When you are riding the whirlwind, don't ask questions. Just hang on.
The Baltimore Orioles have a twister by the tail right now and they are willing to let it take them where it will.
"We are just blowin' people out," said a grinning Steve Stone, who won his 21st game -- and 19th in his last 20 decisions -- today in the Birds' 4-2 win over Oakland.
"It's typified by that big guy right there," said Stone, pointing at 6-foot-7 Tim Stoddard who got the last five outs for his 19th save -- all on swinging strikeouts.
Rookie catcher Dan Graham sat in an almost blissful daze after hitting two 400-foot homers off A's loser Brian Kingman to account for all four Oriole runs; three in the second inning, and a clutch insurance blast in the ninth.
"Two days after the All-Star break, (pitching coach) Ray Miller came to me and said, 'You wait and see. This team will catch fire and you're going to have more fun playing baseball than you ever dreamed possible. You will not believe the way this team plays,'" said Graham.
"It's true," said Graham. "Look around. Very few guys are totally outstanding. We might have three all-around stars, and that's being generous. But, Jeez, look what we do together."
Together, the Birds have won seven games in a row, including all five on this West Coast trip. They are 18-4 for August 31-12 since the All-Star break and 45-18 since June 15.
"I doubt if we can keep this up for more than about another five years (sic)," said Stone, who went 6 1/3 innings and compared Bay-side pitching conditions to "pitching in a meat locker . . . I just stiffened up like a side of beef."
"We've played about .800 baseball for weeks," said incredulous veteran Mark Belanger. "You've just got to milk that and ride it for all it's worth. Everybody's healty, everybody's hot. All the scary stuff . . . injuries, a pitcher's arm blowing out . . . we don't even mention it.
"I don't want us to fiddle around with the Yankees," said Belanger, after the O's learned that New York also won today, keeping their "lead" at a half-game (none in the loss column). "I don't want us to dilly-dally for a week or two, like we've got all the time in the world.
"I want us to just blow by them and build a lead of our own -- a cushion. And that's just what we're doing. We've got the gas pedal pushed to the floor and we're pouring on the coals."
Other Birds felt no such anxiety after their second brilliant, tense victory within hours over the vastly improved A's. "I'm not concerned about them (the Yankees)," said Doug DeCinces. "If we keep playing like we are, it's Katy bar the door. If they can play better than we are right now," he continued, unable to supress a chuckle, "more power to them."
Even normally crotchety Manager Earl Weaver was in an ecstasy of delighted snorts and giggles because one of his pride-and-joy trick plays gave Billy Martin third-degree managerial burns.
With the bases loaded, two outs and a full count on the hitter in the A's seventh, and the O's ahead 3-2, the Birds' Tippy Martinez picked Oakland speedster Rickey Henderson off first base when Eddie Murray sneaked behind him.
"It's a great play, but it should never happen," growled Martin, "what could be more embarrassing? We didn't just crawl out from under a rock. We know that play exists."
"Little field . . . little field," crowed Weaver, referring to the minidiamond without outfield in Miami where the Orioles spend interminable hours on fundamentals and trick plays every spring training. "That's where I lose my voice every year from yelling about plays like that.
"Give Eddie Murray the credit for being alert and putting the play on at just the right time."
"And, yeah, ya can give me a little credit on that, too," said Weaver who usually can go months like a broken record saying, "I didn't do nothin'. It's all the players."
Right now, the Orioles have moved beyond their customary, often-overlooked excellence to a higher level of baseball magic. They're good, but nobody's this good. No team has the right to repeatedly escape the kind of jams that they have.
On Friday, Sammy Stewart had men in scoring position in each of the last four innings. None scored as the A's went 0-for-9 in those clutch spots with Stewart fanning six.
The incredible coup de grace came after a leadoff triple in the ninth. Stewart and catcher Rick Dempsey stood on the mound and screamed at each other in mutual rage over their disagreement on what pitch should have been thrown.
"I told him he was . . . bringing some heat and this was no time to turn quitter," said the flammable Dempsey. "I told him the guy on third hadn't scored nothin' yet, so strike these next guys out and we'll discuss that other stuff back in the clubhouse."
Dempsey and Stewart ended up pumping their fists and screaming in unison on the hill like football teammates getting ready to charge out for the second half.Stewart fanned the first two men, then got a grounder to end that game.
Today, the Orioles were back at it -- courting catastrophe, then simply blowing the A's away as though they weren't a scrappy team that had gone 31-16 before the Birds arrived.
After a Mitchell Page homer, a scratch hit, a hit batter, a walk and 1 run-scoring wild pitch had both knocked out Stome and gotten Martinez in near-terminal grief, the O's pulled their Houdini act as, after an intentional pass, Henderson went into his hot-dog coma and got nailed at first.
Then, in the eighth, the O's outfield missed signals on a routing fly and Al Bumbry dropped it for a two-base error, Mayoing Martinez. Stoddard simply took over, threw seven straight strikes (one foul-tipped) for two strikeouts.
The Orioles are of the opinion, correct or not, that they are now an appreciably better team than the crew that won 102 games last year. "Our catching sure is better," said Weaver, pointing to the 16 homers and 69 RBI from the tandem of Graham (nine and 36) and Dempsey (seven and 33).
The designated hitter slot clearly is better with Terry Crowley and Bennie Ayala replacing Lee May and Pat Kelly. And, most dramatic, Stone says, "Of course our bullpen is better than last year's."
Once again, the O's may have been justified in letting a free agent -- Don Stanhouse -- go. Stoddard now has had a dozen consecutive shutout relief appearances over 17 innings with three wins and seven saves. "He's the equal of (Yankee Goose) Gossage," said Weaver. "No," retorted Stone, perhaps swayed by nine Stoddard saves of his wins, "he's better than Gossage. He beats himself less.
"People forget," reminded Stone, "that Stanley (stanhouse) lost his job to Tim last year. He only got it back because Stoddard got hurt."
In fact, Stoddard's ERA (2.13) is creeping down toward his 1979 mark of 1.71.