The Haas family of Levi Strauss wealth may have bought the Oakland A's from Charlie Finley Saturday, but Mike Flanagan has owned this club for years.
Today, the Baltimore Oriole southpaw beat his Oakland cousins for the ninth consecutive time, the third time this year, and the 3-0 victory kept the O's a half game behind the New York Yankees.
This contest was a marvelous contract between the two best pitching staffs in the American League: that of the Orioles, which is built on craftiness, and that of the A's, which has learned the joys of doctoring baseballs.
When Flanagan got into a jam, he took something off, getting three crucial middle-inning double plays on what the Orioles call a "variable chance fast ball" -- also known as a batting-practice nothing pitch.
When the A's Matt Keough got into trouble, he did what all five Oakland starters do, he put something on: spit, grease, jelly, take your pick.
"It galls you to pitch against these guys who are all cheating," Flanagan said after his six-hit shutout had brought the Orioles their eighth straight victory.
"Now we'll get to go to Seattle and see Abbott and Honeycutt load up. It seems like the whole league is going to the spitter," Flanagan said. "We're about the last not to go to it yet.
"Maybe I'll need one someday, but not at 28," said Flanagan, now 13-9 with two shutouts this year, both on national television. "It's frustrating to watch them get out of jams with it. They don't throw the spitter much -- only on the biggest pitches of the game.
"A couple of years ago, I hurt my ankle and thought I needed an edge, so I started cutting up the ball," Flanagan admitted, not sepcifying if he meant in the majors or minors. "Looked like I'd put the thing through a thresher or a garbage disposal.
"But I went out there and felt so deceitful that I stopped. It just wasn't baseball."
Ironically, the Orioles' biggest hit today came on one of those spitters that have helped Keough improve his record in one year from 2-17 to 13-12.
"It was a spitter inside that didn't sink," Doug DeCinces said of the handle-hit weak grounder through the middle that drove in two fourth-inning runs.
"Aw, I just told Doug to hit it on the dry side," cackled Manager Earl Weaver, who, not so long ago, had an 18-game winning greaseballer in Ross Grimsley. "These umpires ain't gonna do nothing about it. They never do.
"Besides, that slick pitch is also the hardest to control," Weaver said. "If you throw it a little high, it don't break at all and then what you got ain't a spitball no more. It's a gopher ball. I love to see 'em."
Not so happy was Ken Singleton, whose first-inning double, after the first of Al Bumbry's three singles, set up Eddie Murray's sacrifice fly for the the first Baltimore run. Singleton smashed his bat at home plate after fanning with two men on when another mysterious fast ball suddenly took a nose dive.
"I take it as a compliment that they don't think they can get me out any other way," growled Singleton, in a seven-for-41 slump. "But, lately, I've been getting complimented with too much regularity. The A's are just blatant."
It is certainly an elegant twist that Oriole Coach Ray Miller, who was proud to call himself a spitballer throughout his minor league career, would rather teach his pitchers a "nothing ball" than an unclean fast ball.
"You can call it a 'variable chance' fast ball like Jim Palmer does for a 'BP fast ball,'" Miller said, grinning. "What it means is that you wait for a fast ball count, like 2-1 or 3-1, where a good pitcher might trust himself to throw a slider. But, instead, you just throw a lazy fast ball on the outside corner and watch them kill themselves pulling it on the ground to shortstop."
That is what happened to end the fourth, fifth, and sixth innnings on double plays. And, with two men on in the ninth, that is how Flanagan got Jeff Newman to ground out to end the game.
"I came here right on time," said a smiling Flanagan, who first learned the changeup from Scott McGregor on this field a year ago. "I didn't have much speed today, but between the curve, the change, and a few of those funny fast balls, I felt very confident."
All season, Flanagan has seemed too concerned with being impressive, with living up to his Cy Young Award reputation, when, in fact, a great deal of his 1979 success was built on trickery.
"Maybe my biggest enemy has been myself," he said. "You're defeating yourself if you don't make use of the infielders on this team."
In his last start, after giving up two runs and failing to retire any of the first four hitters, Flanagan had to change strategy because, in Miller's words, "He had nothing . . . the worst stuff of his career."
Yet Flanagan then pitched eight shutout innings before blowing a 5-2 lead in the ninth when, Weaver said, "I left him in two batters too long and cost him a win."
"It looks like that may have been a turning point," Miller said. "I told him he never had to panic again in his career, 'cause he'd never walk out there with less."
Of course, a big part of today's shutout may have been the A's, who, although they are 20-20 against southpaws, had a quartet of the sixth-through ninth hitters who had just four homers among them. Flanagan faced a weak crew.
At any rate, Flanagan's fifth win in his last six decisions had him in high spirits.
"It seems like a miracle to me that I still have a chance to win 20 games if I can keep putting together a run like the two times (in the past) I've finished a season 13-2," he said. "If Jimmy (Palmer) and I can get hot -- and we've been warming up -- and the pennant race keeps going, I think we'll have four 20-game winners."
Flanagan speaking confidently is a load off Oriole minds, at least temporarily. Earlier on this trip, the Birds discussed taking him out of the rotation for a one-start rest if he didn't stop looking tired, snakebitten and prone to blowing leads.
"Mike worries me," Palmer said. "He's going backwards. It's hard to put a finger on what it is. It's just a feeling . . ."
Of course, Weaver never has feelings. "Aw, ballplayers are as bad as writers," he mumbled. "They over analyse everthing. Mike is just our luck pitcher this year. You got one every season . . . the guy who has all the one-run games, the poor (offensive) support. If Flanagan had had average breaks, he'd be about 16-6 now, and if he'd had the runs (Steve) Stone has had, he might be Cy Young again."
Perhaps the most remarkable feature of this trip, on which Baltimore has now swept both misearable California and impressive Oakland, is that the Birds have built their incredible August record to 19-4 with almost no help from their two best players, Singleton and Murray.
Those two switch-hitters each have batted .160 the past 11 games, while stranding legions.
"Instead of pointing fingers at each other," Flanagan said, "we just pass the buck. One day it's Dan Graham who hits two homers, or Richie Dauer gets four hits, or Rhino (Roenicke) hits a homer in the ninth or DeCinces wins it with a hit in the 10th.
"Nobody feels any pressure. It's spread around. Contrast that with the pressure on Reggie (Jackson). I respect what he's done all year, but I also pity him a little."
"I'll be glad to see Seattle," said Singleton, who has hit seven homers there in two years. "I wake up in the Dome."
For the past two days, national audiences have been seeing the remarkable play that has pushed the Orioles' record to 74-47 (.606), and to 32-12 (.727) since the All-Star game.
"This game was on TV, huh?" Flanagan said, indifferent. "Right now, this team has its mind on tunnel vision, not tele-vision."