At times, when Scott McGregor talks about a particularly elegant and understated piece of mastercraft that he has just painstakingly wrought out of the hard materials of a major league baseball game, he has about him an almost beatific aura of innocent pleasure and pride.
"Nights like this, it all seems so easy that I think I should be able to pitch forever," said McGregor with that odd blend of athletic confidence and personal humility that typifies him even more than his weird across-the-body delivery or his curious flipper-like throwing motion or his dastardly change-up.
"I feel great. My arm feels great. My mind is clean and relaxed," said McGregor after he had presented his Baltimore Orioles with their fifth straight victory, a quick and efficient 5-1 victory over the California Angels, who have lost four in a row.
"This is the best stretch of pitching I've ever done. Everything is working," said McGregor after he'd mesmerized the Angels on a seven-hitter, using just 86 pitches and 1 hour 58 minutes.
Naturally, McGregor walked no one, went to three balls on only one hitter and never had a ball hit within 10 yards of the warning track. The mighty Angels, tied with the Orioles for the major league lead in homers, saw McGregor improve his career mastery of them to an implausible 16-4.
All the support that McGregor (10-4) needed was provided in the third inning when Rich Dauer doubled, Al Bumbry tripled and Cal Ripken Jr. tapped an RBI ground out to short for a 2-0 lead against Ken Forsch (8-6).
Of course, McGregor wasn't ungrateful when, in the eighth, Dauer doubled (his first three-hit game of '83), Bumbry beat out a sacrifice bunt attempt for a hit and Jim Dwyer hit a three-run homer to right field.
The only run off McGregor was a futile and spiteful thing built on two ninth-inning bloops and a sacrifice fly. After Rick Burleson's pop double, Ron Jackson's single off the end of the bat, Brian Downing's RBI fly and an error by Eddie Murray, McGregor had misgivings.
"Scotty could easily have 13 or 14 wins," says Manager Joe Altobelli. "He's had terrible luck in the late innings."
For the last month, McGregor has ignored one heartbreak game after another. On June 16, he had a 1-0 lead with two outs in the ninth: no decision. On June 27, he allowed one earned run in seven innings: no decision.
On July 9, he had a 2-0 lead with two out in the ninth: no decision. The Orioles lost all three games, though McGregor allowed four earned runs in 25 2/3 innings (1.40 ERA).
"I thought, 'Here we go again,' " admitted McGregor. But this time, thanks to Dwyer, McGregor had enough cushion for his eighth complete game. In his last dozen starts (7-2), his ERA is 2.14. In his last nine starts, he's allowed only seven unintentional walks.
"The four most important things in pitching are location of the pitch, movement of the ball, changing speeds and velocity--in that order," said Angel catcher Bob Boone. "McGregor proves it."
"The only people who don't understand why McGregor wins are the people who never played the game," said Reggie Jackson, who, along with Rod Carew, sat out this game. Jackson has been in a slump and Carew reported a slightly pulled hamstring.
To McGregor, the irony of his success is that, last September, he wondered about his baseball future. Because of tightness and weakness in the shoulder, McGregor had a 6.83 ERA in his last 13 starts and was useless in the pennant race.
"Right now, the game feels so simple; and at the end of last year, I was so confused, my mind was so bound up," said McGregor. "Now, I don't even know who's on deck. I just say, 'Get this man out.' Slumps start as physical, but it doesn't take 'em long to become mental. If you're achin' and painin' you start to think too much. And when you feel great, you're calm and confident."
McGregor was so intact that even the July heat didn't phase him.
"Coming in from the bullpen, I told Rabbit (Coach Ray Miller), 'It must be July. I throw for 15 minutes and I feel totally exhausted,' " McGregor said. "Everybody else is going home and you're going to work. I hope the adrenaline catches up by the time the game starts."
Thereafter, the Angels, also minus Doug DeCinces (bad back), looked exhausted. At one stretch, McGregor got 13 outs in 13 hitters.
Other Orioles were cheered by this evening. Dauer, five hits in his last seven at bats, is now hitting .214. Bumbry says, "I've had a lousy season. I won't survive (in the league) another two or three years if I stay at .260. I hope and I think I'm comin' out of it."
Dwyer, who had three homers and six RBI in his last four starts, has a new (secret) stance adjustment. And Joe Nolan, off the DL (toe fracture), caught this evening with bearable pain.