"My job is making young men into old heads . . . Stay within to win . . . Velocity be damned . . . Establish the changeup, then duck . . . Avoid good hitters, attack all others . . . React to the previous pitch . . . Variance of speed, not speed itself, is the key . . . Watch when he's good, talk when he's bad . . . Nothing in baseball is fourth-down-and-two . . . And don't forget the charisma." Baltimore pitching coach Ray Miller

The one primary, never changing reason for sustained baseball excellence is the teaching maintenance and passing down of the art of pitching.

At the moment, that artistry has reached its highest form among the Baltimore Orioles, where Coach Ray Miller is the keeper of the hurling flame, saying simply, "I am just the extension of a long tradition here."

No baseball organization in the past dozen years has approached the Birds' ability to develop, acquire, and nurture excellent pitchers.

With their sweep of California this week, the O's raised their percentage for their past 600 games to exactly .600(360-240) since the start of the '77 season. That record is predicated almost entirely on pitching, as is the Birds' current surge for first place.

As the pitching goes, so go the Orioles. In their past 25 games, the Birds have allowed just 2.8 runs per game (both earned and unearned), while holding opponents to two or less runs in 15 of the 25 games.

"The question isn't 'Why have we won 20 of our last 25 games'," joked Manager Earl Weaver, "it's why haven't we won more?"

"Compare our starting rotation to theirs," said California Angel Manager Jim Fregosi, whose fivesome includes Jim Barr (0-3), Chris Knapp (2-9), Freddie Martinez (3-5) and others too horrible to mention. "No, on second thought, don't compare them."

That's what every other team in baseball syas. Yet it is possible that Baltimore's arms are no better than those on half the franchises in the game. They're just better tutored.

"Until you get here, you can't imagine the difference," said Stone, the latest to have the scales removed from his eyes.

"I've had about 10 pitching coaches, but none were close to Ray Miller," said Stone. "Ray typifies the Orioles. He's a fundamentalist who's also a master psychologist.

"He'll humor you, cajole you or kick you in the butt, depending on what you need.

"Ray doesn't change your style, the way Johnny Sain was always dickering with pitchers -- like trying to change Goose Gossage into a controlled breaking-ball starter when he was with the White Sox. Ray works on your mind."

The first pitch Stone threw as an Oriole was his best curve ball for a swinging strike. When he returned to the dugout, Miller said, "You can't strike anybody out on strike one. You just wasted your best pitch."

In a dozen ways, Miller prodded Stone's sharp mind, getting him to rethink his sport totally after eight big league years.

Miller would visit Stone on the mound with a runner on third base and give him a unique order: "Let him score. 'he doesn't matter. You don't lose on one-run innings. Just avoid a big inning."

Slowly, Stone learned that the Orioles' theory of pitching was: throw strikes, don't walk anybody, let your defense help you, and don't let the team fall more than a run or two behind.

"Now,I go out and try to keep the team in the game," said Stone, "I don't think about my strikeouts, my wins or my complete game."

And so, of course, all those good things come when they are least sought.

"Ray is an extension of George Bamberger's thinking, but even better," said Flanagan. "George was close to Earl. Ray is close to the players."

Miller, the O's minor-league instructor for four years and now its major league coach for three, does not claim new ideas, just ones that he first learned and has since honed as an Oriole.

He wears a T-shirt that says, "No. 31 says, 'Stay within to win'." Which means, never try to perform beyond your controllable abilities.

"Generalities about pitching are usually pointless," said Miller. "You just learn a thousand things and after enough years you have a sens of when to apply them.

So, Miller's discussions of pitching are not systematic lectures, but rather a series of epigrammatic lightning flashes. He watches and, suddenly, the appropriate bon mot arrives.

"We sell our judgment for salary . . . "That's all a coach is," said Miller."You're only as good as your specific judgments, not your general theories."

So, to Flanagan, he emphasizes that the southpaw study the hitter's reaction to the previous pitch and play off that, rather than develop some grand tactical scheme. "There's no such thing as a set-up-pitch; each pitch's purpose should be to get an out on that pitch ."

With moody Dennis Martinez, he won't say a word for weeks as the youngster goes sour. "The worst thing you can do is talk too much," said Miller. "Wait until a guy is down and out.That's when he's receptive. Hell, then you can't mess him up. Make your advice simple and basic -- maybe just one sentence, like, 'Do everything out in front, which means charge the plate, drive with your legs, expend toward the catcher.

"The hardest job I have is forcing myself to sit quietly in the dugout for innings at a time and get a perfect mental picture of a pticher when he's at his best. If you do that, then when he's going bad, something should just leap into your mind.

"With McGregor earlier this year, the words just popped into my head, 'It's his hands.' And that was the problem. His hands were getting too high in his windup."

The Oriole method is always to emphasize the positive. As when Miller says one word to McGregor before he takes the mound -- "Charisma."

"The best thing a pitcher can do is struggle to a decent performance when he has nothing," said Miller. "Flanagan did that this week. Anybody can say, 'Nice going', after a two-hitter."

Miller's most constant theme, one he never learned in 10 frustrating minor league seasons of many strikeouts and few wins, is that, "It's better to have an 80-mile-per-hour fast ball and a 55-mile-per-hour curve than it is to have a 90-mile-per-hour fast ball and nothing to contrast it with.

Manager Earl Weaver has also always been a student of pitchers' well-being although in a nontechnical manner.

"All Earl knows about pitching is that he couldn't hit it," said Palmer unfairly.

"Earl doesn't mess with the mechanics," said Miller. "In a meeting, he'll just say, 'I don't know how to throw a curve ball but the one that boy's got ain't good enough. Get him a new one."

Those who try, in one easy lesson, to assimilate the quarter-century of pitching savvy that has accumulated in Baltimore are left high and dry. The art has been taken to a new plateau there.

Last Sunday, McGregor, whose fast ball couldn't break a car window, beat the Yankees, 1-0, and struck out Reggie Jackson three times on unexpected batting-practice fast balls down the middle that left the candy bar in a state of apoplectic confection.

After the game, neither McGregor, Miller nor Weaver was satisfied. Fred Stanley, you see, had gotten two measly singles.

"Well, he's proved he can hit that sequence of pitches," said McGregor.

"Maybe we should throw him something that's changing planes," offered McGregor with a Euclidian smile.

McGregor, Weaver and Miller nodded their heads sagely as though that might be a useful idea.

To most teams, changing planes is something you do in O'Hare airport.

To the Orioles, it means something entirely different.

The Lord only knows what.