For the Baltimore Orioles, no news could be more welcome, or more significant, than Ken Singleton's hitting explosion.
After a slump that lasted more than 200 games, Singleton is once again in the midst of one of those fortnight-long stretches when he can carry the team. This afternoon, in an 8-6 come-from-behind victory over the Oakland A's before 17,249 in Memorial Stadium, Singleton was at the heart of three vital rallies with a two-run homer, an RBI single and a leadoff walk that led to another run.
Thanks primarily to Singleton's hitting, the Orioles overcame Oakland's 4-0 lead, built an 8-4 margin of their own, then called upon relievers Sammy Stewart and Tippy Martinez--the latter getting seven outs for his third save--to make starter Mike Flanagan the American League's only undeated five-game winner.
In the last seven games, Singleton has batted .483, going 14 for 29 with four doubles, two homers and a dozen RBI as his batting average has rocketed from .191 to .303. As the Orioles gathered around their locker room TV after this victory to watch the Kentucky Derby together, it was no surprise that the fellow who had Sunny's Halo in the team pool was Singleton.
"When you're hot, you're hot," Manager Joe Altobelli said with a shrug, looking at the $150 Singleton would pocket for picking the winning slip out of a hat.
A winter of rehabilitation for his right hand, a spring of hard work and a recently altered batting stance apparently have again made Singleton a formidable power hitter.
If that proves to be the case, the offense could go from very good to great. The Orioles, now at .600 (15-10), are batting .292 as a team and averaging an astronomical 5.76 runs per game; at that pace, they would become the first team since the 1953 Dodgers to score 900 runs.
It's probably too soon for such adventurous projections, but Flanagan already knows the benefits of a supportive offense; he's gotten 50 runs to work with in his seven starts. No sooner had Flanagan, working on short rest and with a sore groin muscle, allowed four runs in two innings than the Orioles erased his deficit and gave him a fat lead.
Singleton changed this game with one swing in the second inning. Eddie Murray had doubled, then scored to cut Oakland's lead to 4-1 as John Lowenstein (16 RBI in 56 at bats) singled to center. "We still weren't back in the game," said Flanagan.
But they were a moment later after Singleton's 390-foot, wind-aided opposite-field poke cleared the left-field fence with ease. "It was a sinker on the low outside corner," said surprised rookie loser Chris Codiroli. "When they hit a pitch like that out of the park, you say, 'What else can go wrong?' "
Well, a four-pitch walk to Rich Dauer didn't help matters. Before the Orioles' second inning was over, Rick Dempsey's bunt and a two-out RBI hit by Al Bumbry had tied the game, 4-4. After two walks in the third, Singleton lined a first pitch to right for the tie-breaking hit and his first game-winning RBI this season. That finished Codiroli.
His relief, Tom Underwood, quickly was roughed up as Dempsey opened the fourth with a homer--his first this year--a dozen rows back into the bleachers in the left-field corner. John Shelby, who replaced Bumbry and went three for three to raise his average to .392, smoked the next pitch for a double to left-center and scored when Underwood's 59-foot curve ball bounced to the screen.
The Orioles, who have won six of their last eight games, and have scored 29 runs in the first four games of this home stand, finished their scoring off reliever Tom Burgmeier in the fifth as Singleton opened with a walk and scored on Shelby's two-out single.
Flanagan, who allowed 10 hits in 5 2/3 innings, sarcastically described himself as "sharp as a bowling ball." Twice, his center fielders saved him; Bumbry leaped above the fence to rob Kelvin Moore of a two-run homer and Shelby went up at the 387-foot sign in right to take a leadoff double from Jeff Burroughs.
Of his groin muscle, Flanagan, who has won 12 of 13 decisions since last August, said, "It's sore, real sore . . . I felt flat. I knew it was going to be tough. This was a struggle game . . . Singy's homer changed the game."
The Orioles hope that tough guy Flanagan, who'll pitch again next week on three days rest instead of four to accommodate Altobelli's rotation master plan, won't hurt his arm, as he's done in the past, by trying to be a workhorse when he's injured.
To the Orioles, Flanagan winning and Singleton hitting feels like the World Series year of 1979. Baltimore hasn't had such an encouraging spring since. Last season, for instance, the Orioles didn't reach their current perch--five games over .500--until their 119th game, on Aug. 20.
The top six batters in the lineup have mind-bending statistics. Bumbry and Shelby, together, are hitting .336 with 22 runs scored. Dan Ford's batting .343. Cal Ripken (.290) and Eddie Murray (.326) each are above a 100 RBI pace. The platoon of John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke has 24 RBI in 25 games and a .312 average. And Singleton, now that he's moved off the plate and back in the box, is hotter than any of them.
"This is the best hitting start I can ever remember us getting," said General Manager Hank Peters after watching his club get 10 or more hits in a game for the 15th time already this season.
"Our lineup's so deep, it seems as though every inning we have a chance to get something started," said Singleton. "The fans can never say, 'Let's go get a hot dog this inning.' "
If the Orioles keep storming from behind with waves of runs, as they did today, their 33rd Street faithful will gladly go hungry.