Edward Bennett Williams had just come from the Orioles' clubhouse, where he had volunteered the sort of logic guaranteed to get him laughed out of every public arena except a ballpark.
"I said to Tippy (Martinez) that the best thing to happen to us this year was his appendicitis," Williams said.
"It gave him a four-week rest. His arm couldn't take this pace for a whole year. Now he's stronger than ever."
Owner-fans are allowed such hindsight brilliance, and these last several weeks have been a late-summer's dream for Williams: when playing well, his team wins; when playing ordinarily, his team wins; even when not playing well at all, his team still usually wins.
Within the Redskins, while he was running them for Jack Kent Cooke, Williams was known as "Panic Button." So his refusal to get publicly tipsy over the Orioles, until their magic gets that magic number to zero, is understandable. He frets about the team twice slipping into "a coma," seven-game stretches of befuddlement in late May and early August that would be even more depressing in October.
This Saturday past, he was conjugating his emotions for this special season.
"The most excited I will get," he promised, "is the night we clinch the Eastern Division (of the American League, for all you myopic Cubs fans)." He paused and added, emphatically: "If we clinch the Eastern Division."
The last time the Orioles were in such full flight, 1979, Williams was their owner, but not their overseer. He had agreed to buy the team, but had done nothing to get it within a Willie Stargell homer of winning the World Series against Pittsburgh.
Wisely, Williams has chosen to abide by counsel that made the Orioles so good for so long, the revised KISS theory: Keep It Stable, Stupid. For instance, the team has had only three pitching coaches (Harry Brecheen, George Bamberger and Ray Miller) since the franchise arrived from St. Louis in 1954. By contrast, the Yankees last year alone had five pitching coaches.
What is the Williams signature with the Orioles?
"We've lost no one to free agency," he began. "We have added to our farm system. When I came, there were four farm teams. Now there are six. We're putting a lot more money into player development. We have gone into the free agency market a bit (for Jim Dwyer and re-signing their own John Lowenstein and Joe Nolan) and made a couple decent trades.
"The Nolan trade (for two obscure players) was a good one. We traded (Jose) Morales for (Leo) Hernandez; the jury's still out on Hernandez. The (Dan) Ford trade (for Doug DeCinces) is looking better every week; Doug's back is gone. But they (the Angels) knew that might happen when they took him."
Bottom line: "We've been in the race every year." Or every year there was a legitimate, uninterrupted race. Three games back in '80, final-day losers to the Brewers last year, just a game out after the '81 strike-silly season. Soaring down the stretch in '83.
To everyone except Panic Button.
He worries about Detroit.
The Brewers may have won the division last season, Williams reasons, but the Tigers kept Baltimore from it. From the eighth-pole to the finish line, home and away, Detroit won four of six games from the Orioles.
"I don't want to get ahead of myself," he kept saying before the team left for Detroit.
For all the Orioles' dazzling deeds on the field, Williams is convinced an off-the-field event about midseason was the most significant.
"I think the team got itself together," he said, "when we had that unfortunate story break (linking Sammy Stewart and Rich Dauer to a drug investigation). I think it had sort of a catalytic effect, brought everybody together."
That was just after the All-Star break, second week of July. Stewart also was arrested on a drunk-driving charge, Tippy Martinez had his appendectomy and the Orioles lost Saturday and Sunday games to Seattle. Even worse, Jim Palmer, Mike Flanagan, Nolan and Ford already were on the disabled list.
If Williams didn't write it, he might have been humming: "Sure could use a little good news today."
"It was the most injuries in modern Oriole history," he recalled. "At one time, we had 20 percent of the roster on the disabled list. If you have two of your rotation and your principal reliever on the disabled list, you have big trouble. We had that, for a long, long part of the season. Then we had a terribly poor year out of Dennis (Martinez).
"Nobody figured on that. So if you'd told me at the beginning of the season that we would lose Flanagan for all those weeks, that we would have 10 weeks of no Palmer, that we would have four weeks of no Tippy Martinez and that we would have the kind of season we have gotten from Dennis Martinez, I would have called it impossible to be in first place in September."
So what's the answer? Williams asked.
"Incredible help from Storm Davis and Mike Boddicker, and Allan Ramirez during the period he was most needed."
Their most valuable player, Eddie Ripken, has been splendid. Cal Ripken and Eddie Murray might bat third and fourth on the team, but they should be 1 and 1a in the most-valuable player voting. The only concern is their splitting enough ballots to allow a fine, but unworthy, player such as Cecil Cooper to win the award.
Williams was not on hand for the most memorable Oriole game, Aug. 24, though he retells it as well as anyone. Join him in the top of the 10th, the Orioles down a run to Toronto, Tippy on the mound, a second-baseman, Lenn Sakata (who was to win the game with a three-run home run), behind the plate, one left fielder, John Lowenstein, at second and another, Gary Roenicke, at third:
"Hate to say this, but that was a case of a manager losing the game. I mean, Tippy Martinez cannot throw a curve ball, because Lenn Sakata can't catch a curve ball. In fact, he can't even see through the (catcher's mask) bars. Now when Tippy throws a fast ball, the odds are at least 8-to-1 they're gonna hit it into the infield. And if they do, who in hell knows whether it'll get stopped.
"Instead, he (Toronto Manager Bobby Cox) lets the three runners on first base get Saint Vitus' dance. They are so hot to go, like three horses trying to break out of the starting gate. OOOOOOOh, they can't lose. They all took these incredible leads--and Tippy picked 'em out.
"Two great lines came out of it. Tippy said he threw it to first because he was afraid to throw it to the catcher. And Lowenstein said he (Martinez) threw it to first because it (Murray's) was the only familiar face in the infield."