Things finally reverted to normal tonight at Memorial Stadium.
Gary Roenicke ended a zero-for-20 slump with a three-run homer, the Orioles beat the California Angels, 9-4, and Jim Palmer pitched a complete game and threw some choice, although soft-spoken, words at Manager Earl Weaver. The season has finally begun.
Thursday night, after a tortuous loss to the Oakland A's, Weaver held a 45-minute, closed-door meeting with his pitching staff. Tonight Palmer had his say.
"Every time he gives us a dissertation on pitching, I remember the Dave McNally line, 'The only thing I know about pitching is that it's difficult to hit.' What Earl had to say was fitting to Thursday night. But to blame our pitching staff for all our losses, or the majority of our losses, may be a little unfair."
Palmer (1-1) last pitched six days ago in Chicago, when he lost, 4-2. "A lot of things Earl says are not meant to be negative," Palmer said. "It just doesn't come out in a positive way. It's very difficult to pitch at such irregular intervals . . . It's a rush to judgment. I know that's the title of a book. But it gets a little negative. I think he should just wait till guys get out there every four days."
Weaver, who had left the stadium before Palmer's discourse, was very pleased immediately after the game: "He pitched a good, intelligent ball game . . . The relief comes from not having to bring in the relief," of which the Orioles have had precious little.
"That's a big one. Shades of New York, in 1979, when we turned it around. We were 3-8 and we had bases loaded with Reggie Jackson up." Palmer pitched out of it.
Anyone looking to history for solace should remember that tiffs between Weaver and Palmer are as much an Oriole tradition as cruel April records (the Orioles are 6-12 for the month and the year). There were other signs that the Orioles might be regaining their form.
After all, catcher Rick Dempsey, who flirted with switch-hitting all spring, had the game-winning hit batting right-handed against a righthanded pitcher, loser Stan Bahnsen.
The score was tied, 3-3, in the fourth (Palmer had given up a first-inning run, and a two-run home run to former Oriole Don Baylor in the top of the inning). Lenn Sakata tripled over Fred Lynn's head in center field and Cal Ripken Jr. walked for the first time this year. Dempsey hit a slider off the wall in left field for a two-run double. Afterwards, he swore he never thought he would get more than 25-30 at bats left-handed this season.
There were other omens that the Orioles' slumber may be approaching its end. Weaver played the game under protest after Palmer was called for a balk in the sixth. It wasn't a vintage tantrum, but it was enough to get him a standing ovation from the 15,877 who came to see the Orioles and the ex-Orioles (Reggie Jackson, Bobby Grich, Doug DeCinces, Baylor) do battle.
In the bottom of the inning, Roenicke, who came into the game with 12 strikeouts in his hitless streak, homered to left. When reliever Luis Sanchez hit the next batter, Dan Ford, with a pitch, the ex-Angel had to restrained from charging the mound.
"We have been playing defensive baseball," said Dempsey. "Everybody has been afraid of making mistakes."
But the story was Palmer, who took the offensive on the mound and in the clubhouse. The Orioles very much need him to be himself. Dempsey, who says it's all a matter of confidence, thinks he can be.
"If he gives up a couple of hits, he thinks something's wrong. He can be just like the Jim Palmer of a couple of years ago. It's still in his arm."
Palmer was certainly in good form. He mentioned the confidence he had in pitching coach Ray Miller ("he's as good as George Bamberger was"), and "I just think sometimes we should rely a little more on Ray."
He said he thought he pitched "all right," and shrugged. "If we get nine runs a ball game, I can pitch very well this season."