Every time that the Baltimore Orioles go into a slump or a streak in 1983, the first factor to be put under a microscope will be the club's switch from the analytical, statistic-based, hard-boiled managing of closet psychologist Earl Weaver to the low-key, dutch-uncle, let-'em-play, go-with-the-hunch style of Joe Altobelli.
That's as it should be. Baseball has seldom offered such a chance to study the impact of a manager of a top-quality team. The '82 and '83 Orioles are similar enough that the largest difference between the clubs is the style and substance of the two managers. Seldom has that been clearer than in tonight's 7-0 Baltimore loss to the New York Yankees and left-hander Dave Righetti, who pitched a five-hitter.
Altobelli has had nights when his judgments and instincts were vindicated. But this wasn't one of them. It was fitting that the robust manager was so sick with flu and chills that he was sequestered with a doctor after the game.
"Had it for six days and the medicine isn't touching it," Altobelli said. "Time for a second opinion."
The Orioles have been in a slump for two weeks, losing eight of 11, including five of six, and it may be time for a second opinion on some of Altobelli's recent decisions. This loss knocked the Orioles from a three-way tie for first place into second place, just 1 1/2 games ahead of the starting-to-breathe Yankees.
"We're just dead right now," said Rich Dauer after watching Righetti allow only one runner past first base. "You can feel it on the bench. Maybe we're having our April right now."
Before this game, Dauer also said, "We're going through a time of adjustment to Joe. People don't know it, but almost everything is being done differently."
This evening was rife with contrasts between Weaver's way and Altobelli's. Weaver's tactics were so individual, and reinforced by so much oft-repeated logic, that his moves could almost always be anticipated; his team could even mimic the attending speeches.
In this evening's crucial moment, Weaver would have pinch-hit Bennie Ayala for rookie Mike Young.
That moment came in the top of the seventh inning with New York ahead, 2-0. Mike Boddicker had pitched six excellent innings, allowing just three hits. With one out, Gary Roenicke and Ken Singleton singled.
Now, the Orioles "had the gun loaded," in Weaver's phrase. For such times, Weaver had specific role players; under Weaver, Ayala existed for this spot.
"I had Ayala, (Leo) Hernandez and (Lenn) Sakata available (to pinch hit)," said Altobelli, not even distinguishing among the three, "but I like Mike Young . . . "
Young has five career at bats and started his first big league game tonight; Ayala has been a clutch hitter through four pennant races. Weaver often said, "I'd as soon have Benny in a big spot as anybody except (Eddie) Murray."
Young grounded into a double play to end the inning. End of demonstration. Ayala might have grounded into a double play, too, but it wouldn't have had the same effect on the Orioles, who immediately gave the Yankees five runs.
After Young's fizzle, the Orioles faded.
In the bottom of the seventh, Altobelli left in Boddicker. "Earl would have brought in Timmy (Stoddard) because he got beaten Monday," said Sammy Stewart. "He'd have come right back to him, too."
Boddicker gave up two singles. After a sacrifice, Stewart entered. Andre Robertson's grounder into center was for a two-run, game-breaking hit. Stewart forgot to back up home plate, instead wandering to a mystery spot midway between third and home. Shelby's throw home bounced to the screen, and Stewart watched with embarrassment as Robertson went first to third.
Stewart allowed an RBI single to Steve Kemp and a 400-foot home run to Butch Wynegar to complete a five-run inning.
Every Oriole knows Weaver wouldn't have started Aurelio Rodriguez 12 times in the last month; his consistency--a .120 batting average, a .120 slugging average, a .120 on-base-percentage--wasn't the sort Weaver wanted when a team had hit .229 with 27 runs in its last 10 games.
Nor would Weaver pinch hit for Rodriguez in the middle innings, then use Hernandez as a "defensive replacement," as Altobelli has several times. Nor would he have Ayala in on defense to lose one game, but not have him at bat to try to win the next one. They know that this Oriole team is still a Weaver creation that may only function if used in a Weaver way.
"We've got a lot of role players here," said Ken Singleton, "and some of them are being used in, ah, new ways."
"Ultimately, it's the players' job to execute. The manager doesn't win or lose," said John Lowenstein. Then he added, "Guys didn't think anything of ripping Earl's strategy, but with Joe, you feel like you're stabbing family."