They bounce around the minors leagues for years, wondering if they're crazy, wondering if they're really just one break away from hearing the cheers in the big leagues. Or are they kidding themselves?
When you're Dan Morogiello and you have a funny physique and a memorable schnoz and a not-so-fast ball and your eight-year minor-league record is 59-62, you wonder if it's all worth the effort.
Then, tonight happens, and it is all worth it.
Dan Morogiello has guts.
That's what everybody was saying in Memorial Stadium this evening after the 28-year-old rookie Baltimore Oriole with the bulging stomach and the huge tobacco chaw got his first major-league save.
"He's a hungry, hard-nosed SOB," said catcher Rick Dempsey after the left-handed Morogiello had come out of the decimated Oriole bullpen this evening to get the last five outs and preserve a 7-6 victory over the Oakland A's for Dennis Martinez.
"He comes right after everybody. He's got heart. We need that. It's refreshing."
The Orioles built a 7-0 lead after just two innings, then watched as Martinez, now 5-11 after 6 1/3 shaky innings, and hard-hit Sammy Stewart squandered all but one run of that ample margin. Except for Morogiello's heart-in-mouth pitching, plus the A's amazingly foolhardy base running, the Orioles might have blown the biggest lead at home in their history. Never have they handed away a lead of more than six runs (and lost) in Memorial Stadium.
With two out and two on in the ninth, Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli made the rawest of hunch moves, leaving Morogiello on the mound to face .317 hitter Bill Almon, even though he had gigantic Tim Stoddard warm in the bullpen. The crowd roared its approval of leaving Stoddard and his 6.10 ERA in the remote regions where he could do no harm, but if Morogiello had failed, this would have been remembered as a bleak pennant-race night in Baltimore.
Instead, Morogiello, who had just gotten switch-hitter Ricky Peters to pop to right, persuaded Almon to loft a routine fly to left, then walked off the mound as sedately as though he'd done such things a hundred times.
"I just go after 'em. Always have. If I get hit, I get hit," said Morogiello. "And I don't do cartwheels."
"We call him Tippy II," said John Lowenstein, referring to ace lefty reliever Tippy Martinez (disabled list, appendectomy) whom Morogiello must try to replace for three weeks. "We're lucky to have Dan. The officials of the Winter Olympics almost got him away from us. They wanted to use his nose as a ski ramp."
The Orioles, winning their second straight, got a two-run single and a solo home run from Ken Singleton, plus a two-run homer from Eddie Murray. They scored four runs in the first inning to kayo emergency starter Steve Baker--as many runs in one-third of an inning as they had in the weekend's entire three-game Seattle series. Then, they added three in the second off Jeff Jones. Until long reliever Tom Burgmeier arrived to work 5 2/3 shutout innings of two-hit ball, it looked like a romp.
The Orioles also got a leaping stab at third by Todd Cruz which was so brilliant that the crowd awarded that rarest of standing-ovation curtain calls--a bow for a defensive play. On a night full of gems, the Baltimore keystone combination of Cal Ripken and Rich Dauer turned a classy double play to end the eighth; Almon was doubled by inches by Dauer's pivot throw to prevent a vital run.
There also were two splendid throws to third by Dempsey to gun down base thieves in situations where the century-old "book" says nobody should have budged.
In the fifth, the A's trailing, 7-1, Rickey Henderson was thrown out at third to end the inning; generations of managers rolled over in their graves. In the seventh, Carney Lansford, after being sacrificed to second, took it upon himself to try to steal third with the A's best pinch hitter, Jeff Burroughs, at the plate. Dempsey erased him by six feet for the second out. Many in this crowd of 22,546 will go to sleep certain that they never saw a dumber gamble.
Rookie A's Manager Steve Boros says he isn't one of them. "I want my team running. Those gambles will win us more games than they lose," he said. "I have never seen the book or read the book and I'm not sure I believe the book."
No book of standard baseball wisdom ever foresaw the Brooklyn-born Morogiello saving a tough big-league game; until tonight, his pride was that he was the only player in baseball who could chew a full pack of tobacco at one time. "It's taken years to stretch this cheek," he says.
On Morogiello's first big-league day, Coach Ray Miller told him about a pitcher who spent 10 years in the minors, starring for years in AAA, but never got one day in the big leagues. "That was me," said Miller. "You're getting the chance I never got."
Under Morogiello's uniform this evening, he wore another number--Miller's 31 with a list of the coach's instructions printed on the chest: Work Fast, Throw Strikes, Change Speeds, Hold 'Em Close. "His career was exactly like mine, but he got cheated," said Morogiello. "I'm gonna take my shot."