This offseason took Buddy Groom by surprise.
Groom understood the reality: He was nearly 40. He had had a subpar season with the Orioles in 2004, posting a 4.78 ERA while lefties hit a robust .333 against him. It was clear why the Orioles declined his $3 million option last November. But when they offered him only a non-roster invitation to spring training, Groom was taken aback. He looked for a better deal.
He was, after all, the rarest of baseball breeds: a durable left-handed reliever.
So he waited last winter - for a call that never came.
"I think the big thing is people looked at my age and thought maybe I was over the hill," said Groom, who turns 40 in July. "Some teams even asked my agent, 'How's his arm?' Because I had been in so many games over the last eight or nine years."
Less than two weeks before spring training, Groom said he had two options: The Pittsburgh Pirates would bring him into camp to showcase him for a trade. And the New York Yankees said they'd take a look, but only as a Triple-A Columbus audition.
"We have 12 [potential] guys in the bullpen, and if all of them stay healthy and he outpitches all of them, I can't do anything," Yankees general manager Brian Cashman said he told Groom's agent. "He'll have to go to Triple-A and they agreed. ... And in that exact picture, he out-pitched most of our guys in the 'pen in the spring."
Despite allowing just one earned run in nine exhibition innings, Groom started a season in the minors for the first time since 1994.
"I took the right attitude down there," Groom said. "I didn't want to let it leak into the young guys that I was bitter because I had been in the big leagues for so long."
Contractually, Groom had to be recalled by May 1 or could have chosen free agency. He made his Yankees debut in late April and has compiled a 1-0 record and 4.50 ERA in his first 19 games.
Tomorrow, he'll be in the visiting team's bullpen at Camden Yards - just another strange 2005 moment for Groom. Since 2000, he and the Orioles had looked up at the hated Yankees. Each year he dreamed of pitching in the postseason. Now he's in pinstripes, and the Orioles are higher in the standings.
"It's tough, since I am not there being a part of it," he said. "I wish them the best, but when we are in town I hope we can beat them."
New day, same Piniella
Tampa Bay manager Lou Piniella began his Wednesday afternoon pre-game news conference by proclaiming it a "new day" three times. He was trying to forget Tuesday night's debacle when the Devil Rays blew a 10-2 lead and lost, 20-11.
Six seconds into the "new day," a New York Times writer asked Piniella if he had talked to reliever Travis Harper, who absorbed most of the Yankees' 13-run eighth inning because Piniella had limited options. And Mount Lou blew.
A profanity-laced, 30-second tirade ensued before Piniella picked up a chair in the manager's bathroom and hurled it into his shower. Three minutes later, Piniella dared the reporter, who the night before had asked questions about Harper, to examine the fallen chair in a minute-long rant that included seven more nasty words.
Sixteen years after being drafted by the Orioles, Toronto Blue Jays catcher Gregg Zaun officially reached 10 years of big-league service and qualified for a full pension. ... The Cleveland Indians went 20-7 recently, and picked up only 2 1/2 games on the Chicago White Sox.
League notebooks are compiled from interviews, wire services and reports from other newspapers.