Timlin braces for Seattle reception Reliever knows trade for Cruz Jr. unpopular

THE BALTIMORE SUN

SEATTLE -- When Mike Timlin answered the phone in his hotel room a couple days ago, the caller, his mother, asked a motherly question.

"How are the fans treating you?" Sharon Timlin asked.

"Mom, we're in Milwaukee."

"Oh."

Reaction to last week's trade that brought Timlin and left-hander Paul Spoljaric from the Toronto Blue Jays to the Seattle Mariners for left fielder Jose Cruz Jr. was so negative -- calls to the Post-Intelligencer ran 5 to 1 against it -- that it bothered a mom living in Houston.

"She heard it was a very unpopular trade," Timlin said.

Beginning last night at the Kingdome, Timlin, Spoljaric and another newly acquired reliever, Heathcliff Slocumb, will get a better sense of fan response to last week's trading spree. The Mariners begin the most favorable portion of their 162-game schedule with a two-game series against the Orioles.

"Sometimes, it's hard to get a read on how people will react," said Timlin. "If they're ticked about something, they'll let you know. All you can do is pitch well and win them over."

The Orioles' series kicks off a stretch when the Mariners play 17 home games in August and make only one East Coast road trip. They have a chance to get a grip on the American League West lead heading into the final 25 games.

The Orioles' series is not only a possible playoff preview, it will be a yardstick for the Mariners' revamped bullpen, which had baseball's highest ERA (6.20) and most blown saves (15) when the latest trades were made. The Orioles boast the AL's best relief corps.

"One of the nice things is we [now] have six guys down there who can throw the ball 90 mph-plus and that gives Lou [manager Piniella] a lot of options," said Norm Charlton, one of the three bullpen holdovers along with Bobby Ayala and Bob Wells.

All three newcomers received their Mariners' baptism in Milwaukee, combining to pitch six innings, surrender two runs and secure one save. That translates to a 3.00 ERA.

"All I've heard since the trade is Seattle got two mediocre pitchers," said Timlin (3-2, nine saves, 3.06 ERA). "In all honesty, Cruz probably is going to be an All-Star and we probably won't be, but it bothers me that people consider Paul [0-3, 3.12] and myself mediocre pitchers.

"It makes you want to do something to make them eat their words and I guarantee you, if we win the World Series, I'm going to grab the microphone and say, 'Look at mediocrity now.' "

The Mariners, coming off back-to-back wins over Milwaukee, will not be looking at mediocrity this series.

The Orioles come to town with that stellar bullpen, a new designated hitter in veteran Harold Baines and the chance to become the first team since Piniella's 1990 Cincinnati Reds to win a division championship wire-to-wire.

The Orioles' 5 1/2 -game lead in the American League East going into last night would be a larger lead if not for Timlin and the Blue Jays.

"We swept them in Baltimore the last time we played them," Timlin said.

He worked in all four of those games and had saves in three of them.

Now that is a face that a Mariners' fan -- as well as a mother -- could love.

Pub Date: 8/06/97

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