field hit and a stolen base. Then, on a borderline pitch that could have ended the game, the umpire said "Ball."

Finally, one strike away from icing another night's work, Olson threw a nearly ideal pitch -- a curve two inches below the knees to the Yankees' Jim Leyritz, an unknown in his first major league at-bat. Olson watched, as numb as the crowd, as Leyritz's seeing-eye ground ball slid in to left field to tie the game.

As Olson walked off the mound, a goat, he got an ovation.The 'Otter' No More

At one level, Olson's success is easy to understand. He has all the component parts to be a hybrid superpitcher.

He's big: 6 feet 4, 210 pounds. Nebraska recruited him as an offensive lineman and projected him to weigh 270 pounds. Instead, Olson, who weighed 225 last year, has gone the fitness route and feels better at 210. He looks like a monster, has football presence on the mound, glares down hitters, loves to humiliate them and has learned to focus all his arrogance in his work, not his mild-mannered off-field personality.

His father was a high school baseball coach and an excellent one -- three Nebraska state titles. Olson grew up in Omaha, home of the College World Series, so a generation of future major league stars came to his very doorstep for him to study. His values are conservative and his boyhood friends called a home video and a bag of popcorn a big night. When he got married last December, his mother said, "I guess this means you'll finally be moving out of your room?" His nickname is Otter because his body used to look like one. Olson, already balding, is comfortable as the butt of humor and has an enormous sense of responsibility-to-the-group.

Not only does Olson have one great pitch and one excellent pitch, but he has the baseball wisdom to realize that he shouldn't be messing with change-ups, forkballs and such junk. "I couldn't look these guys in the eye if I lost with my third-best pitch." Though his curve, which seems to break more than a foot, and not his low-90s fastball is legendary, he said, "The fastball's the best pitch in the game." From the mouths of babes! Fastballs get quick outs; curves get strikeouts. So, Olson uses whichever applies.

Finally, Olson arrived with one flaw -- wildness. He cured the problem with one tip from coach Al Jackson -- put your foot on the rubber, not beside it. In a minute, Olson went from the wild end of the pitching spectrum to the control end.

For a year, all these factors have been cross-pollinating, making Olson feel invincible and making foes give up before they start.

"I can't think of a guy who's perfect, not even Sandy Koufax," said Orioles coach Johnny Oates. "But {Olson's} as good as there is. There's not a single hitter in baseball, left, right or, as they say, amphibious who can. . . ."

Oates won't finish the sentence. You just don't say things like, "Nobody alive can hit Olson." It would be a curse.

"Sooner or later, he's going to give up a 310-foot fly ball home run to the opposite field," said Oates, continuing the human-imperfection theme. "But if he stays healthy, they're going to have to invent somebody. . . ."

Again, Oates won't finish. Only Robobatter could hit Olson? Well, the Oakland A's, baseball's equivalent of Roboteam, certainly can't. Olson eats up Mark McGwire and Jose Canseco like they're Little-Leaguers. Neither has proved he can handle either of Olson's pitches.

"The only {AL} pitchers with two really way-above-average pitches are probably Nolan Ryan {fastball, curve}, Bret Saberhagen {fastball, slider} and Olson," said Oates. "Roger Clemens has the fastball, but nothing else above average. Dennis Eckersley has control. Dave Stewart's a winner. But for two pitches, I'd say it's Ryan and Olson."

Even when you have understood Olson's build and background, his makeup and his stuff, something is still missing from the equation. What makes him even better than a 92-mph fastball, a great curve and above-average control? That doesn't add up to a 0.29 ERA in his last 43 appearances.

Perhaps the answer lies in Olson's analytical ability and his astronomical expectations. He has a kind of systematic, logical intelligence that is especially well-suited to baseball. Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer said, "He only has two pitches, but it seems like I'm always wrong when I guess what he'll throw."

Listen to Olson discuss Leyritz's hit. It's a voice you won't hear often. A pitcher who really believes that, if he observes properly, applies the lessons that he's learned and then executes, he'll never allow a run.

"You get a feeling for a hitter," he said. "You watch what they swing at, or even what it looks like they're thinking about swinging at, and then you know what they're thinking. It's hard to hide how you react to a pitch.

"The guys who hit you well do it because you don't know what they're thinking -- for me, that's Don Mattingly, Joe Carter, Brian Downing.

"But I knew exactly what {Leyritz} was looking for. He'd showed me. I'd told myself he was 'zoned' on the low ball. That's why he had two good swings at low curves and that's why he took that high fastball {that missed by an inch} without even flinching. If I'd thrown a fastball right down the middle, he wouldn't have hit it."

So, why did he throw the low curve? Partly because he'd turned Deion Sanders inside out with three of them. Partly because Steve Sax had poked a fastball into right field for that hit. So, Olson figured his curve was excellent, his fastball perhaps only fair. "I was surprised I had anything left," said Olson of pitching for the sixth time in seven days.

Despite all these extenuating circumstances, Olson still ended up feeling he'd "made a mistake" in pitch selection and location. He'd assumed, unconsciously, that he was unhittable and that he could pitch in the zone where he knew the hitter was looking and had already had two sharp foul balls.

"This whole spring I've been putting too high expectations on myself," he said. "I should know better than this. My confidence has grown so much that I haven't left myself any room for error. Confidence is good, but too much is not. These are still the best hitters in the world. I have to respect them too."

Even if the curve was the wrong pitch in theory, it still could have been executed well enough to suffice. "You could say it was down at the knees," said Olson, cutting himself no slack, "but anything that doesn't bounce is hittable. The count was only 2-2. First base was open. I didn't have to throw a strike. I should have bounced it further in front of the plate."

All Olson wanted was to get the ball back in his hand as soon as possible. He's the type who feeds off success, but also feeds off failure because it makes him burn for revenge. "I always like to come back the next day and get it out of my mind."

For most pitchers, the week Olson has just completed would have been a wonderful one. Six appearances in seven days with five saves. His team won all six games. But, after midnight, Olson was not happy. "Because I've worked so much lately, I probably won't have the luxury of going tomorrow and getting back at them."

There's a lapel button these days that shows a grimly forbiding Batman, self-appointed corrector of all the world's wrongs. "It's my job," he says.

Somebody should get one for Gregg Olson. These days, and for the time being, he's a real life superhero.


Apr. 9....K.C......1....0....0....0....0....0....S

Apr. 14...Detroit..2....1....0....0....1....0....S

Apr. 18...Toronto..1 2/3...1....0....0....0....0....S

Apr. 19...Detroit..1....1....0....0....0....1....S

Apr. 22...Detroit..2 2/3...0....0....0....2....2....W

Apr. 27...Seattle..1 2/3...1....0....0....0....0.... --

Apr. 30...Calif....2 2/3...1....0....0....0....4.... --

May 4.....Seattle..2....2....0....0....1....2....S

May 7.....Calif....2....1....1....1....1....4....S

May 12....Oakland..1....0....0....0....0....1....S

May 13....Oakland..1 2/3...0....0....0....1....1....S

May 19....Texas....1....0....0....0....0....2.... --

May 20....Texas....2....1....0....0....0....3....S

May 24....Chicago..1....0....0....0....0....0.... --

May 26....Texas....3....1....0....0....3....5....W

May 29....Minn.....1....1....0....0....0....1.... --

June 2....N.Y......2....2....0....0....0....2....S

June 3....N.Y......1 2/3...1....0....0....0....1....S

June 4....Milw.....1....0....0....0....1....1....S

June 6....Milw.....1....0....0....0....0....2....S

June 7....Milw.....1....1....0....0....0....0....S

June 9....N.Y......1....2....1....1....0....1.... --