The moment the Orioles completed the deal to acquire Alan Wiggins, it meant a career change for Rich Dauer, 32, the starting second baseman in Baltimore for most of the last eight seasons.

The Orioles have been looking for a new second baseman since last winter. And as Dauer said late Thursday night, "It's not easy playing every day with an ax over your head."

He is one of the best-fielding second basemen of all time. Yet when he came to Royals Stadium this afternoon in the midst of a 10-for-22 hitting streak, he knew he was about to be replaced -- maybe permanently -- in the Orioles lineup.

When Wiggins arrived today, the Orioles sent rookie Fritz Connally, an occasional starter at third base, to Rochester. Wiggins started tonight's game in Dauer's place.

"Until they get rid of me, I'm an Oriole and I'm going to be gung-ho about it," Dauer said. "This is the best organization in baseball. To put my head down now and not play the best I can would be a letdown to a whole lot of people.

"Whether I'm playing or rooting somebody else on the rest of tthis season, I'm not about to quit. I still love Baltimore. I live there. My friends are there. People are always calling me to pump me up.

"The people in Baltimore could have run me out of town when I went 1 for 41 as a rookie. I've had lots of terrible slumps . . . Obviously I'm not going to play every day anymore . . . well, let's not say that yet; I'll play when I'm told."

Part of the reason the Orioles organization kept after Wiggins was that Dauer's production had dropped drastically. A career .260 hitter, he struggled to reach .200 this season. Even by hitting .455 the last 10 games he has brought his average to only .215.

He was asked if a hitting streak six weeks ago might have changed his plight, and made the Orioles forget Wiggins.

"They still would have gotten him," he said. "They've been looking since last November for a guy with some speed who could lead off. Speed is the key to baseball nowadays. Winning teams have guys who can get on. And they just got Wiggins for nothing (two minor leaguers were sent to San Diego last week in exchange for Wiggins and his four-year, $2.8 million guaranteed contracct).

"Heck, if I had known they wanted stolen bases, I would have started running," joked Dauer, who has stolen six bases in his nine-year career.

He said he has felt more at ease since Earl Weaver, one of his biggest boosters and an advocate of playing everyone on the team, replaced Joe Altobelli as manager June 14. It's Weaver's presence that will keep Dauer in the lineup whenever possible.

Weaver, spotting several reporters around Dauer's locker, said "Richie, dammit, I knew I'd make a star of you yet."

Weaver doesn't attach much importance to veterans' streaks. He will have approximated previous performances. Considering that Dauer's .260 lifetime average is as good as Wiggins .258 last year for San Diego, Weaver played devil's advocate with himself and discussed the pros and cons of waiting for Dauer.

"The thing is," Weaver said, "you never know which year is the last year . . . Wiggins is a permier ball player. At least he was last year."

Wiggins, in a half-hour meeting with reporters after being called up from Rochester today, said he is "no godsend for the Orioles. They already have a good team. I'm coming into a situation where a chemistry has already been established.

"I'd like to just slip in the back door and feel my way around. I don't want to come in gangbusters, bringing the circus to town, wuith a trail of reporters. And that's in consideration of the other players."

And with that, he was off to Royals Stadium, where he would walk into the visiting clubhouse and introduce himself to the Orioles.

Rich Dauer included.