How will the 2011 bullpen stack up?

Going back to last night’s entry, the 1970 Orioles were voted the fourth-best team on the “MLB Network Countdown.” The 1998 Yankees, 1975 Reds and 1961 Yankees made the top three.

Perhaps it’s the fan in me, but I still regard the 1969-1971 stretch as a dynasty despite only one championship. We can include 1966 and make it two.

Since we’ve spent so many days talking about the bullpen and how it shapes up as the strength of the 2011 team, and since we’re also going back in time, it seems appropriate for me to bring up the 1997 club. I’m basically tying together two themes here. And I continue to work without a safety net, which is pretty daring.

Looking at the current unit, there’s a very good chance that we’ll see Kevin Gregg, Koji Uehara, Michael Gonzalez, Jim Johnson, Jeremy Accardo and Jason Berken on Opening Day. That leaves room for one more arm.

Now let’s return to that glorious wire-to-wire season in ‘97, which also represents my first full year on the Orioles beat at The Sun (I came off the small college beat to join the coverage of 2,130 and 2,131 in ‘95 and the playoffs in ‘96.)

Here’s a look at the roster that season, the last to produce a winner before 13 straight duds. You might have forgotten a few names.

Check out the list of pitchers, and more specifically, the relievers. The roll call includes Randy Myers, Armando Benitez, Jesse Orosco, Alan Mills, Arthur Rhodes and Terry Mathews. You also can include Shawn Boskie, who made only nine starts among his 28 appearances.

Myers posted a 1.51 ERA in 61 games and went 45-for-46 in save chances. Benitez, who inherited the closer’s job the following season, was 4-5 with nine saves and a 2.45 ERA in 71 games.

Rhodes might be the most overlooked guy on that team. It’s easy to forget that he was 10-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 53 games and struck out 102, with only 26 walks and 75 hits allowed, in 95 1/3 innings.

Orosco, the other lefty, went 6-3 with a 2.32 ERA in 71 appearances. Mathews, once booed during a playoff game as soon as the bullpen gates swung open, was 4-4 with a 4.41 ERA in 57 appearances.

I’m starting to tear up. Somebody pass me a tissue.

Naturally, we tend to remember Benitez more for the sliders he threw to Marquis Grissom and Tony Fernandez in the American League Championship Series. Yeah, thanks a lot. And you wonder why catcher Chris Hoiles kept putting down one finger.

I almost held up another one, but I didn’t want to get kicked out of the press box.

Benitez loved his slider. He was pretty much alone in that opinion.

Anyway, it was a great bullpen. The 2011 unit will be seriously challenged to match or exceed it.

If you really want to take a spin in the ol’ time machine, we could go back to 1966, which produced the first world championship.

Stu Miller was 9-4 with 18 saves and a 2.25 ERA in 51 games. Eddie Watt was 9-7 with four saves and a 3.83 ERA in 43 games. Moe Drabowsky was 6-0 with seven saves and a 2.81 ERA in 44 games. Eddie Fisher was 5-3 with 13 saves and a 2.64 ERA in 44 games. Dick Hall was 6-2 with seven saves and a 3.95 ERA in 32 games. Gene Brabender was 4-3 with two saves and a 3.55 ERA in 31 games.

The 2011 group definitely has its work cut out for it.

Watt also started 13 games that season. I think of him only as a late-inning reliever, and the guy with the crew cut who served up Lee May’s home run to prevent a sweep in ‘70.

Must have thrown a slider.

blog comments powered by Disqus