The need for acquiring Alan Wiggins might not have been so great if Rich Dauer had played like this two months ago.
In what could be his last start for awhile at second base, Dauer had two hits and made several impressive defensive plays tonight to lead Baltimore to a 5-3 victory over Kansas City before a record Fourth of July crowd of 40,616 in Royals Stadium.
Dennis Martinez (7-5) became the only starter on the Orioles staff to go at least two games over .500 as he pitched 5 2/3 innings and allowed three runs.
After Darryl Motley's three-run homer in the sixth inning, Nate Snell relieved Martinez and allowed only two hits to gain his fourth save of the season and lower his earned run average to 1.88. In his last four appearances, Snell has one victory and two saves.
The Orioles had given Martinez a 5-0 lead with a three-run third and two-run fifth, with Dauer, Floyd Rayford and Rick Dempsey getting six of Baltimore's 10 hits and figuring in four of the five runs.
"The bottom of the order has helped tremendously," Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver said. "I know people are getting tired of hearing me say this, but everybody's got to chip in to help you win these games."
Dauer's two hits tonight gave him 10 in his last 22 at bats. In the last 10 games, he has raised his batting average from .176 to .213.
"Until they get rid of me, I'm an Oriole, and I'm going to do the best I can," Dauer said. "To do anything less than that would let a lot of people down, and I wouldn't do that to the best organization in baseball."
Dauer could easily find himself on the bench by Friday night when Wiggins joins the Orioles here for the final three games of this series. Weaver said he wouldn't decide until later tonight -- "lying there, thinking" -- whether to start Wiggins.
With Rayford starting tonight at third base and Dauer also available to play there as a late-inning defensive replacement for Wayne Gross, it appears that rookie Fritz Connally is the most likely candidate to be taken off the 25-man roster (and sent to Class AAA Rochester) to make room for Wiggins.
The Orioles are trying to get their roster set for the second-half stretch run. And Baltimore, much to Weaver's delight, managed to win for the fourth time in the last six games tonight.
The Orioles built a 5-0 lead against starter Bud Black (5-9), who lost his sixth straight. In the third, Rayford's double scored Dempsey and Dauer and Eddie Murray's single drove in Rayford. In the fifth, Fred Lynn's single scored Dauer (double) and Murray's groundout drove in Lee Lacy.
But Motley's three-run homer in the sixth put the Royals within striking range.
Snell retired the first five Royals he faced and 10 of 12 overall, including three strikeouts. One of them followed the most controversial play of the game, which went in Baltimore's favor in the seventh.
The controversy occurred when Pat Sheridan, a pinch hitter, topped the ball in front of home plate. Catcher Dempsey, scrambling to field it, hit it with his arm while stumbling forward. Television replays clearly showed the ball was in fair territory, which should have made Sheridan safe at first with one out.
Instead, first base umpire John Hirschbeck called it a foul ball. "He called it right away, pointed foul and everything else," Weaver reminded reporters. The umpires gathered but did not reverse the decision. Weaver asserted that if they had, he would have been ejected from a game for the first time since returning.
Sheridan went back to the plate and swung at strike three from Snell. Two out. Willie Wilson grounded out to end the inning.
Was it a big play? "Who knows?" Weaver answered. "The next guy (Wilson) grounded into what would have been a perfect double-play ball. But you never know what happens."
Dempsey said he couldn't see the play that well, and Snell said he thought the umpires would reverse the call and put Sheridan on first.
But bad things don't happen often when Snell is on the mound. He gave up a single in the ninth to Frank White, but got Hal McRae to ground out to end the game.
Snell, who generally pitches in the middle innings, is giving Weaver more confidence to use him as the late man with outings like these.
"It is a little different in approach," Snell said. "You have to concentrate harder. Of course, I don't make the decision on when I come in, but coming in as the late man feels comfortable to me."