Why should Earl Weaver change now? The Baltimore Oriole manager has had the second-guessers up in arms all season, so why stop in the World Series?

In all four American League playoff games and the first game of the Series, Weaver has had to make crucial decisions on whether to change pitchers.

In all five cases, he has taken the hard way out. Invariably, he has made the unconventional, hot-seat choice, leaving himself open to criticism.

In the one postseason game the O's lost, Weaver has second-guessed himself -- taking the heat to keep his players cool.

It can only be imagined how much Weaver, who now has the second-highest managerial winning percentage in history (.597), is enjoying all this hubbub.

Everything he has done has been consistent with his handling of pitchers all season, and his broader sense of what baseball leadership is about.

It is doubtful if an eyebrow has been raised on the Oriole bench thus far. After all, only two other managers since 1913 have won 100 games four times, as Weaver made it this year. Neither of those other gentlemen -- Joe McCarthy and Connie Mack -- nor Weaver has ever been known for ignoring method.

Weaver's basic pitching tenet is that courage and confidance are almost identical -- each feeds on, reinforces, the other.

Therefore, Weaver never destroys a youngster's budding confidence by leaving him in too long to suffer a beating.

And, conversely, he never undermines a veteran's fully grown confidence by taking him out under pressure for fear that he might lose.

In other words, the Baltimore tomato grower knows how to accelerate his young pitchers' growth by pruning them a bit when young and tender.

And he knows better than to uproot his established hurlers by ripping them off the mound at psychologically inopportune times.

With this in mind, plus Weaver's penchant for always putting the pressure of criticism on himself if it will relieve pressure on a player, we may understand several crucial decisions that have mystified the general public.

In the first AL playoff, Jim Palmer, a sore-arm victim, was left in to pitch the eighth and ninth innings of a tied game after California starter Nolan Ryan had left.

"Take Palmer out," said many. "Where's that great bullpen?"

Weaver chose Palmer for that opener, over even Palmer's objections, because he wanted an example of poise established for his essentially young pitching staff. By leaving Palmer to go nine innings, Weaver was saying, "I trust my judgment, therefore I trust you. I'm not afraid to let you lose."

In the second game, Weaver left infuriating reliever Don Stanhouse in -- sink or swim -- for so long that critics had to ask, "How can you stay with a man who inherits a 9-4 lead, turns it into 9-8, then loads the bases?"

Weavr really had little choice. He would never bring either of his prize rookies -- Sammy Stewart or Tim Stoddard -- into such a spot with the season on the line.

Baltimore's first rule of player development is: never force feed. The spot for Stewart and Stoddard is when the Birds are well ahead or well behind and the onus of failure cannot be large. That, or an isolated spot where they know they will pitch just one inning or less -- to specifically selected hitters.

Weaver had one other alternative. He could wave in Tippy Martinez. That, however, moves into a gray area.

The O's skipper has full-fledged confidence in three hurlers -- Palmer, Stanhouse and Mike Flanagan. He believes they are the finished product, so, you're stuck with them. If they lose, then your team isn't good enough to win anyway.

Stewart, Stoddard and Dave Ford (inactive for the Series) are clearly in the growing stage.

That leaves Tippy Martinez, Dennis Martinez and even Scott McGregor -- all of whom fall into some middle ground. And, in the second, third and fourth AL playoff games, Weaver had to make quicksilver decisions about each of them on consecutive days.

Tippy Martinez, until this season, generally had been considered throughout baseball as a medicre journeyman. Weaver disagreed, and in '79, was vindicated by the little southpaw's 10-3 record, and 2.88 ERA in 39 games.

Largely through the team's confidence in him, Martinez finally believed in himself -- at least to a degree. At a certain pressure point, however -- on the road before big crowds, or on national TV -- the lefty still did some scary and nervous things.

So far, Martinez has not been summoned in postseason play. Sooner or later, however, the truth must out.

Will Martinez be the man who won five sudden-death games at Memorial Stadium in '79 and who has not given up a homer in 63 games, going back to May of '78? Or, will he be the emotionally Tippy pitcher who base-on-balled his way into the Oriole doghouse in '77 and '78?

Weaver's hardest decision so far -- by far -- was yanking Dennis Martinez with one out in the ninth of the third playoff game after Rod Carew's double.

Martinez had retired 11 in a row before Carew. "For criminy sake, Earl, leave the kid in," said the harpies.

"If there's one thing I'd change about this whole season," said Weaver, "I'd love to know what would have happened if Dennis had pitched to those last two men."

That doesn't mean the Weaver would have done differenly, only that he wants Martinez to know his concern.

Weaver's delight was genuine that the first Series game was rained out, thereby insuring Martinez of a Series start it seemed he would not get.

"Like a dummy, I let the press into the locker room too soon," said Weaver. "I should have taken a minute to announce Dennis' start to the whole team. I'd love to have seen his face."

Dennis Martinez is at the absolute last stage before receiving Weaver's total confidence. Only a grim late-season streak of eight loses in nine decisions has unsettled Weaver.

"I wonder if Ray Miller and I have failed in Dennis' development somewhere," Weaver said. "The word seems to be going around that if you just stay after Dennis long enough, he'll lose."

Perhaps no other current manager would be so candid, nor understand so clearly that it does little good to keep a pitcher's dugout reputation a secret. Part of growing up is facing the facts.

Some naggers even suggested that in playoff Game 4, Weaver might have lifted McGregor when the control artist issued a middle-innings walk to load the bases with O's ahead, 3-0.

Some managers, a bit desperately, might have. But Weaver has been more far-sighted than many McGregor critics for three years, seeing him as an equal to Dave McNally.

Thanks to a defensive gem by Doug DeCinces on the next play, McGregor pitched a pennant-clinching shutout. Suddenly, Dr. Small, as McGregor is called (after an obscure Marvel Comics character) has a much burnised reputation.

Soon, he may join that other trio in Weaver's complete confidence club.

Against this background, the first Series game is no surprise. Flanagan, known as Dr. Large, is the Orioles' bell cow, and the hurler that scouting reports said had the best equipment of any Bird to stop the Pirates.

Perhaps one of Weaver's strongest traits is his understanding that, ultimately, players win games, not managers. He can nurture them in the garden of baseball's long pastoral summer. But, finally, in October, it's time for the harvest.

Flanagan's masterpiece, with Weaver by passing a half-dozen safe opportunities to hook him, was the tiny manager's final proof of trust. Also, it was just one more example of Weaver's unflinching ability to ignore heat, accept criticism, and leave the game finally where it belongs -- in the hands of his prize tomatoes.