The biggest surprise to hit manager Davey Johnson yesterday wasn't Chris Hoiles avoiding a sixth strikeout, or pitcher Mike Mussina doing more with his first major-league at-bat than just waving at three pitches from the reigning Cy Young Award winner.
Johnson was amazed to learn that reliever Arthur Rhodes had worked "only" three innings.
"Are you sure?" he asked reporters, his eyes widening. "All he did was three? It felt like five or six."
"It seemed like six when I was out there," Rhodes said.
It must have seemed like an eternity to the Atlanta Braves, who would have preferred that Rhodes had gone three fewer than the actual total.
Here's what they would have missed: Rhodes entering the game in the ninth and seizing control of it. Rhodes building on a torrid stretch in which the left-hander has not allowed a run over his past 11 innings, walking two and striking out 17. Rhodes, with his shoulder wrapped in ice afterward, grinning from ear to ear.
"I'm not out there trying to overpower anybody," he said, after the Orioles had beaten Atlanta, 6-4, in 12 innings on Hoiles' two-run double. "I'm trying to get my defense to work with me because I'm not going to strike everybody out."
It only seems that way.
Rhodes improved to 4-2 by tossing three more shutout innings, walking one and striking out six. His fastball sizzled, and his change of speeds baffled.
"He's got that great fastball," pitching coach Ray Miller said, "but I think Hoiles is doing a great job getting him to use his slider and changeup, and he's throwing that enough to keep people off the fastball."
The Orioles already were short on relievers with Brian Williams still unavailable because of a sore right knee. The last thing they needed was an extra-inning game.
What they got were six innings of one-hit ball from the bullpen, which Hoiles called "our bread and butter all year." The only run was charged to Terry Mathews, who had mowed down the Braves in the seventh before walking Andruw Jones on a close 3-2 pitch to lead off the eighth and being removed for Jesse Orosco.
The Braves pushed across the tying run in the eighth and seemingly had the game's momentum. But Rhodes took it back.
The Texas native struck out two batters in each of his three innings, including Jeff Blauser to begin the 11th after falling behind 3-0. One ball left the infield, a routine fly to center by pinch hitter Tony Graffanino that ended the 11th.
"Arthur did a heck of a job," Johnson said. "Our bullpen was kind of banged up with Williams still a little bit tender. I leaned on Arthur quite heavily."
Johnson needed him so badly, he let Rhodes bat in the top of the 11th with two outs and Roberto Alomar on first. Anything to squeeze another inning out of him. He struck out swinging, the only victory Atlanta could claim against him.
Rhodes has looked at life as a reliever from both sides this year. He started off nearly untouchable, giving up just one run in his first 14 innings, then began to struggle. He recently went a couple of lengthy stretches without pitching, partly because of a chronically sore left knee, but has thrown nine innings in three appearances since Tuesday.
"I feel great," he said. "Today, the heat wore me down a little bit sitting down in the bullpen, but I came out feeling strong and was throwing the ball real good, hitting my spots. That was it."
"He's just locked into a good zone," Miller said.
The whole bullpen could share the sentiment yesterday.
After a few rough outings in May, Arthur Rhodes has found his early-season form again in June. A closer look:
Date .. Opp. .. IP .. H .. R .. Ks
6-6 ... Chi ... 2 ... 1 .. 0 .. 4
6-10 .. Bos ... 3 ... 3 .. 0 .. 5
6-12 .. Bos ... 3 ... 1 .. 0 .. 2
6-14 .. Atl. .. 3 ... 0 .. 0 .. 6
Tot. .. .. ... 11 ... 5 .. 0 . 17
Pub Date: 6/15/97