BOSTON - When Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president of baseball operations, anointed Calvin Pickering as "the next Mo Vaughn" a few years ago, he didn't mean that the one-time prospect would be playing the same position for the same team that brought Vaughn to the majors.
It just happened to work out that way.
Pickering again found himself in the Boston Red Sox's lineup last night, his seventh start at first base since being claimed off waivers on Sept. 6. The Cincinnati Reds let him go. The Red Sox won't let him rest.
"This is a good opportunity for me to be in the big leagues," Pickering said after exchanging a high-five with a young fan outside the clubhouse. "That's all I want to do, play in the big leagues."
It wasn't going to happen with the Orioles, who removed him from their 40-man roster after the 2000 season and traded him to the Reds on Aug. 30. Pickering was hurt last year - he didn't play at Triple-A Rochester after June 19 because of a quadriceps injury that required surgery two months later - and couldn't control his weight. Twice named the organization's Minor-League Player of the Year, he had run out of chances.
Pickering drove in 99 runs with the Red Wings this year but didn't get a September call-up. He was sent to the Reds, who kept him for a week and spent most of that time worrying about finding pants big enough to fit.
In 28 at-bats with the Red Sox, Pickering is hitting .286 with one homer and six strikeouts, three of them coming last night when he went 0-for-3 with a walk. He's 2-for-10 with three walks against the Orioles, who provided his first exposure to the majors in 1998. They didn't receive anything for him in the trade because he didn't sign a contract with the Reds.
"I'm happy that I had an opportunity to play for the Orioles," he said. "They gave me my first job. Without them, I wouldn't be here right now."
Why isn't he with the Orioles, who made room on their 40-man roster last week for Minnesota Twins castoff Casey Blake?
"I don't know what happened. I didn't have the inside scoop," said Pickering, who also had no idea the Reds put him on waivers until being told that Boston claimed him. "At the All-Star break, I had 14 home runs and 70-something RBIs and I didn't get called up. I knew after that the chances were slim, so I just did the best I could and hoped another team would see me. I would have loved to get called up to the Orioles and show them that I'm ready."
A six-year minor-league free agent, Pickering could wind up playing in Japan next year - where it might be even harder to find pants that fit.
Foster awaits chance
Kris Foster hasn't been forgotten. Orioles manager Mike Hargrove knows the rookie is there. He'd just been kept in the background for the past three weeks, unable to step forward without bumping into someone else who has moved ahead of him.
Hargrove had indicated that Foster could pitch again this season, and he finally did last night, coming on in the sixth inning with the Orioles down 9-1. The right-hander hadn't pitched beyond the safe confines of the bullpen since Sept. 4 in Oakland, when he allowed a run in two-thirds of an inning.
The Orioles played four more games before baseball shut down when terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. Foster finally got his chance last night, his sixth appearance in the majors.
"It's got to be the right situation since it's been so long," said Hargrove before the game, explaining the team hadn't been on the back end of many lopsided scores lately. "It's not due to a lack of confidence in throwing him. It's just being fair to him and the ballclub."
An intriguing prospect because of a fastball that reaches the upper 90s, Foster continues to tinker with mechanics that "got out of whack" and contributed to two more walks in his last appearance.
"I'm just trying to get everything solid again to where I'm comfortable," said Foster. "It's important for me to get my mechanics worked out. If an opportunity comes up where they can throw me, that would be great, but I'm mainly looking to get everything worked out for spring training next year."
Foster, who will pitch in the Dominican Republic this winter, didn't allow a run in three of his first four appearances with the Orioles before being sent down on Aug. 18, but he wasn't particularly sharp. He walked the bases loaded with none out in an Aug. 12 game but got three ground balls - twice producing a force at home.
He threw two scoreless innings last night.
"With me, for as violent as my delivery is to produce the velocity on the ball, once my timing is off, I lose most of my control on my fastball," he said. "Everything has to be timed perfect for the ball to come out true."