Sub Key is a hero, gives K.C. few bites No earned runs allowed as fill-in for Mussina


Remember the last time Jimmy Key pitched at Camden Yards? It was Game 3 of the American League Championship Series, and Key stymied the Orioles with a masterful performance that gave the New York Yankees momentum they never relinquished.

He has a long way to go to make it up to the Orioles, but yesterday was a start.

A quality start.

The veteran left-hander helped get his new team off in the right direction, going six strong innings in a 4-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals. Key, who signed with the Orioles in December for $7.8 million over two years, allowed four hits and two unearned runs in his first meaningful appearance since winning the decisive sixth game of the World Series.

He was pressed into Opening Day duty because of Mike Mussina's sore right elbow, which put Key into his element. He's 7-0 on such occasions.

"I guess I'm lucky," said Key, who has a 1.52 lifetime ERA in six regular-season starts at Camden Yards. "I'm fortunate to pitch well on those days, and teams score me runs, for whatever reason."

"With Mike Mussina down, it's great to have a Jimmy Key to start a game," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "Opening Day can never start on time; you've got all that stuff going on. I told Jimmy we were going to start late, so he took a little bit slower time [warming up] in the beginning. Then we sat in the dugout for what seemed like forever -- it's only five minutes, but it seems like an eternity -- and a young guy would almost hyperventilate. A guy like Jimmy just sits there and says, 'Well, this is what we have to do.'

"What I like most about Jimmy is he can get hit and still help you. He can give it up early and find a way to help you."

The Royals didn't touch Key early. The first nine went down without a fuss, including three strikeouts. Among the victims was catcher Tim Spehr, who froze on a curveball to end the third.

Key, who retired 23 of the last 25 Orioles he faced in the ALCS, ran into trouble in the fourth inning. Jose Offerman led off with a single to center and moved to third with two outs. Cal Ripken then made a diving stop of a hard grounder down the line and threw out Jeff King on a close play.

"I'm going to try to get as many balls on the left side of the infield as I can," Key said.

Key bailed himself out of a jam when he started a double play to end the fifth after the Royals had put two runners on with one out. But the Orioles' 2-0 lead was wiped out in the sixth when Offerman reached on shortstop Mike Bordick's throwing error and later scored on a single by Bip Roberts. A sacrifice fly by King tied the game before Key struck out Joe Vitiello on a slider.

He threw 76 pitches in six innings and said he could have gone further, but manager Davey Johnson pulled Key -- mostly because he had to sit for long stretches as the game dragged along.

"I really wasn't that tired, to be honest," Key said, "but I'm not questioning what [Johnson] does. It's his ballclub, and I'm here to pitch as long as he wants me to pitch. The main objective here is to win.

"I felt like I did my job: give the team a chance to win. I'm big on consistency, and, hopefully, I can bring that to this ballclub."

"He knows what he wants to do," catcher Chris Hoiles said. "He's got four pitches and he can throw them all for strikes at any time."

This time, the Orioles were glad to see it.

Pub Date: 4/03/97

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