As Mike Boddicker warmed up, he looked at the middle finger of his pitching hand. Not only had the blister, which has dogged him since high school, broken, but the fingernail was torn away and his hand was dripping blood. Usually, when this happens, the Baltimore right-hander tries to finish the inning, then heads to the trainer's room. It had never happened to him before a game.

Today, Boddicker knew that with three Oriole pitchers on the disabled list and the bullpen in shambles, the team needed him to give what he could.

So, as the game was delayed, Boddicker sat with trainer Ralph Salvon and pitching coach Ray Miller as the three took turns filing away the nail--grinding it all the way back into the cuticle--then dousing the area with Xylocaine cream to kill the pain and toughen the skin.

Finally, Boddicker took the mound and gave what he had: the best game of his career.

The 25-year-old shut out the Seattle Mariners on five singles as the Orioles won, 2-0, to avoid a three-game sweep. The tough kid with the nasty fork ball and big slider threw 135 pitches--the most of his life.

Boddicker struck out eight, walked three and showed the grit of a champ as he matched Seattle all-star Matt Young through 6 1/2 scoreless innings. Because Boddicker wouldn't cry "uncle," the Orioles got a desperately needed win on a day when they managed only a measly two hits.

The Mariner rookie had a no-hitter into the fifth and a one-hitter into the seventh. The Orioles, who'd scored only two runs in 30 innings, looked like they would never nick the classy southpaw. Yet Boddicker seemed not to care. For six straight innings he worked out of jams, following the first cardinal law of the excellent pitcher--never let the other team score first.

Finally, because Boddicker kept them alive, the Orioles got their breaks. Two errors on sacrifice bunts led to two unearned runs in the seventh. Boddicker, riding a second wind, sprinted for home, getting the last 12 Mariners outs on just a dozen hitters.

If the Orioles, who'd lost three in a row and nine of 12 entering the game, show any signs of rebirth after this victory, it will be because of the inspiration of Boddicker's effort, plus the luck of their two winning runs.

Afterward, Boddicker's finger was blood-caked. "It stopped hurting after awhile," shrugged Boddicker, who shut out Chicago in May.

It's lucky Jim Palmer wasn't in the Orioles locker room; he wouldn't have enjoyed the comparisons his mates made between Boddicker's work and Palmer's three weeks ago when he took himself out in the sixth with a "hangnail" nobody else could see.

For Young (7-9), this was a brutal defeat; despite a 2.68 ERA, he's lost six games in a row because Seattle has scored only nine runs in those games.

Eddie Murray opened the seventh with a single. The Orioles started bunting--bad news for Young, who has such a chronic bad back that a doctor visited his hotel room in the middle of the night just 12 hours before this game.

Young bobbled Gary Roenicke's sacrifice for an error. Then, he took too long on Ken Singleton's poor bunt; his throw barely beat Murray to third, and Jamie Allen dropped the ball.

Benny Ayala delivered a deep sacrifice fly, Roenicke taking third. Rick Sweet's passed ball brought Roenicke home for the second run.

"I'm very proud of our pitching," said Miller after watching Scott McGregor, Boddicker and Storm Davis allow just four earned runs in 26 2/3 innings in their weekend starts. "Everybody's knocking our pitching, but we're third in the league in ERA. We've been losing because we haven't been scoring.

"If you took two starters and the top reliever off any other contender in this league, that team would go right down the tubes. We're hanging right in there because of Davis and Boddicker.

"This guy could be good," said Altobelli, grinning, referring to Boddicker, whose record is 5-4 with a 3.45 ERA and an impressive walk-strikeout ratio of 46-20 in 63 innings.

Boddicker, who eats mass quantities of Jello (for the gelatin) to help strengthen his fingernails, still gets kidded by Murray, who says, "You got the radar gun up to 78 (mph) today. Every inning I can't believe you threw slower than the inning before." But his mates appreciate him. He and Murray threw their heads back this afternoon, in a parody of mock humility, and wailed, "Awwwwwww, I don't know how I did it."

"Mike's proved himself here," said Miller.

Has Boddicker proved himself so much that he, and not Palmer, will be in the rotation when Flanagan and everybody else is finally healthy?

"I think so," said Miller.