"All I wanted was to get out of Detroit, to have a chance at 'em at home. I said a couple days ago that if the Brewers beat us here I'd take my hat off to 'em. So far, I still got it on." -- Terry Crowley
The flock of Orioles that has made this American League East pennant race so thrilling can be confounding to get a handle on, as the Milwaukee Brewers know all to well. Young and old; shy and full of bluster. Everything at the moment but famous. Call them Fog Lifters, or anything else that opens the way for stars to shine.
Only the Orioles and baseball ornithologists are deeply familiar with such as Jim Dwyer and Storm Davis, Terry Crowley, Sammy Stewart, John Shelby and assorted John Flinns, anonymous arms and legs who now have the Brew Crew in such a stew. Collectively, they have made life ever so much easier for the Baltimore bellcows, even setting as dramatic a setting as anyone could imagine Sunday for Jim Palmer.
"Take a look in the training room," Stewart suggested after the Birds bombed Milwaukee again today, 11-3. "Think you'll find it interesting."
There on the wall is an enormous poster of a handsome figure in undershorts. The body clearly is Palmer's; the face, courtesy of an ornery Oriole, is Davis'. Once the team had a takeoff to cover nearly all pitching bases, Cy young (Mike Flanagan) and Cy old (Palmer), Cy present (Steve Stone) and Cy future (Scott McGregor). Palmer pitch-alike Davis now is being called:
These last four games, plus last Sunday's in Milwaukee, one can imagine the body Oriole glistening in autumn splendor; the hero heads keep changing. Shelby's, for a throw, one day; Crowley's, for a game-swaying pinch hit, another; the ascending, 20-year-old Davis for a complete-game victory when defeat means elimination; the declining, 32-year-old Dwyer for a batting binge like few others in baseball history.
Since Wednesday, Dwyer has not made out. Thirteen times he has come to bat; 13 times he has reached base safely. Lots of players in the Hall of Fame never were so torrid, although a fellow who also played some outfield for the Red Sox, Ted Williams, went 16 straight times without making out 25 years ago.
About time, Dwyer was saying.
"Going into that next-to-last-game in Detroit," he explained, "it had been a really bad year for me with men on base. Lotta chances to drive in some runs, and I didn't."
Wednesday in Detroit, Dwyer drove in the tying run with a one-out ninth-inning double; the Orioles still lost. Thursday, on base five straight times, he drove in the tying run with a two-out ninth-inning single; the Orioles won. He was three for three in Game 1 of the Friday doubleheader against the Brewers but did not play the one lefty Mike Caldwell started. He had a single, double and two walks today.
Dwyer knows how he's been blessed but not why.
"I'm seeing the ball so well," he said. "I know when it leaves the pitcher's hand whether it'll be a ball or not. Fact is, I'm picking out the strikes I want to hit. And I'm getting lots of good pitches to hit. I'm one of the guys in the lineup they don't want to walk. Nobody really minds walking Eddie Murray."
Now they do. Sort of.
"The other thing is that I'm not missing (good pitches)," Dwyer added. "Before, I'd get, say, a fast ball down the middle on 2 and oh and pop it up. Now it's a line drive."
Dwyer glanced about the Orioles clubhouse, saying: "One reason I signed with the Orioles (as a modestly priced free agent before last season) was to be with a contender. Here I am."
Baltimore was his sixth major-league organization in seven years. He's been around the baseball block more than a few times. Been the player named later once in a trade; been released outright, which is the worst kind of free agency. Now he's chasing Ted Williams.
"He worked with me in spring training (when Williams was a Red Sox hitting instructor)," said Dwyer, smiling. "This is one stretch for me; he did it his whole career. No, I'm not worried about it (the Williams record). He can have it if we get the pennant." Earl Weaver will find a place for Dwyer against Don Sutton in Sunday's ultimate AL East showdown; Dwyer seems anxious to live this dream to its conclusion.
"I'm even nervous in July and August," he said. "All us bench players are. That's how we make our living. It's not the best way to play; you gotta produce or they'll get someone else."
Career drifters appreciate these rarefied moments more than anyone.
"Amazing what's happened these last several weeks," Dwyer said. "We win seven straight and only make up one game on the Brewers. And then we lose that the next day. We claw at 'em, and finally catch 'em on the last day of the season."
In a nearly empty corridor as he walked from very likely the first massive press conference of his career back to the clubhouse, he skipped a time or two, slapped his hands and yelled: "One more!"
"The first three games," he said, "the burden was on them. Now it's a tossup. One game for everything. Pressure on both of us."