Earl Weaver has been manager only two days, and already the Baltimore Orioles have gained two games on the first-place Toronto Blue Jays.
Weaver's return to the dugout as manager tonight was everything this city's baseball fans and this organization have so passionately awaited. The Orioles had scored all the runs they needed by the third inning and went on to a 9-3 victory over Milwaukee before 39,142 at Memorial Stadium.
It was the first time since May 2 that the Orioles had won two straight games, and the latest victory pulled them within six games of American League East-leading Toronto, which lost tonight.
Weaver was given a prolonged standing ovation when he delivered the lineup card to the home plate umpire. It was his first official managerial duty since he retired as Baltimore's manager 2 1/2 years ago following an October game, also against the Milwaukee Brewers, who that day won the AL East.
The scene tonight, completely festive, was quite different than Weaver's first debut, in 1968. That came without fanfare, in front of 6,499 at Memorial Stadium.
This second "debut" probably couldn't have been more satisfying for a team in search of a spark one-third into the season.
The Orioles knocked out starter Pete Vuckovich (2-4) and scored all nine runs in the first three innings. They got a complete-game pitching performance from Storm Davis (4-2), who allowed only two hits the last eight innings after a shaky first.
"I was more nervous tonight than on opening day," Davis said. "I was all caught up in Earl going to home plate with the lineup. The last time I pitched for him was on a Friday night against Milwaukee. And now, it's Friday night against Milwaukee and he's back. It was like the 'Twilight Zone' or something."
The entire evening's experience appeared to be invigorating to the Orioles. Weaver was called back for a curtain call after the game.
Even catcher Rick Dempsey, a 35-year-old veteran, was excited enough by tonight's happenings to say: "It's a different feeling with him. I think it's what everybody needed. And that's not to say anything against Joe Altobelli. I don't know . . . maybe it's just Earl's style or something; everybody's just excited."
Weaver called his first night back "special." He used the same lineup that Altobelli has used most of the season against right-handed pitching, although the Orioles did use the hit-and-run more than usual. Eddie Murray stole his first base of the season, and even though Weaver didn't send him, it's the seemingly aggressive mood that the Orioles may need as much as anything.
"The chances for me batting 1.000 from this point are slim, but not impossible," Weaver said with that familiar impish grin on his face.
He faced a difficult situation in his very first inning back. Davis, largely because of all the excitement, was overthrowing. Ted Simmons' double gave Milwaukee a 2-0 lead, and Davis' overthrowing led to three consecutive walks that forced in a third run.
If Davis hadn't retired Rick Manning, the ninth hitter of the inning, Weaver might have come out of the dugout to get him.
Weaver said he was reluctant to take him out because all the Brewers had, beside four walks, was a bunt single by Cecil Cooper and Simmons' less-than-mighty double.
"They hadn't hit a ball hard," Weaver said. "They weren't even getting good cuts. I knew he had good stuff. At least it looked like good stuff to me, not having seen him in two years. But the main thing was, 'Is he going to get it over?' "
Davis, with Weaver now running the club, had to make an adjustment immediately, to his new manager's strategy and philosophy.
"I knew Earl wasn't coming out to get me because I could hear him in the dugout," Davis said. "Joe was quiet, he could sneak up on you. But I knew as long as I could hear Earl he wasn't coming to get me.
"I had good stuff. Earl just wanted me not to nibble and go after people. Joe wanted you to be almost careful at 0-2, but Earl wanted me to go after people."
Davis got Manning to ground out with the aid of a good defensive play by first baseman Murray, and the inning was over. "It was my biggest pitch of the night," said Davis, who allowed a total of four hits, only two the rest of the night.
The Orioles, meanwhile, scored at will off Vuckovich and Jaime Cocanower. Fred Lynn's two-run single in the first cut the Brewers' lead to 3-2, the second Baltimore run coming as a direct result of Murray's stolen base.
An RBI double by Dempsey, who broke a one-for-17 slump, and a run-scoring single by Jim Dwyer (two hits, four RBI) gave Baltimore a 4-3 lead in the second. The five-run Orioles third -- all runs were unearned -- was highlighted by Dwyer's three-run double and another RBI by Dempsey.
Nobody could persuade Weaver that a six-run margin was an overwhelming one. "That was not a big lead," Weaver said. "Philadelphia had a big lead the other day (26-7 over the Mets). We had what I call a comfortable margin."
Weaver was more than willing to share any credit due tonight. "A lot of the things I did were automatic," he said, "but when there were decisions to be made, I still depended on the coaches."
And Milwaukee Manager George Bamberger, a longtime pitching coach under Weaver, gave his old friend the needle after the game.
"He's still a great manager," Bamberger said, "but let's face it, we would have lost 8-3 Thursday and 9-3 tonight if Joe Altobelli was the manager. Or Joe Doakes."
It was nearly midnight, and it had been an extremely long day for Weaver, who had no fewer than four meetings tonight -- one with General Manager Hank Peters, one with Peters and the coaching staff, one with the coaching staff alone, and, finally, one with the players.
"It was like Opening Day II," Davis said. "I'm glad he's back. It's different having someone to yell at you a bit, kick you in the tail, fire you up a bit. But I think that's what we need."