Oriole fortunes veer off curve


OAKLAND, Calif. -- For Gregg Olson and the Orioles, it was like going from the ultimate high to a bizarre low.

All the pieces were in place for an impressive three-out-of-four series win against the three-time defending American League champion Oakland Athletics.

The day before Olson had closed out a unique no-hitter, getting Jose Canseco to admire a breathtaking curveball for the second out in the ninth inning. He was on the verge of his third save in as many days as the Orioles clung to a 2-1 lead going into the bottom of the 11th inning yesterday.

Olson came on to finish off a team he has dominated in the past. And had it not been for the curse of the curveballer, a wild pitch, he might have succeeded.

Instead, Canseco "fisted" a 3-and-2, two-out fastball to rightfield for a two-run single that gave Oakland manager Tony La Russa a dramatic 3-2 victory that was the 1,000th of his managerial career.

This was the fourth straight day that Olson had come out of the bullpen, but he and manager John Oates dismissed that as a factor.

"Oh no," said Oates, when asked if he hesitated using Olson. "He likes to pitch and he'd thrown only 36 pitches in those other three outings.

"He's thrown that many in one game a lot of times," said Oates. "His stuff was good. He made good pitches. But Jamie [Quirk] pushed one through the middle, Rickey [Henderson] topped one, and then we threw -- or didn't block -- the wild pitch. The rest is history."

After Dave Henderson struck out for the second out in the 11th, Olson worked Canseco into the identical situation he had the day before. One ball, two strikes -- and everybody in the park knew what was coming. On Saturday, Olson threw a devastating curveball that bent Canseco's knees and sent him to the dugout whistling in admiration.

"Oh God, that was a perfect pitch," said Canseco. "I thought it was going to hit me in the face and it broke right over the plate."

So, there was no question what Olson would throw on a 1-and-2 count yesterday. Apparently Canseco, who had seen lively fastballs early in the count, was the only one who wasn't sure.

"He couldn't have been looking for the curve," said Olson. "If he had there's no way he could have taken that pitch. It missed [being strike three] by inches."

Unfortunately, after Canseco fouled off a tough fastball, Olson had to throw the nasty one again. This time the ball exploded RTC into the ground slightly to the right of catcher Chris Hoiles.

The runner on second base, Quirk, knows what it's like to have Olson's curveball bounce away. He was behind the plate for the wild pitch in Toronto on the final weekend of the 1989 season, and probably had flashbacks as he and Henderson moved up a base.

Olson said he did not consciously change his pitching pattern to Canseco based on what happened the day before. "I can't do that," said Olson. "I'm not going to adjust to the hitter. If I do that I'm getting away from my strength -- even if it means going to his strength.

"It's easy to second guess now and say I should have thrown him a 3-and-2 curve, but I threw the pitch I wanted to throw. Give him some credit, he fought off a tough pitch."

Canseco admitted that about all he could do was "fight off" the pitch. "I just concentrated on using my hands," he said. "If I hadn't I would have struck out."

Olson (1-4) said his work the previous three days had no effect on his performance. He said his stuff "was about the same" as it had been the day before, and his fastball actually looked a bit quicker.

"I was fine," said the righthander. "I can't attribute anything to being stiff or sore, or anything like that. This just seems to be the way things have gone for me this year."

Olson's season to date includes a few bizarre incidents, an earned run average that is higher than usual, and five blown saves as opposed to two this time a year ago. Still, Olson's 19 saves put him exactly on the pace that produced a club-record 37 last year, so his experiences are being magnified by the inconsistent pattern the Orioles have followed all year.

Three straight wins over the A's after a horrendous opening game would have been a nice way to start the first road trip of the second half.

Going in, a split would have looked nice. Coming out, especially under the circumstances, it somehow seems like just another lost opportunity.

Of which there have already been too many.

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