The Pittsburgh Pirates and Baltimore Orioles announced their readiness for Tuesday's 8:30 p.m. World Series opener (WJLA-TV-7) in typical fashion during their evening workouts tonight at Memorial Stadium.
Willie Stargell, the first Buc in the batting cage, hit a baseball out of Memorial Stadium. Okay, so it landed 25 rows up in the right-field bleachers and went out on one hop.
Considering that in a quarter-century only one ball has gone out on the fly, it wasn't an altogether puny effort.
Stargell and his partner in mayhem, Dave Parker, blasted balls to points in this old yard that perhaps only Boston's Jim Rice, among American Leaguers, can reach. No team in the O's loop has two gents who can produce such prodigious shots.
The Birds, for their part, responded in normal manner -- that is to say, not at all.
While the Pirate bats of the Lumber Company made loud noises, the Bird hitters made hardly any noise at all.
That's because when the Bucs appeared on the field it was the Baltimore pitching staff -- giggling and teasing each other that was taking the battling licks.
As one Oriole pitcher after another couldn't knock the ball out of the cage, one Bird player muttered to a teammate, "The Pirates think those are funny-looking swings. Wait till they see the ones they're going to be taking."
That is the dramatic showdown of this Series -- the great Oriole pitching arms against the extremely strong Pirate bats.
As is the custom of hitters, the National League champions talked bravely, like invading warriors. "We're here to play some hardball," Stargell announced.
"I play better when I'm bleeding," said scrappy shortstop Tim Foli.
And, as is the nature of laid-back pitchers, the Oriole hurlers told their flaky inside jokes and seemed as confident as men who get to stand on a hill while everyone else is on the flat.
"My bats finally got delivered," said Mike Flanagan, the 23-9 southpaw who faces Pittsburgh's 13-game winner Bruce Kison in the first game.
"There are two of 'em I think one's made of hard balsa and the other's swamp ash.
"It's going to feel strange getting to hit," said Flanagan, one of that young breed of AL pitchers who has never been to bat in the major leagues and will get his first chance in the Series. "Someone will have to point me to the plate."
Actually, the whole affair should seem strange to Flanagan, since he has never seen a Series game in person. "Well," he said, "I'll have the best seat in the house."
That would go for Game 4 on Saturday in Pittsburgh, too, when Flanagan again is probable starter.
A definite symbolism could be attached to the Oriole pitchers en masse flocking to the batting cage, just as the Pirates came out of their dugout and also gathered at the plate. Usually, pitchers are solitary. But the Oriole hurlers seemed to be one-upping the supposedly rowdy and funny Pirates.
It was the Bird pitchers who made the jokes, wrestled with each other and got off some mildly barbed cracks within range of Pirate ears. It was Pittsburgh that seemed uncharacteristically subdued.
Eight Baltimore pitchers would pounce on the sacrifice bunts laid down by the ninth hurler. The Oriole repartee carried to Pirate ears.
"If we're good enough to win in seven, then we're good enought to win in four," said Jim Palmer.
"Hey, Scotty!" an Oriole yelled to lefty Scott McGregor, who will follow Palmer in the rotation and work the third game.
"Is it true that you batted in front of (Kansas City's) George Brett in high school and outhit him?"
McGregor had to confess that he had -- no blow to his reputation.
"Pull out a little sooner, will ya?" Steve Stone teased Tim Stoddard as the 6-foot-7 Big Foot, his foot far in the bucket, blasted a fly over the fence.
"We don't even know how to stand around the cage right," said Flanagan. "One of us will take a practice swing and kill somebody."
But in fact the Oriole hurlers, egged on by their mischievous coach, Ray Miller, did an extremely good job of establishing some sort of territorial imperative, a sense that the O's controlled their own turf despite the presence of the huge Bucs.
One Baltimore pitcher remained behind as the Pirates entered the cage. Palmer, the eight-time 20-game winner, grinned at Stargell, the 471-homer man, as No. 8 took his practice bunts.
The two -- the only men on their teams certain of an eventual trip to Cooperstown -- caught each other's eye.
"Is that how you do it? Is that your new stance?" Palmer needled as Stargell squared to bunt.
"You can look for this (the bunt) the whole time," Stargell said, grinning. "Just throw me those high fast balls."
Each team has one star player remaining from 1971's classic seven-game meeting in which the Pirates beat the Orioles -- the last time either made the Series. Those men are Palmer and Stargell.
The unspoken words that seemed to pass between them were, "I'm ready. Are you ready? Well, in that case, I'm really ready. Are you really ready?"
The unusual element in this series is that the Pirates know that they ought to respect the Orioles -- those 102 regular-season wins tell them that -- but they aren't quite certain why.
"I can't name 15 players on the entire Baltimore roster yet," said one Pirate official, meaning no disparagement. "And most of the ones I can name are pitchers."
The Birds are aware that it is Pittsburgh that has a monopoly on names that may live in baseball history.
For instance, Parker is the highest-paid man in baseball -- his $800,000-plus salary being three times that of the highest-paid Oriole, Palmer ($260,000).
Bert Blyleven, designated Game 2 starter, has 2,100 strikeouts at the age of 28 and may one day pass Walter Johnson as the all-time strikeout king. Bill Madlock is a two-time batting champion. Only one man in history has pitched in more games than Pirate submarine reliever Kent Tekulve, who took the mound 94 times in '79.
One superficial glance at the opening game lineups is enough to make a fan think he's seeing mass typographical errors. The Pirate lineup looks just right -- Stargell's .281 batting mark is the second lowest , while the man beneath him, .264 hitter Bill Robinson, has 24 homers.
But what in the world are the figures next to the Oriole names? Belanger is hitting .167 -- by far the worst mark of any semiregular in the majors. In a year when the AL average as a whole was .270 -- the highest since 1950 -- Doug DeCinces hit .230 and Rick Dempsey .239.
That doesn't count Billy Smith, a classic weak stick, whose .249 mark is a career best. Oh, yes, 11-year journeyman John Lowenstein has a mighty .254 mark.
Could even the Miracle Mets on '69 field a starting lineup as inauspicious as this cast that has no .300 hitter and outside of Al Bumbry, almost no speed?
It is a mark of Manager Earl Weaver's haughty trust in his own judgment of talent that he is willing to keep Gary Roenicke's 25 homers and Rich Dauer's 61 RBI on the bench just to get the lefty bats on Lowenstein and Smith into the lineup against the three-quarter-arming Kison.
However, it also contributes to the myth that the O's are a Cinderella team just waiting to turn back into white mice.
Thus, the Orioles are insured of the same irritated, feisty attitude that they have carried into battle this year, with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox -- two famous clubs that, they believe, are their inferiors now.
"I feel we have more range in the infield," stated third baseman Doug DeCinces, who certainly has more mobility than his counterpart Madlock.
"There's no better shortstop in baseball than Mark Belanger (who, mercifully for Oriole fans, will start ahead of Kiko Garcia). I think Eddie Murray has more range at first than Stargell," DeCinces added.
"And I'd like to say one more thing. I think we have an advantage at catcher (over first-game starter Steve Nicosia and Ed Ott). Rick Dempsey has thrown out everybody who has tried to steal on him."
"I don't think our guys are bothered by the money -- the fact that some of their guys may make several times as much money as corresponding players on our team," said Ken Singleton. "But, I think, a lot of us would like people to know that we are on the same exact level that they are as players. Not better than they are. I'm not saying that. But, let's say, extremely hard to pick between."
The perfect example of that is the famous Pirate pair of Parker and Stargell -- the right fielder and first baseman who hold down crucial spots in the batting order.
The mighty Parker hit .310 with 25 homers and 95 RBI. Stargell had 32 homers, 81 RBI and hit .281.
Of course, the Orioles have a right fielder and a first baseman, too, who also happen to bat third and fourth. And they both happen to switch-hit.
Tell the non-Baltimore public that Singleton and Murray are a standoff with Parker and Stargell and you may get a laugh. Claim that the pair of O's might be a tad better and your only support will be the statistics sheet.
Singleton hit .295 with 35 homers and 111 RBI, while Murray's .295 mark encompassed 25 homers and 99 RBI. Both hit above .360 in the AL playoffs. As a fillip, Murray's range at first and his speed on the bases are probably as much superior to the aging Stargell's as Parker's range and speed are superior to Singleton's. Another dead heat.
"You can analyze and make position-by-position comparisons all day. It's fun," said Mark Belanger. "But it doesn't mean a thing. That's not how the game's played.
"You always evaluate baseball the same way. How will their offense, which includes their speed, do against our pitching, which includes the support of our defense? And vice versa. How well can they stop us?"
Reduced to those elementary terms the Series will probably come down to Baltimore's great pitching against Pittsburgh's almost-great hitting, while the Birds' good hitting is matched against Pittsburgh pitching, which is hard to judge.
If that be the case, Buc run-scoring will be modest -- less than they are accustomed to, but more than the O's usually allow. Oriole scoring is the mystery.
If Pirate pitching, especially starters, proves shaky, then the Series would exactly parallel the AL playoffs that the O's dominated. If Buc pitchers are strong, then this will be a long and rich World Series -- one to cherish.
"That upredictability isn't annoying at all," Belanger said, smiling. "It's what makes the game so great."