The Blade has pricked the Don Stanhouse Myth.
"Stan the Man Unusual?" Mark Belanger shouted as he and Stanhouse moved slowly through a herd of reporters in the Oriole clubhouse. "You are becoming very commonplace."
Indeed he is. The truth is that Wednesday's one-two-three performance in the ninth inning of the first American League playoff game was unusual for Stanhouse. Today, matters returned to normal, which means that every Oriole fan lunged for the Maalox when Stanhouse warmed to his unique way of saving Oriole victories.
And Manager Earl Weaver lunged for the dugout runway. His mind and stomach also can tolerate just so much of Stan The Ulcer Man. So Weaver frequently ducks out of sight while Stanhouse pitches poorly enough to lose, and then -- at the game's most dramatic moment -- well enough to win.
"Him take me out of the game?" Stanhouse said. "I looked over and thought he'd taken himself out of the game."
Weaver calls his top reliever "Full Pack" because he smokes that many cigarettes during each Stanhouse torture. He joked that he left Stanhouse in despite the Angels loading the bases with two out and Baltimore ahead by a run in the ninth inning today because he still had three cigarettes left.
"Did he mean in a pack or a carton?" Stanhouse cracked.
Today, Stanhouse took a perfectly dull 9-3 game and, in two innings, made it as tense as possible. Or, as he called it, "taking the team to the edge of victory. I won't call it the edge of disaster. I always think positively."
But what was he doing out there all that time? How come he seemed to be throwing a temper but no strikes?
"I was throwing strikes," he insisted "my kind of strikes. When I pitch, this far on the outside of the plate and this far on the inside of the plate is mine." He held his thumb and index finger perhaps two inches apart.
Is that two inches across the plate or just outside?
"I'll have to leave that to your imagination, won't I?" he said.
In his mind, plate umpire Dale Ford saw Stanhouse just missing. Oriole minds saw two Fords out to ruin their day, Angel Dan with his second homer in as many games and Devil Dale shrinking a plate to saucer size.
"My strikes looked a lot like balls," Stanhouse admitted. "And if there were eight bases out there, I'd walk eight guys to get to the batter I want. I know I get in trouble. But I refuse to throw what a batter wants me to throw -- or the umpire wants me to throw.
"And I got pretty good stats."
Stanhouse surrendered four hits and two runs of his own today. Yet he thought there was only one moment when Weaver might replace him, when left-hander Rod Carew came to bat with one out and two on in the ninth.
"Tippy (Martinez) has had a helluva year," Stanhouse said. "But he (Weaver) has gone with me for two years in pressure situations. And it was a big pat on the back, him saying (figuratively): 'You're my man.'
"And in situations like that, I do want the ball. My forte is to be out there in the middle when you're all nervous and I'm not, when you don't know what's going on but I do.
"It's fun. I could have a nine-to-five job, you know."
Stanhouse was holding court at perhaps the most unusual locker in all of sport. Surely, it is the only one with an address: "Stanhouse Place," lettered on a street sign that, in fact, once marked a genuine street in New Brunswick, Canada.
"Not a large street," he said. "But a street. They named it for me after I did a speaking engagement. Last time I was there, it had one building, No. 26, too."
Stanhouse was standing on a quilt-like towel that read: "For Happy Feet." On a stool was his "Scream Pillow." Or so it read. There was an enormous tinfoil heart nearby and his stuffed gorilla sitting on a ledge above.
Which prompted the question: Is it necessary to be a flake to be a good reliever?
"It helps if your personality involves lots of highs and lows, like a regular who goes oh for four one day and comes back the next day with three hits. Yesterday, I dazzled, got three straight guys out. Today, I struggled.
"I think it's exhilarating when I do well. I did well enough today. No four-star status. But one star was all I needed."
With hair that looks as if somebody hurled a reddish mop at him and it stuck, and frequently unkempt face and mind, Stanhouse surely is walking proof of what Waylon Jennings wails: "I've always been crazy, but it's kept me from going insane."
Nearby, Belanger was saying: "How do you play behind him? Simple. Just count to 20 (the allotted time between pitches) and get ready. I'm not goin' anywhere. I've got nothing to do."
That outrageous Stanhouse exterior (he has a fetish for black) covers an interior that burns with intensity and includes more serious thoughts than the casual fan realizes.
"I know what I'm doing out there," he said. "I told (third baseman Doug) DeCinces to get away from me once today. He was coming over to tell me (Bobby) Grich has become an awfully good high-ball hitter, that 20 of his (30) homers came that way.
"I said: 'Are you telling me anything I don't know?' I wasn't being gruff or anything, but I do study the hitters."
The Oriole clubhouse has, perhaps, the most finely honed needles anywhere constantly being hurled and the Stanhouse reply to one of Rich Dauer's was: "Why don't you catch a popup?"
To which Dauer replied: "Why don't you let somebody hit one?"
Stung, Stanhouse grew serious. He said he was not certain his extended work today would allow him to pitch in California Friday. And he was not certain where his possible free-agent adventure would have him pitching next year.
"In my mind, I've got five more games to win as a Baltimore Oriole," he said. "I will not sell myself short. I love these guys. They made (lucrative) free agency possible. But I made the pitches."