Relievers pick up beat to drum up a big finish


OAKLAND, Calif. -- The Baltimore Orioles would not be the talk of the town today if not for a major relief effort, one that will go down in baseball history.

Starter Bob Milacki got most of the plaudits after four pitchers combined to no-hit the Oakland Athletics yesterday, but it wouldn't have happened if any one of three Orioles relievers had made just one mistake pitch.

Left-hander Mike Flanagan came close, allowing Mark McGwire a long line drive that was run down by Mike Devereaux in deep right-center. Stopper Gregg Olson came closer, giving up a grounder into the hole at short that Cal Ripken needed every ounce of arm strength to turn into the first out of the ninth inning.

Olson went on to strike out Jose Canseco and Harold Baines to complete the first Orioles no-hitter pitched outside Memorial Stadium.

"At some point, this will become very important to me," Olson said. "It's about being part of history. I'm not going to get a chance to throw a nine-inning no-hitter, so I know this could be the only time I do anything like this."

Mark Williamson was the only reliever to get off easy, pitching a perfect eighth that featured a pop fly and two routine ground balls. But this was one time when you couldn't eliminate the middleman.

Opinions vary on whether it is easier for four pitchers to throw a no-hitter than one. But no one could deny that each of the three relievers were faced with a difficult assignment.

"Everybody knows what's going on," said Williamson. "You're out there saying, 'I don't want to be the one who gives up the first hit.' "

Williamson, in particular, had to feel the pressure. In his previous two appearances at the Oakland Coliseum, he had been strafed by the explosive A's lineup. He had faced four batters and given up the cycle (a single, a double, a triple and a home run) in a May 8 appearance here, and had given up four hits in one inning on Thursday night.

"You want to preserve it," he said, "but the way I've been throwing against these guys, I'm trying to keep to keep us in the ballgame."

Williamson had given up at least one hit in each of his previous 14 appearances. He had been scored upon in five of his past nine games. But he said the pressure had to be twice as heavy on Olson.

"I was debating on whether I really wanted to go in there or not," Olson said. "I enjoy a good no-hitter, but I didn't know if I wanted to be the one to give it up."

Oakland stopper Dennis Eckersley, who pitched the final inning for the A's, didn't envy the assignment.

"Olson's role in that game is real tough," Eckersley said. "It's tough enough to worry about a save. Now he's got to go out and worry about giving up a hit. That's as hard as they come."

The Orioles stopper didn't allow himself any theatrics after he recorded the final out, choosing instead to walk off the mound the same way he had walked off the mound after each of his 18 other saves.

"It was just kind of weird," Olson said. "In my three years in the major leagues, I haven't even seen a no-hitter. I just pitched the last inning, and a guy who pitches one inning shouldn't be the one celebrating."

Combined no-hitters

* May 26, 1956: Kohn Klippstein (7 inn.) Hershell Freman (1 inn.) and Joe Black (1 2/3 no-hit inn.), Cincinnati 1, Milwaukee 2 (Jack Dittmer doubled for first hit with two out in 10th, and Black lost on 3 hits in 11th).

* April 30, 1967: Steve Barber (8 2/3 inn.) and Stu Miller (1/3 inn.), Baltimore 1, Detroit 2.

*Sept. 28, 1975: Vida Blue (5 inn.), Glenn Abbott (1 inn.), Paul Lindblad (1 inn.) and Rollie Fingers (2 inn.), Oakland 5, California 0.

*July 28, 1976: Blue Moon Odom (5 inn.) and Frnacisco Barrios (4 inn.), Chicago 2, Oakland 1.

*Aplril 11, 1990: Mark Langston (7 inn.) and Mike Witt (2 inn.), California 1, Seattle 0.

*July 13, 1991: Bob Milacki (6 inn.), Mike Flanagan (1 inn.), Mark Williamson (1 inn.) and Gregg Olson (1 inn.), Baltimore 2, Oakland 0.

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