On the opening day of the season, even angst takes the day off. Eveyone leads the league; everything is possible. Only a defeatist could see a zero in all those zeros.
Steve Stone, the 1980 Cy Young award winner who finished spring training with a 9.00 earned run average, could win it again. He could win 30, starting Friday at 2 p.m. in front of Baltimore's first opening day sellout, including his mom and dad. They'll get his Cy Young award while he gets warm in the bullpen.
Contrary to popular belief, confidence is Stone's out pitch. So, when people look at Stone's spring training numbers -- five starts, 22 innings, 22 earned runs -- and conclude that he has reverted to form, he says, "by reverting to form, they no doubt mean I'll win 25 again."
"Those are the same people, who said I'd never do it in the first place. If my numbers are better this year, and I give up nine runs a game next spring, they'll say he's slipping. They are insecure people who don't know how to handle another person's success. Those are the people who hoped that Muhammand Ali would get his brains knocked out."
Manager Earl Weaver stops by Stone's locker. "Don't go out there if you don't feel all right," Weaver says.
Stone points to his stomach. The flu, he explains.
Later in the dugout, Weaver says, "We may have to stick a thermometer in his mouth. I'd hate to send him out there with 102-degree fever. Scotty (McGregor) is primed and ready if he can't go."
After a brief workout, when trainer Ralph Salvon tried to take Stone's temperature, Stone refuses. "No, no, no," he says. "You can't have a fever, if you don't take it. I'm fine."
Which is what he has been saying about his pitching. Because success came belately to Steve Stone -- a 78-79 pitcher before 1980 -- it was sweeter than usual for him. He also is a bit more susceptible to second-guessers. If he loses a couple early, they'll pronounce him a fluke; he's too old for the sophomore jinx.
"One thing they can't do is take away the Cy Young award," he says. "If I never win a major league game again, I will have reached a pinnacle few ever realize. So they can say whatever they want. It really doesn't matter."
Neither do his spring training numbers, he says. The last time he did well in spring training, it was 1873 and he was with the White Sox. "I gave up two earned runs, two, after I slipped on the wet field and Duke Sims hit a home run, and they sent me to the bullpen. That year, 6-11, with a 4.24 ERA. No one wrote, 'My God, how can we forget his spring?'"
"Last spring, I was 0-2, with a 6.88 ERA. This spring I added to my ERA, it should mean another victory or two."
Weaver was equally nonchalant. "I would have been (concerned) if it hadn't been for the previous two springs. I worried in 1979 when we first got him. Last year, I was concerned. This year is the same as the last two. Of course, it would be a lot better seeing him get them out."
This spring, Stone and his curve ball had a trial separation while he paced himself and tried new pitches. Stone said that without his curve ball, his is like "Starkist without tuna."
"I threw very few," he said, "and the ones I was throwing weren't very good . . . A curve ball is a feeling. When it's there, it's unhittable. When it's not there . . . you have to adjust."
Stone says the curve ball returned one day while he was throwing on the sidelines in Fort Lauderdale. "It was ready for its annual late spring return, like the buzzards returning to Hinckley, Ohio."
The curve ball, always the last of the pitches to come around, was there for his last start, he said. Granted, it was against a bunch of kids from the University of Miami wielding aluminum bats, but he went five innings, striking out five, giving up five hits, and two unearned runs on two wild pitches and a hit batter. "It was time to do it," he said. "The elbow was strong. Most of the soreness was gone. I threw a lot of curves. I should have had eight strikeouts but the umpire wasn't giving them to me."
And, what if he does go back, if not to what he was before 1980 -- a .500 pitcher -- but to something less than Cy Young? "I saw Ron Guidry running on the sidelines the other day. He wasn't crying," Stone said. "He was 25-3 in 1978. He hasn't had a year like that since. He's still out there throwing the ball.
"My psyche doesn't hinge on wins and losses. I know where I am and I know where I came from. I'm a nice, hard-working guy and I'm going to be that regardless of the numbers. The only time you have trouble in this game is if your identity gets confused with how you did this month, or this year. I liked myself at 25-7 and I liked myself at 6-11."