For O's 'pen, writing is on the wall


Calling the first defense witness in the case of The People v. the Orioles' Bullpen.

Mike Timlin, please take the stand.

"I see a pretty darn good bullpen," Timlin says. "You can't compare last year's bullpen to this year's bullpen, in my opinion. We have a set of different guys. I don't think it's fair."

Calling the second defense witness, Mike Trombley.

"I think we have a strong bullpen," Trombley says. "I don't think it's going to be a problem. That's just my opinion. I could be wrong. But I don't think it's going to be an issue."

"Objection!" shouts the attorney for The People, Joe Q. Fan. "The witnesses are engaging in mere speculation!"

"Sustained," rules the judge, a former sports columnist recently elevated to the bench by virtue of his compassion and fairness.

The courtroom stirs. It is not yet May, but the bullpen remains on trial, even after Buddy Groom's two perfect innings and first Orioles victory last night in a 4-3 triumph over Texas.

"No further questions," an attorney from the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos says.

The prosecution then proceeds with its case.

"Exhibit A!" shouts Joe Q. Fan, pulling out a thick packet of statistics.

After 21 games last season, the Orioles' bullpen was 4-for-8 in save chances. After 21 games this season, it was 4-for-9.

"Exhibit B!"

After 21 games last season, the bullpen ERA was 5.68. After 21 games this season, it was 6.28.

"Exhibit C!"

Three times this season, the Orioles' bullpen has blown leads of three runs or more after the seventh inning.

"Do you have any witnesses?" the judge asks.

"Your honor, I have more than 600,000 witnesses -- everyone who has watched the Orioles' bullpen perform in 2000," Joe Q. Fan responds.

The judge, compassionate and fair, ponders his next move.

"Lunch at the Camden Club!" he cries.

Three hours later, court is back in session.

"I will now allow the defense to call additional witnesses," the judge says.

Mike Hargrove, please take the stand.

"I'm human like anybody else," the Orioles manager says. "I know what I saw in Chicago, and it concerns me. It concerns me for the reason that we had to use the bullpen a lot. We need to give them some rest. I'm concerned about that. I'm not concerned about their ability to get people out and help us win ballgames."

Chuck McElroy, please take the stand.

(Joe Q. Fan snickers to an associate. McElroy has allowed 11 earned runs over his previous 5 1/3 innings).

"It hit me in Oakland, with that outing," McElroy said, referring to a game in which he allowed five runs in 1/3 of an inning. "I looked at myself and said, 'That is not me.'

"There was something I did after the game that night. We were staying in San Francisco. I went back to the hotel, walked around and saw a lot of homeless people, asking for money and food.

"I looked at them and said, 'Why am I sitting here feeling sorry for myself instead of just enjoying this game like a kid?' I wouldn't say it was a turning point, but it put things in perspective."

The attorney from the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos rises after a dramatic pause, then produces sworn affidavits in support of McElroy from three "expert witnesses."

"Objection!" Joe Q. Fan shouts.

"On what grounds?" the judge asks.

"The people challenge the characterization of Orioles director of baseball operations Syd Thrift as a baseball expert."

"A serious charge," the judge replies. "What is your evidence?"

Joe Q. Fan cites the trade for McElroy, the signing of Tim Worrell and the re-signing of Al Reyes.

He says that Thrift should have optioned infielder Jesse Garcia rather than designate Worrell for assignment on Wednesday, enabling Hargrove to carry an extra pitcher through the final two games of a taxing series in Chicago.

And finally, he produces the contracts of Trombley (three years, $7.75 million), McElroy (two years, $2.6 million) and Groom (two years, $4 million.)

"That's closer money for setup men!" Joe Q. Fan shouts. "Groom has pitched well. Trombley should come around. But what if the bullpen continues to struggle? The Orioles are locked in!"

The judge sorts through the paperwork, appearing confused.

"Where is the Timlin contract?" he asks.

The attorney from the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos leaps to his feet.

"Wren made that deal," he cries.

Just then, as if on cue, Timlin strolls forward from the back of the courtroom, and requests to add to his testimony.

"Proceed," says the judge, ever compassionate and fair.

"I'll start off with B. J. Ryan. You've got a young pitcher who's incredibly strong physically and durable, as he showed on this road trip. Mike Trombley is a quality pitcher. It hasn't shown like it showed in Minnesota, but he has great control.

"McElroy -- the best I've seen him pitch was in Chicago. He finally seemed comfortable on the hill and attacking hitters. Calvin [Maduro], he got popped in the leg, and still went out a day later and threw off the hill and got people out. That shows a lot. He was pitching hurt. He showed a little of Scott Kamienecki -- coming out of the rotation into the bullpen and throwing that well."

"Objection!" Joe Q. Fan shouts. "Objection!"

Timlin looks the judge dead in the eye.

"Don't bury us too soon."

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