Steve Stone said the rainout tonight gave the Oriles an overwhelming advantage over the Pirates in the World Series. Pens began scribbling furiously, as he continued: "Fact is, that's the turning point in the Series."

Those who know that Stone is a pitcher whose wit frequently is sharper than his curve ball still had trouble anticipating the punch line. Why would playingthe makeup game Thursday night instead of Thursday afternoon benefit any player, let alone his Orioles?

"because we won't have to spend an extra night in Pittsburgh," he said.


The Pirates also prefer Thursday night to Thursday afternnoon -- but for an entirely logical reason.

"You think anyone wants to face (Jim) Palmer in the afternoon pitching out of that house?" said second baseman Phil Garner. "Not that we can hit him all that well at night. But during the day, coming out of that house, he's trouble.

"I've done that number."

That was four years ago, when Garner was with Oakland. The house still stands, far behind the center field fence and in a line directly beyond a right-handed pitcher. But the Oriolesinsist the house is more troublesome in April than October.

"There's just enough foliage now to make it not that much of a factor," said Ray Miller, the Oriole pitching coach. "In the spring, with no leaves and Nolan Ryan on the mound it's tough."

The Orioles believe two dates were especially significant in their memorable season. April 19, in New York, they convinced themselves they were special; June 22, at home, they convinced Baltimore.

"We woke up in New York that morning in last place, 4 1/2 games back," said batting coach Jim Frey. We were 3-8 and had lost our last six games -- and then we made three errors and were down two or three runs with the bases loaded and (Reggie) Jackson up.

"What could be worse?

"Well, Jackson hits into a double play and we end up winning (6-3). from that point on, we won eight in a row (and 14 of 15), including sweeps of Milwaukee and California. that was inApril, but it was as big a game as we played all year.

"We went to the park not too happy. That game turned us around."

Two months later, the team turned the town around, from apathetic to ecstatic.

"There were something like 35,000 in the park that night," said third baseman Doug DeCinces. "And there was no promotion. They just wanted to see what was going on here. So I hit a two-out, two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth to beat Detroit (6-5). It was something they had anticipated. It seemed like they were looking for it to happen.

"And when it happened, it made believers out of the fans. That was my biggest thrill this season, bigger than that playoff double play (against the Angels), because that home run turned this city around."

Of the acrobatic double play that all but assured the Orioles the American League championship, DeCinces was asked the inevitable question about comparing it with some of Brooks Robinson's stylish efforts.

"Brooks who?" he said, laughing. The significance he added, beyond the obvious importance of the game, was lifting the Robinson shadow off him for a national audience. He had long since done that in Baltimore.

"And the first guy to congratualate me after the game," he said, "was Brooks. He said it made him nearly jump out of his box.It was a great feeling, watching him make all those great plays in situations like that and then doing it myself."

Batting cage banter: after watching the feeble swings of Oriole pitchers on the eve of Game 1, a rumor began circulating that a sporting goods company was paying them not to wear its batting flove . . . An informal poll awarded the Mr. Anemia title to Pirate relief pitcher Kent Tekulve, by a thin margin over Oriole shortstop Mark Belanger. "Keeps my streak alive," Tekulve said. Then he turned sideways and disappeared.

The Pirates have underlined all disparaging newspaper comments about themselves. Should professionals have to stoop to that sort of tactic to become inspired before such an event?

"We're all kids at heart," said Garner. "But i will say that i've been psyched before, and still not done anything."

Garner and Dave Parker are the two loudest players in an extremely extroverted clubhouse. Garner said their needling serves a greater purpose than relieving tension.

"We'll usually get in something about a missed cutoff, or not scoring a man from third with less than two out, things like that, stuff that needs to be brought out in the open and can be done in a way that doesn't cut too deep."

Garner can end the daily harangues from Parker with his bat. He said: "We have a standing bet. If I hit more than Parker for a season, he can't speak for 10 years. I almost got him this year (with a .293 average to Parker's .310). And I did outhit him in the playoffs (.417 to .333)."

Few players ever hear the truth about themselves as harshly as Pirate shortstop Tim Foli.

"Five years ago," he said, "Gene Mauch (his manager in Montreal) told me: 'You're never gonna be in the Hall of Fame. You have a chance to be a winning shortstop, but only for a good club. You do not have the skills to go outside yourself.'

"All that has been realized (with the Pirates) this season. If we need a base hit to right, or to left, or a bunt here and there to advance somebody, I can do it. Nothing spectacular, but the things it takes to win.

"The Lord gives us certain things we can do. If we go outside those things, we'll get hurt. Batting behind (Omar) Moreno and ahead of Parker has meant 20 to 30 ponts on my average."

Not all pro athletes care for their bodies as well as they should. But for dedicated abuse nobody can challenge pitcher Clyde Wirght, now in Japan. He was seen once at a table with some dip inside his upper lip, a chaw of tobacco in one cheek and a cigarette in his mouth. Before him was a Pepsi, and a whiskey and water.