For John Lowenstein, May was the one month of a career that he got to learn what it felt like to be Babe Ruth.
"I don't know how he (Babe) did it," said Lowenstein with a laugh, referring to his Ruthian early season stats--10 homers and 25 RBI in 93 at bats.
"You'd have to say I'm the hottest bat in baseball," said Lowenstein, all 10 of whose homers, so far, have come in a period of less than four weeks and 70 at bats. "But when you're a common platoon player like I am, you have to relish these moments because they're usually quite fleeting."
For Gary Roenicke, this has been the spring when he's glimpsed all the promise the Orioles have seen in him for four years, but which they'd almost despaired of seeing come to fruition.
"For me to get to play this year, I knew I had to do something," said Roenicke, who was on the trading block all winter, but now is second in the American League in homers with 12. "With the acquisition of Dan Ford, it was obvious they weren't ready to wait much longer. I love this organization and I didn't want to be traded."
In a season of frustrations, the Orioles have had one thoroughly unexpected surprise. Thanks largely to the left field platoon of Lowenstein and Roenicke, they just might have more home run power this season than any other team in baseball.
The sub-.500 Orioles lead the majors in homers with 52 in 46 games, and are within one-tenth of a run per game of leading the majors in scoring, too.
Had Oriole Manager Earl Weaver been told in spring training that by Memorial Day his new power trio for '82--Cal Ripken, Dan Ford and Lenn Sakata--would have just eight homers in 430 at bats, he might just have stayed in Miami.
If he'd also been told Ken Singleton would have just three homers and Eddie Murray would miss more than a dozen starts already with a hand injury, Weaver might have retired a year early. After all, last winter the Orioles conceded that they would sacrifice some speed, defense and fundamentals to put all their eggs in their Dr. Longball basket.
At the moment, the Birds have won 11 of their last 17 games and are 20-14 since their nine-game April losing streak. Hardly auspicious.
Yet, because of Roenicke and Lowenstein, Weaver can say, "If the bullpen can get straightened out, I don't see any reason we can't be as good as we were in 1980 when we started off 28-30, then won 100 games.
"The starting pitching has been great for the last three weeks . . . The defense is nothin' we can't live with, and these home runs are for real. When it comes to the power stats, I'm tempted to say, 'You ain't seen nothin' yet.' "
What the Orioles have already seen is phenomenal production from two guys who, between them, can claim only one full-time job. In just 208 at bats, Roenicke (who also has played a few games at first base and in center field) and Lowenstein have 22 homers and 54 RBI. Lowenstein has the highest slugging percentage in the league, .710; Roenicke is second at .626.
How good have Brother Lo and Rhino been? Put their numbers together and the only apt comparison is Ruth in his prime. Bird left fielders, counting only their at bats when specifically playing that position, have 18 homers and 48 RBI. At that rate, they'd end up with 63 homers and 169 RBI this season.
What makes these numbers so vital to the Orioles is that, for the past two years, one of the club's big problems was lack of punch from left field.
In '79, this pair had 36 homers and 98 RBI in just 573 at bats. But then, in '80 and '81, their production plummeted to 14 homers and 55 RBI in 493 at bats and then just nine homers and 40 RBI in 408 at bats last season.
That's partly why the Birds got Ford.
Roenicke always seemed to be hurt--a broken wrist ('80), an elbow still weak from offseason surgery ('81), or some new swing-impairing bruise from being hit with a pitch. "We waited for him for two years," said Weaver, "but patience paid off."
The Orioles were also afraid that, at 35, Lowenstein might have lost his quick bat. This despite Lowenstein's remarkably valuable three-season numbers in 582 Oriole at bats: 90 runs, 21 homers, 81 RBI, 84 walks, 30 steals, .271 average.
What marvels a little job insecurity can breed. Even now, as Roenicke nurses a hand bruised by a pitch, Weaver says, "Gary'll have to work his way back into the lineup because Benny Ayala is hot now."
Roenicke's eruption has simple causes. He simply recovered from his previous injuries, worked with weights all winter and reverted to the stance he used in his 25-homer year of '79 when he was farther off the plate and held his hands lower and farther back, thus lengthening his swing arc.
Now, the 6-foot-3, 200-pounder, who depressed Weaver last year by not even being able to hit homers in batting practice, is dead-pulling line drives that crash into the seats before you can say, "going, going . . . "
By contrast, Lowenstein is more mysterious. The deadpan, wall-crashing wild man with the frizzy hair, mustache and omnipresent sunglasses always has been a secretive guess hitter who loves to set up pitchers by looking awful on a pitch, then laying for it and bleacherizing it.
Of his current hot bat, he says conspiratorially, "Same stance, same theories, but a slight application variance . . . I've felt this comfortable hundreds of times before. What's important is maintaining the length of the streak."
Lowenstein, who has a degree in anthropology, said last week, after bouncing one homer off the top of an outfield wall, "Sometimes the distance you hit the ball is not as important as having the proper spin on it."
For the moment, Lowenstein and Roenicke hold a unique place in an Oriole locker room that is largely shamefaced. They're so hot and have carried the team so completely that their mates occasionally avoid speaking to them.
"When guys are that hot, you don't say anything to them," said pitcher Mike Flanagan. "Especially, you don't say anything about hitting, 'cause anybody who's ripping it that good can't possibly be thinking about anything. They're going up there without a thought in their heads except seeing the ball, swinging at it and watching it go over the fence.
"Some kid asked me when I was going well in '79 how I held my curve and threw it. By the time I finished explaining it to him, I'd lost my curve ball.
"You don't want to be the one who talks them into a slump. Sooner or later, they'll stop hitting, and then the whole team will give them advice and none of it will be worth anything."
For the time being, however, Lowenstein and Roenicke are in their silent one-man worlds of unexpected perfection. Because of them, the Orioles still can dream about flexing their muscles in a season that might otherwise be lost.