Hold that thought about Armando Benitez being the Orioles closer in waiting.

At the rate incumbent Randy Myers is going, Benitez could be in for a longer wait than anticipated.

If Myers hung up his spikes for good today, he could look back on a marvelous career that includes 282 saves, ninth all-time and fourth among active relievers. He ranks second all-time among left-handers behind John Franco, and remains the first choice of manager Davey Johnson when a slim lead needs protecting in the last inning.

Myers, 34, has rewarded that faith by not allowing a run in 8 1/3 innings before last night, spanning nine games. He picked up a save in each of his first eight appearances, then got two big outs in the ninth inning Wednesday to keep the score tied.

Summoned with two runners on, he retired Chicago's Ozzie Guillen on a shallow fly to left and Ray Durham on a bouncer to third. Four pitches, four strikes, end of rally.

Benitez pitched the 10th, gave up two runs and absorbed his second loss, raising his ERA to 5.87 in the process.

To further appreciate how dominant Myers has been, consider that he didn't allow a run in seven exhibition games. Including the postseason, he's surrendered only two earned runs in 26 innings since Sept. 18. And opposing managers who try to play the percentages this year are playing with fire; right-handed hitters are 4-for-26 against him.

"He has great makeup for a short man," pitching coach Ray Miller said. "When Randy warms up to come into a game, he knows who the next three hitters are and who they probably will pinch-it for, and who that guy will be, and he prepares himself. I talked to Armando [Wednesday] night and said the one thing Randy does is take that little walk after every pitch, deciding what pitch he wants to throw next. And it doesn't matter what the catcher signals because he's already got it in his mind."

Miller said he watched Myers in several games last year and "it looked like he was nibbling from the get-go. The one thing I asked him to do this spring was throw Strike 1."

Myers, who had walked three and struck out 11 before last night, said, "Throughout my career, I've shown that I can throw strikes, but I'm also not going to give in to hitters. Getting ahead of hitters is important, and that's one thing Ray really believes in."

Johnson suggested that Myers, who converted 31 of 38 save opportunities last year, is benefiting from having a year's experience in the American League. "It helps when you know the league and the hitters and the strike zone. The more you know, the more aggressive you can be," he said.

This is an idea that Myers doesn't fully embrace, saying he relies on his catchers to call the game "95 percent of the time."

"I think the year in the league was beneficial to the catchers knowing me, knowing the pitches I can throw," he said.

Hitters also know what he brings -- mostly a backdoor slider and a fastball that averages in the low 90s -- but that doesn't make it any easier to lay good wood on them.

"He's been so effective because he can throw any pitch at any time and put it where he wants to," said catcher Lenny Webster, who has been behind the plate for all but one of Myers' appearances this season.

Myers never has been shy about taking the ball, but Johnson hopes to withhold it more this season than last, when his closer was used in 24 non-save situations.

"You're always going to be around 60 appearances and I've even done 75 one year," Myers said. "I'd rather win every game by four or more runs and not have to worry about it, but that's not going to happen."

He's not sure what's going to happen once the season ends, when he can become a free agent again.

Benitez waits. Myers doesn't worry.

"I've never concerned myself with anything like that," he said. "I signed a two-year deal and try to go out there and perform to the best of my ability. At the end of that time, hopefully in late October, then you sit down and re-evaluate."

Pub Date: 4/25/97

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