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Bullpens can sometimes toss curveball

The Baltimore Sun

The Boston Red Sox, one of baseball's most balanced teams, felt the need to add it. So did the Seattle Mariners and Atlanta Braves. Most potential playoff teams try to do the same, whether it's through late-season trades or minor league call-ups.

Big league bullpen help. You can never have enough.

Dependable relief is one of the most overlooked aspects in baseball. During the wilting heat of August and the pressure cooker of September, however, nothing provides peace of mind like a rock-solid group of relievers.

"It's important for this team not to ask so much out of our starters. Our starters have done such an excellent job of pitching into the seventh quite a bit this year," Red Sox catcher Jason Varitek said. "To [bolster the bullpen] it takes real pressure off the starters when they know they are in good hands after the sixth."

The Red Sox made the biggest bullpen splash at July's non-waiver trade deadline, adding former Cy Young Award winner Eric Gagne to a relief corps that already had baseball's lowest ERA. To get Gagne, the Red Sox surrendered three young players, including promising starter Kason Gabbard.

The trade illustrated two things: Fortifying a bullpen can be costly. And relief pitchers, no matter the pedigree, are unpredictable.

Gagne, dominant while with the Texas Rangers this season, has been utterly human for the Red Sox. In his first six appearances with Boston, he allowed seven runs in five innings for a 12.60 ERA.

The Orioles learned a similar lesson this offseason, spending $42 million on four relievers. The most expensive, Danys Baez, has struggled mightily, and the least expensive, Scott Williamson, has been released. Heading into Friday night, the Orioles' bullpen had the fourth-worst ERA in baseball and the most losses. But imagine how rocky it would be if the club hadn't signed left-hander Jamie Walker and right-hander Chad Bradford.

The moral here: Bullpens are essential and enigmatic. And the most consistent ones usually pitch in October.

The legend grows

The most unforgettable memory of Jack Cust in an Orioles uniform is, of course, his dirt swim along the third base line while trying to score during a game in 2003. But Cust has made a lasting impression in Oakland that has to do with flexing his arms, not flailing them. Entering Friday, he led the Athletics in home runs and RBIs, hitting 20 homers in his first 260 at-bats, including two Tuesday.

"That was a Custian performance. No more Ruthian performance," A's pitcher Lenny DiNardo said. "He's Jack Cust. He's incredible."

Let him play

Earlier last week, Cincinnati Reds interim manager Pete Mackanin employed a double switch that forced likely Hall of Fame outfielder Ken Griffey Jr. from the game. It was the first time it had happened in his career, and, evoking a classic baseball movie, Griffey joked it would be the last time, too.

"Next time they try, I'll be like Tanner in the Astrodome in Bad News Bears, running around the outfield making them try to catch me," Griffey said.

Another Devil Rays record

Those groundbreaking Tampa Bay Devil Rays might have done it again. They have the worst record in baseball, and if they finish that way, the franchise will become the first to procure back-to-back No. 1 overall draft picks. Major League Baseball used to alternate the top pick between leagues, but now it is based on record.

Quote of the week

"You can tell the city of Baltimore that the old evil owner stepped up and took care of things tonight."

Orioles scouting director Joe Jordan moments after he learned that owner Peter Angelos and club president Andy MacPhail had agreed to a last-minute deal Wednesday night with first-round pick Matt Wieters.

Quick hits

One American League scout said Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Troy Glaus' left foot is affecting him so much that he and teammate Frank Thomas might have clinched the title of slowest back-to-back tandem in baseball history. ... A National League scout who has seen Orioles farmhand Luis Hernandez in the minors and majors said he'll be an adequate big league hitter one day. His shortstop defense is already ready for the majors. ... The New York Yankees will wear a No. 10 on their left sleeves in memory of Hall of Famer Phil Rizzuto, who died Monday. The uniforms already include a black armband honoring pitcher Cory Lidle, who died in an October plane crash.

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