After one warmup pitch before the third inning today, Steve Stone walked off the mound, met a concerned Earl Weaver near the third-base line and flipped the ball behind him in disgust. His elbow had gone bad again. Finished for the day, the Cy Young award winner two years ago possibly is finished for his career.
"Very serious," Weaver said.
"I'll probably know (the extent of the damage) tomorrow," said Stone, hopeful the burning sensation that began during the second inning of an exhibition against the Rangers was adhesions tearing instead of something worse--and permanent.
That was the sad part of an otherwise cheery day for the Orioles. For the first time in 25 innings, they scored a run. For the first time all spring, including a spanking by some college kids Wednesday night, they won a game, 2-0. They scored four runs in all, but Rick Dempsey's two-run double in the bottom of the ninth doesn't count.
"First time that's happened to me," Dempsey said. He meant the Rangers immediately leaving the field after his right-handed hit, having requested that some Orioles bat after the official game to give a lefty pitcher more work. "Not a game-winning hit, but a game-ending hit. Earl saw it, though. That's all that counts."
The manager also saw Stone's painful throw, and talked about it in the harsh manner of a battlefield commander who's just seen a man go down but knows his troops must fight on. No time for sentiment.
"There were certain dates I've had Stone and (Jim) Palmer written down," Weaver said. "Now I'll scratch Stone."
Somebody mentioned Palmer's history of ailments.
"Then," the manager said, "I'll scratch Palmer and write (Sammy) Stewart in every four days. That don't look so bad, the way he pitched today. Eventually, that's gonna happen anyway. No doubt about it. So it might as well happen whenever it has to happen."
By coincidence, or perhaps not, Stewart followed Stone with five splendid innings today, allowing just three hits and striking out four. Could he go awhile longer? the Orioles asked after three innings. Sure, Stewart said. So he did.
"And Tippy (Martinez) didn't look too bad," Weaver said of his left-handed reliever, who got a spring save with one hit allowed and five strikeouts in the final two innings.
For a change, Weaver did not have to dwell on bumbling batsmen. With Eddie Murray out of the lineup with a heel ailment not considered worrisome, the Orioles had eight hits and runs batted in by Al Bumbry and Bob Bonner after 24 scoreless major-league innings.
They had scored six runs against the University of Miami Wednesday night, but most of them were the result of eight walks, three wild pitches and a balk. And the Hurricanes blew by Ross Grimsley and somebody named Storm Davis to beat Baltimore for the first time in seven tries.
Weaver was livid.
"He wouldn't sign my ball," a teen-ager said. "Can you believe it?"
Miami was saving its best pitchers for an important series with South Carolina, but Dempsey was a weak zero for four as a left-hander. He hit two soft flies to the outfield, struck out looking and grounded to third. Still, he intends to keep the switch-hitting experiment going. His one hit in seven lefty tries was against Phil Niekro.
"Knuckler," Dempsey said.
Did the Braves' pitcher say anything after Dempsey's dumper single, offer anything sarcastic?
Dempsey will switch-hit until either he or Weaver decides that 32 is too old for a .239 hitter to be learning new tricks. Dempsey insists he is comfortable at the plate, although he adds: "I've gotta refine things. I don't feel the same every day."
His right forearm and elbow heavily wrapped, Stone felt awful today. What started almost exactly a year ago may have flared up again. After that 25-7 Cy Young season, he was 4-7 last year, ending none of his 12 starts and spending three months on the disabled list.
"In the same area," he said. "It's one of two things: either the adhesions have broken, and the burning sensation suggests that might be the case. If that's it, I'll be fine after I throw again. If it's still sore then, I'll know I've done some damage.
"I had that (burning) feeling in Phoenix (when he tested the arm in January). So I hesitated. But after a couple pitches it felt fine. I tried a few curves, and it seemed better than ever. There was no real inkling something like this might happen. I've been terrific all spring, thrown well for six weeks.
"It's hard to understand a pop like that. I tried to get it stretched between innings, but when it was still there (after one warmup) I could see no reason to stay out there."
Stone's wry humor would not stay hidden.
"Hate to miss the Rangers with (Oriole killer John) Grubb out of the lineup."
Before Weaver's stream of realism, the 34-year-old Stone had said: "I'm sure every opportunity will be made to get me healthy. You can see that I still can get people out (he pitched two hitless innings today but was tagged for four runs in two innings his other spring start). I was throwing so well before the game.
"I was throwing very well before the other game, but couldn't get my rhythm during the game."
And what if Stone experiences the worst when he throws again?
"I'll go into the restaurant business a lot sooner than I planned."