"Gentlemen," Ken Singleton announced in the Orioles' clubhouse shortly after batting practice had been canceled and the temperature quivered in the high 30s, "we definitely have the advantage today. We've been in climate like this more recently than they have."

When was that? a Chicagoan wondered and Singleton had found the foil he needed.

"October."

Already his teammates had gotten the sly undertone of his message, that the climate to which he referred was more than weather. As defending American League champs, the Orioles knew one last look backward was just the proper way to muster a theme for the opener today -- and however much of the season the players' union allows.

A Single Tone, the more clever O's might chirp. Remember what got us here.

That, of course, was an uncommon blend of talent and intellect -- and enthusiasm for one another. That is why every player, from Jim Palmer to Dave Skaggs, searched the clubhouse an hour before the first pitch for someone with which to exchange a handshake and a good word.

Or to throw a sharply-honed verbal dart at.

"Let's do it again," Singleton said to Doug DeCinces.

"I'm gonna give somebody a whole lot of ribbies," Al Bumbry yelled.

When he arrived at Terry Crowley's locker, Bumbry straightened his face and said, "How can a guy like you be a DH, a so-called pressure hitter, and go through all the last two years without even one dinger (home run)?"

"I had one last year," Crowley said, then continued in the traditional baseball shorthand: "Detroit. Billingham, Change."

"Short porch," Bumbry sniffed.

A football player, former Redskin Pat Fishcer, once said the ideal mood for a champion, regardless of the sport, was that of a high-school team, the sort of rah-rah zest that fosters what can only be called meaningful nonsense.

"The one big difference in baseball is that it's played every single day," said the pitching coach and people-watcher, Ray Miller. "It's such a long season that you can't really get that rah-rah, Knute Rockne spirit for every game.

"What you have to have is a relaxed, happy atmosphere, which suits everybody. You have to be able to play the game without getting too high or too low. You're not able to peak emotionally. It's like a relief pitcher. He's got the most emotional job in baseball -- and yet he's not allowed to show emotion."

If this was the first and final day for warm handshakes and special, private words, some gestures that worked all last year will continue. Just before the team leaves the clubhouse for the game, Pat Kelly will yell: "This . . . is . . . not . . . a . . . drill!"

The first inning today illustrated exactly what Singleton fully meant by "climate." On the sort of outfield that would be called casual water in Augusta, the White Sox left fielder slipped and played a single into a double and the center fielder overthrew the cutoff man.

Baseball pressure allowed the Birds to score four runs, or what they needed to give Palmer the 226th victory of his career. In truth, these fellows in the sandlot-like uniforms were getting off to a dreadful start, inspiring a witness to suggest altering some traditional baseball lyrics to: ". . . . and we'll hoot, hoot, hoot for the home team. . . ."

Earlier, shivering reporters had pleaded with O's Manager Earl Weaver to avoid anything like a 16-inning game.

"I'll be out of here by the 11th," he snapped. "I get thrown out by the 11th, depending on the weather."

He added: "Men, they're doing it (opening day) right here. They're doing it right. The National Anthem, God Bless America, introducing the Sox as they leave the dugout and take their places on the field.

"Three years ago in Milwaukee it's 33 degrees and they introduce each of us along the first-base line. Then they introduce each of the Brewers -- and each one of them gets in a truck and rides around the stadium. They even asked us not to wear our jackets."

"It's the first time anyone had seen steaming icicles.

"You're supposed to finish all that (pre-game show) in 15 minutes. We were out there 20 minutes ourselves."

The first 20 minutes of the game today essentially determined its outcome, although palmer and second baseman Rich Dauer helped create a slight bit of late-inning doubt.

Chicago's third run came when one of the surest-handed infielders in all of baseball let a Little League grounder escape between his legs. Untouched by Dauer, the ball stopped 110 feet from home plate.

Later, in typically Oriole fashion, Dauer replayed his sin, jumping so outrageously one would have thought he was lucky to still be alive, that surely he was avoiding a hand grenade instead of a baseball.

"And then," Singleton recalled, laughing at being in right field at the right moment," he turned and looked out at me -- like I was going to go get it."