Baseball's team of the moment, the once-moribund Pittsburgh Pirates, is on a high produced by phenomenal defense, door-slamming relief pitching, aggressive base running and, most of all, the singular talents of the kid who calls himself Adonis.
"The magazine, Adonis, gimme it," said a fellow in the Pirates' locker room last night.
"Whaaa?" said Adonis, who is often called Dave Parker.
"You wanna buy it from me?" The fellow referred to the Sports Illustrated magazine of this week. In it, Parker is mentioned often, once saying it would be something if he joined the Phillies, say, alongside Greg Luzinski and Garry Maddox.
What an outfield, he said: "A pig in left, a greyhound in center and Adonis in right."
Well, as so often happens, Parker last night said he was misquoted by the magazine.
"What I said was 'a rhino in left,'" Parker said.
Whether or not Luzinski appreciates that distinction, Parker wanted everyone to know that the rhino is "a helluva player." Besides, Parker said, they might truly be teammates the season after next.
Baseball is goofy. Some people suggest that Billy Martin's disappearance made the Yankees a winner the last two months; Martin says the real reason for the Yankees' surge is the newspaper strike in New York which has silenced those yakkity-yak troublemaking typewriters.
And here we have Dave Parker, Adonis himself, talking about playing for the Phillies - playing for the Phillies! - even while the Pirates have mounted winning streaks of 10 and 11 games in the last month to scare the bejabbers out of - yes - the Phillies.
Back in spring training, no one knew what to think of the Pirates. They had dumped Al Oliver, a reputed world-class cry-baby, and in return picked up Bert Blyleven, a pitcher whose performance never matched his promise. Willie Stargell was a year older, Rich Gossage was gone and somebody named Omar Moreno had to play center field.
Early in the season, Parker was hurt badly when he crashed into an outfield wall, breaking his cheekbone. That was after he broke two fingers falling over first base. Stargell had a bone chip loose in his ankle and the pitching ace, John Candelaria, had a sore arm.
Small surprise, then, when the Pirates fell 11 1/2 games behind the Phillies on Aug. 12. Parker, the league's batting champion last season at .338. was hitting .288 this time. Everyone wondered if the broken cheekbone had a lasting effect; Pete Rieser came off walls a broken athlete forever.
"Everyone was saying we stunk," said Kent Tekulve, the ultra-skinny relief ace. "That's all you read in the paper and all you heard. And, the way we were playing, it was hard to disagree with them."
Baseball is goofy. The Pirates were eight games under .500. Then they win 23 of their next 27 games and are in a pennant race.And no one knows why. The best Tekulve can say is that the Pirates began doing "all the little things right." The manager, Chuck Tanner, says it was a case of all 25 players contributing daily.
Which is nice, but it tells us nothing of the miracle. So you ask an old-hand baseball writer, Charlie Feeney, who is traveling with the team, and he tells you a story.
"It's at Houston," Fenney said. "Houston gets five straight hits off Jim Rooker and they're stealing bases and they've scored two runs and the bases are loaded. So Rooker throwsone five feet over the catcher's head - and what happens?
"The ball hits something and bounces straight back to Manny Sanguillen, who tags out the runner coming from third."
Feeney shrugs at the mystery of a hot baseball team. The Pirates won that game. Strange things happen. At the first of this month, with double-headers piling up, Tanner named seven different pitchers to start seven straight games - and each man won.
Blyleven has added a change-up to his wonderful curve and has been masterful the last half of the season. Stargell is still the cleanup hitter, looking no less wicked than ever, and that outfielder named Omar "hit over .400 in that seven-pitcher streak," Tanner said.
Without Parker, though, the Pirates would be nowhere.
He would tell you that. "I am the foundation," he said yesterday. "They build around me."
True words. The guy is 6 feet 5,235 pounds.He is fast, throws well, hits with power and, Tekulve said, "puts 100 percent into every game." Tanner on Parker: "He's the best player in the world."
The Pirates started winning at 11 1/2 games behind because they relaxed, Parker said. It also helped that in August he hit .391, raising his average 25 points and pointing him toward another batting championship ("I'm a strong finisher," Adonis said).
The scenario of a Pirate hero going over to the Phillies may seem peculiar to traditionalists, but it is only good business in baseball these days. And Parker is taking advantage of it.
"If the Pirates publicize me as the best player, they can pay me the best salary," he said. "To me, it's degrading that I've given them four good years - and my cheekbone - and they haven't even talked to me about a new contract (he has a year to run on a $200,000-per-year deal)."
If the Pirates don't come across, Parker said, he'll go to another contending National League club, possibly the Phillies.
"Why not?" he said with a smile. And a chill fell over Pittsburgh.