For those who weren't in Memorial Stadium on Saturday night and, therefore, missed seeing Jim Palmer pitch a one-hit shutout against Minnesota, Manager Billy Gardner of the Twins has a message of consolation.

"They shouldn't feel bad," said Gardner. "I had nine guys who missed seeing it, too."

Today, as Sunday's starter, Dennis Martinez, arrived in the Baltimore clubhouse, he spotted his longtime hero Palmer and started limping and moaning. "Ohhh, my back. Ohhhhh, my hip," said Martinez, grabbing first one, then the other. "I'm hurting bad."

"Well, Dennis, you're getting up there in age," retorted Palmer. "What can you expect?"

Certainly, what no one in baseball expected in 1982 was that Palmer would win 11 consecutive games and do it so masterfully that a rational claim can be made that, at this moment, he's once again the best starting pitcher in the American League.

Can this be the same endangered oldster who was 7-8 last season, whose ERA the past two years has been 3.98 and 3.75 and who, in May, was exiled to the bullpen (with no promise of a return ticket) with a 6.82 ERA?

Palmer's 13-3 record, his 2.32 ERA in his last 18 starts and his amazing mark of going undefeated from Memorial Day through Labor Day are not flukes. Actually, his streak could easily be 14 in a row, but for "no decisions" in three games in which he allowed only two runs.

Palmer, 36, once again has a fast ball that he can throw for strikes with impunity. In early-to-middle-inning jams, Palmer's combination of a hopping fast ball, a nasty new slider, a huge rainbow curve that he controls better than ever and two changeups is as overpowering a selection as any AL pitcher can command.

"That's the best stuff I've seen all year," Manager Earl Weaver told Palmer after his one-hitter.

"What we're seeing with Palmer is a little of the old, a lot of the new and a great deal of experience," says Jim Lemon, the Twins' hitting coach. "Even when he's ahead by three runs, he's still throwing four different pitches for strikes and all of them in the spots he wants."

"Lemon's about right," said Palmer, "except that I never had four pitches that I could get over before."

Says pitching coach Ray Miller, "Two veteran umpires have told me in the past week that, although they're seen Palmer throw harder when he was younger, they've never seen him pitch this well."

"Palmer is like a neurosurgeon. Those are 'incision pitches'," says Charlie Bree, the man with the Orioles' radar gun. "Every time he gets in a jam, my (radar) gun jumps from 82-82 to 87-88."

To all this praise and glory, Palmer has a typical response.

"Congratulations on being named player of the month (for August)," someone said to Palmer a week ago.

"It probably won't last long," said Palmer. "My back's killing me."

In his next two starts, Palmer pitched a four-hit shutout -- his first in more than four years -- then backed it up with his near no-hitter.

"That's Palmer," says Al Bumbry. "Got to have that excuse all ready. Just wouldn't be him otherwise."

Much about Palmer is eye-catching. His underwear ads. His network TV commentary in October. His famous mound hypochondria. His tongue-in-cheek, but oh-so-incendiary, second-guessing of Weaver. His repositioning fielders. His flamboyant, often controversial quotes on all subjects, including those he knows something about. His constant late-career requests for relief help.

Two factors are often forgotten: Palmer's vast pride and his capacity for both mental and physical labor.

"Maybe the smartest man and the best situation pitcher I've ever met," says Miller. "He teaches us all."

"The best-conditioned 20-year-old in baseball," Weaver calls Palmer.

In his deep concern over his dwindling performance in the last two years, Palmer has tried enough advice for a whole team.

He's changed sliders three times; "I've finally got one that breaks, but doesn't hurt (the elbow)."

He's adopted Steve Carlton's oriental hand-in-a-bucket-of-rice exercises; "I stopped that in spring training, I don't want Carlton getting any credit."

He's practiced Carlton's no-interview rule, though he breaks it as he pleases, as he did today.

He's practiced the pregame meditation methods of Steve Stone. Says Mike Flanagan, "It's a good thing for Jimmy that Stone didn't stand on his head." Added Palmer today, "Earl wanted me to get hypnotized but I was afraid to close my eyes. I was afraid I'd embarrass myself again."

He went on a small-weight lifting program prescribed by one doctor and a general strengthening scheme devised by another.

In the end: results. The fast ball returned. The painless slider appeared. The elbow and neck stopped hurting. The bullpen exile ("They used me as a scapegoat"), plus the team's public statement in May that it was perfectly willing to trade Palmer, served as motivation.

Gradually, even little pieces fell in place. For instance, when ahead by several runs, he's stopped his youthful practice of laying in fast balls to hit. Because they got hit. "I see the secret now," he says. "Like Mickey Lolich, never throw a pitch down the middle of the plate."

Finally, after his 1-0 win this week in Toronto, Palmer said on the radio, "This really helps my confidence. Like other people, I've wondered if I'd ever win another 1-0 or 2-1 complete game."

In fact, Palmer's late-inning confidence remains the last piece of the puzzle. According to sources, Palmer still starts asking for relief, discussing injuries and saying aloud, "I'm not going to make it" from the sixth inning on.

Says Miller, "Palmer's handsome, talented, intelligent, wealthy and famous. There's gotta be something about him to dislike or he'd be too dull for words."

This spring in a Boston hotel lobby, a distraught Weaver said, "I'm still convinced that Palmer can win 60 more games. But I'm afraid it's not going to be here (in Baltimore). He needs something to completely shake him up, maybe a trade. It'll be a shame, 'cause he can still be great, if he believes he can."

Now, like other fine pitchers such as Tom Seaver, Fergy Jenkins, Jim Kaat and Don Sutton who have made similar mid-30s turnabouts, Palmer believes again. Or, as Weaver yawned this afternoon, "Well, another win or two for Jimmy and I guess it'll be time to start lobbying for another Cy Young Award."