Mother Nature reconfigures pitching odds in favor of Orioles

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- Last night's rainout will enable the Orioles to pitch David Wells twice at Yankee Stadium, force the Yankees to start Kenny Rogers in Game 4 and potentially reduce the impact of the New York bullpen.

Other than that, it won't help the Orioles one bit.

Could it be that owner Peter Angelos outbid George Steinbrenner to sign Mother Nature? Could it be that Tropical Storm Josephine will turn out to be MVP of the American League Championship Series?

The Yankees have (David) Weathers, but yesterday the Orioles had The Weather. The rainout left them with several advantages that could diminish the Yankees' home-field advantage and apparent edge in this series.

Start with Wells.

He was scheduled to pitch Game 3 in Baltimore, but now he'll pitch games 2 and 6 (if necessary) in New York. That's a huge break for the Orioles -- Wells is 9-1 with a 2.85 ERA lifetime at Yankee Stadium.

"We kind of look at it as being a better thing for us, having Boomer pitch in this park instead of our park," pitching coach Pat Dobson said. "Any time you pitch a left-hander at Yankee Stadium, it's to your advantage."

Wells has held the Yankees to a .218 batting average in 18 career appearances at the Stadium. He'll pitch tomorrow on his normal four days' rest, with Mike Mussina working on six days' rest in Game 3.

Which brings us to the downside:

Mussina at Camden Yards.

He went 9-8 with a 5.39 ERA and allowed 22 of his 31 homers at home this season. Then again, two of his three road losses were at Yankee Stadium, where he would pitch a potential Game 7.

"I really don't think it matters," Mussina said. "I like to pitch at home, but I have pretty good success on the road. It's six of one, half a dozen of the other. It's the playoffs. Everything is thrown out the window. You're starting all over again."

True enough, and the Yankees figured they could pitch Andy Pettitte in games 1, 4 and 7 and avoid using Rogers. Now, manager Joe Torre has no choice but to start Rogers in Game 4 against Orioles rookie Rocky Coppinger.

Advantage Yankees? Hardly.

Rogers has a notoriously fragile psyche, and Coppinger can't wait to make his first postseason appearance.

"Sitting in the bullpen, I've felt like a caged animal," Coppinger said.

Torre, meanwhile, has such little faith in Rogers, he yanked him after two innings in Game 4 of the Division Series against Texas, saying he didn't like his body language.

Rogers allowed only two runs, but threw repeatedly to first base, seemingly afraid to face hitters. The Yankees fell behind, 4-0, before rallying to clinch the series.

Their bullpen, obviously, played a major role, allowing one run in 19 2/3 innings. But with the teams now scheduled to play five straight days, Torre will need to be careful in his use of Mariano Rivera and John Wetteland.

Rivera pitched two of the last three games of the Division Series, Wetteland each of the last three. They'll open the series with sufficient rest, but how fresh will they be if it goes six or seven games?

"We have people in the 'pen who are pretty durable," Torre said. "[But] I think the lack of a day off affects the bullpen more than it does the starters. You'd like to get a day off for the bullpen."

For all the talk about the contributions of Weathers, Jeff Nelson and Graeme Lloyd in the Division Series, the Yankees bullpen still revolves around Rivera and Wetteland. And Rivera pitched in three straight games only once this season.

Torre monitors him closely, because Rivera never admits he's tired. And he'll need to use him selectively, because the Orioles are the one team Rivera struggled against this season.

Two of his three losses were against the Orioles, and Rafael Palmeiro hit the only home run he allowed in 107 2/3 innings. Judging by Rivera's lack of success, you'd never have guessed the Yankees won the season series, 10-3.

If bullpen depth figured to be a decisive factor before yesterday, it's an even more decisive factor now. And again, the rainout appears to work in the Orioles' favor.

The five straight games could have a detrimental effect, but Torre relies more on Rivera and Wetteland than Orioles manager Davey Johnson does on any two of his relievers.

Johnson prefers to match up with his three left-handers and three right-handers, and isn't even committed to Randy Myers as his closer. Simply put, he has more options.

If anything, the rainout gave Alan Mills another day to nurse his tender groin -- and a healthy Mills would reduce the late-inning burden on Armando Benitez.

You know you're living right when you negate the opponent's strengths before even playing a game. The Orioles are living right. Yesterday, Mother Nature wore black and orange.

Pub Date: 10/09/96

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