Each spring, like unelectrified Frankenstein, the Baltimore Orioles lie inert on a cold slab at Memorial Stadium, looking dead and, perhaps, emitting an unpleasant odor.
Then, the lightning hits. The corpse shudders. Slowly, the Orioles rise.
Villagers, watch out.
Anybody in the whooping, hollering, laughing locker room after the Birds' seventh win in eight games Wednesday night, knows that the monster is out of the lab and the rest of the league better fetch its torches and pitchforks.
The O's are a team of pitching, emotion and winning streaks. At this hour, the pitching is in gear, the emotion high and the streak under way.
For electricity, few scenes equal a team watching a TV replay of itself just minutes after it had stolen a victory with two out in the bottom of the ninth. That's what the Birds did Wednesday.
In sone of the wildest final plays of any game, the Orioles won, 5-4, when Minnesota botched a rundown play with Mark Belanger trapped off first base and Al Bumbry on third. Instead of getting the easy final out and forcing extra innings, the Twins handed the O's the victory.
"Does Belanger get an RBI for a forearm shiver?" crowed Rich Dauer as the O's watched the skinny Belanger flatten Minnesota second baseman Rob Wilfong and knock the ball out of his glove with a forearm to the head that allowed Bumbry to trot home with the inning run.
For the fifth time, the replay is run; the Orioles want to see it one more time so Belanger can give expert commentary on his heroism.
"Anybody can get a game-winning RBI. I wanted to do something different ," announced Belanger, whose .077 average is the major leagues' worst. "Here's the Belanger difference," he tells his mates as he boneheadedly gets himself trapped off first base.
"I'm lookin' for somebody to run into to get interference. Don't anybody get too close," he warns the Twins who are scampering all over the TV screen chasing him. "Oh, no. Watch out, Rob," yells Belanger to the image of Wilfong.
Here comes the elbow to the chin. There goes Wilfong to the ground. There goes the ball rolling toward nowhere. Here comes Bumbry home. There are nine Twins, standing in the infield looking at each other as the Birds celebrate.
"Oooooh," says Belanger commiseratingly. "Too bad."
Now, it may be "too bad" for the folks in the O's immediate future. Few teams are as streaky as the Birds. In '79, they had rampages of 15-1, 22-3, 15-2 and 14-3; in total, they were 66-9 in those stretches. In all their other games, they were 36-48. Again last season, the O's had binges of 13-3, 17-2, 8-0 and 13-3 for a total of 51-8; in all their other games, they were 49-54.
Weaver's eyes are bright with the knowledge that his club is halfway to hot.
His pitching staff has a 1.97 ERA in its last eight games; of the seven wins in that span, four have been by one run, including the last three. Three times in five days, the O's won in sudden deaths, the heroes being deep depth fellows: Jose Morales, Terry Browley and Belanger.
"A very good home stand," pronounced Weaver. "The owner said he wanted 10-2. I said 8-4. We got 9-3. We come home three games under .500 (3-6) and go out three games over (12-9)."
The Orioles have "caught" the New York Yankees in the lost column exactly 100 games earlier than they did in '80 (20th game versus 120th). And, the O's percentage of .571 is a plateau they didn't reach last season until Aug. 5. The obvious analogy, which the O's devoutly hope is true, is to the pennant season of '79 when, after a 3-8 start, they hit the jets with a 15-1 streak.
"Piece by piece, they're all startin' to join the march," Weaver said of his players, mixing metaphors but making sense. "All in all, I'm happy. In fact, I'm overly pleased with the way the starting pitching is looking. With all the rainouts and open dates we had, I think I did a good job with them."
What? The man who pats his own back once a decade praises himself?
Weaver's tactical passion in his rotation. It iven supercedes the importance of proper maintenance of the bench. He'll plan his pitching six weeks in advance. He'll watch the forecasts and root for rain on a particular day so it will change who-pitches-against-whom-and-where for weeks thereafter.
The first two worrisome weeks of this season, Weaver gambled on "benching" his hottest Florida pitcher, 20-game winner Scott McGregor, because, for a volume of resons, he thought his other starters needed the work more. Would McGregor rust and take weeks to return? Would those who did get the ball find a groove and justify Weaver's bypassing of McGregor?
So far, Weaver wins on all counts.
The pieces of a championship team are reassembled each season with arduous, exasperating slowness. Wisely, the O's are cautious in appraising themselves. "It's about time for that old Oriole magic," says Rick Dempsey. "But I won't say it's back until we win a series from a good team on the road. If we can win in Texas this weekend, we're on our way."
The Orioles still have their recalcitrant marchers, their temporary laggards. "We got to put in a call to Dr. Longball pretty soon," said Weaver, whose no-speed, allpower lineup has onyl 12 homers in 21 games. Also, Weaver has had to give Big Foot (Tim Stoddard) a hot foot by demoting him temporarily to No. 2 bullpen status behind Tippy Martinez.
Nonetheless, the superstitious Birds are chipper. "Good signs?" said Ken Singleton. "Gary Roenicke hit two flies to (Minnesota's) Mickey Hatcher and he lost both of them. Afterward, we found out Hatcher is renting Roenicke's house. That ought to be worth a discount on the rent."
"This team is logged," said veteran Crowley. "For instance, on Wednesday night we were a run down, two outs from losing, nobody on base and we had our eighth and ninth hitters up. But we scored two runs to win.
"Sometimes you put a key in a lock and the door won't open. You say, 'I know this is my door key.' So you just stand there fooling with the lock until suddenly the door opens. That's us. We know we have the right key. And we're not going away until that door opens."