If half the pitches Scott McGregor throws during games traveled the Beltway, they would not get arrested for speeding. Ministers in clunker cars would pass them; steel-laden semis might charge by -- going uphill. They surely could slip by radar traps as easily as they do most Oriole opponents.
If few hitters in the American League know how slow is slow, the Birds do. McGregor's changeup is not quite Billy Paultz slow, though any pitch that dips below 65 miles per hour regularly against quality batters ought to be still rising as it passes the bullpens in Memorial Stadium.
Such as Cliff Johnson would put a few into orbit, except for one tiny matter: Almost no one gets a solid swing at McGregor's stuff. Somebody might kiss the made-in Haiti part, but almost never the entire baseball. The man with the most innocent-looking face in his sport has the most devilish manner on the mound, a winner three out of every four decisions for most of the last two seasons.
"In the truest sense, Scotty's one of the greatest pitchers 've ever seen over the last year and a half," said Oriole Pitching Coach Ray Miller. "Just his command and poise -- I call it charisma -- the way he works fast and handles himself, mixes up his pitches. The hitters have bad swings, and the balls they do hit everybody is ready to catch.
"It just sorta grabs all the attention of everybody; it seems like the spotlight's on him and everyone else is just there."
The rest of baseball might move toward Miller's mood as the season wears, if the only strikes are on the field instead of off it. The Oakland Awsomes ought to fall dramatically to the forces of baseball gravity, pitching too long too often and in front of an infield that might not be much worse with Billie Newman at first and Jim McKay at third.
McGregor is 37-13 since June 11, 1979, because he almost never throws the same pitch at the same speed twice in a row and almost always puts each effort within needle width of where he wants it. Barring the sort of injury his across-the-body motion almost encourages, he ought to improve, having been in the league enough to write his own book on the significant AL hitters.
The fast ball pitchers are the ones who excite fans; the crafty, McGregor like pitchers are the ones who stir insiders, and infuriate the most hitters. It is not as embarrassing to whiff a strong Nolan Ryan fast ball as it is to miss one of McGregor's cutie-pie sliders, and resemble a soft pretzel after doing it.
McGregor had the A's in general and Johnson in particular spinning during the Monday victory that lifted his record this season to 4-1. Rickey Henderson's three hits were all Oakland mustered, and he scored from third only because Johnson made just enough contact on a dribbler to make a play at the plate impossible.
Towering Cliff spent the rest of the night against McGregor, watching the bat slip out of his hands five times and usually fly farther than anything he hit. The slower McGregor threw, the harder Johnson fell.
"I told Scotty that if he didn't have so much poise," Miller said, "that when (Johnson's) bat rolled up on the mound for whatever time it was he should have taken the rosin bag, dusted off the bat and then handed the thing back to him."
Watching Scotty grow has been one of Miller's great pleasures. The 27-year-old lefty has been a true pitcher for years, effective because his change contrasts so much with his fast ball and comes off exactly the same motion.
McGregor is neither Ryan swift nor statue slow. But anyone who can throw 85 miles per hour on one pitch, 75 feet the next and 65 the next -- and cut corners like David Stockman the entire game -- is going to glow under the most intense spotlight.
He clinched the '79 AL championship with a shutout of the Angels in Anaheim; he later won Game 3 of the World Series, then watched his only serious mistake of Game 7, to Willie Stargell, sail out of the park for a two-run homer that gave the Pirates a sixth-inning lead that became a 4-1 Pittsburgh victory.
The change takes a good deal of courage to hone, for while an effective one frustrates hitters, a sloppy one gets ripped.
"It is tough to learn," McGregor said. " know when I was in the minors (in the Yankee system) Bobby Cox told me I'd never be the pitcher I could be until I started using my changeup more. But when you're young and a Cliff Johnson's up there who can hit the ball a mile and somebody says just throw a slow one up there, it doesn't make sense.
"The whole key to hitting is timing, and a lot of young pitchers, myself included, come up (to the majors) with a fast fall, curve ball and slider. That's nice variety, but all the pitches tend to be the same speed, and a good hitter can adjust."
McGregor gets lots of outs with what is known as a "BP fast ball." It is no harder than what aging coaches serve up in batting practice, but is absolutely wicked when contrasted with serious heat and pinpoint junk. When he is most effective, the motion on every pitch is exact, to the point of having the same wrist flip after the slowest and hardest pitches.
The only changeup for a changup is the grip.
"The index and middle fingers give you velocity," he said, "so I hold the change deep in the palm, with my little finger and thumb really, almost like the way you grip a football. So the change just slips out of my hand; the fast ball snaps out."
And normally fine hitters bail out.