Mike Flanagan became the first Baltimore Orioles pitcher to finish seven innings this spring, and in the process tonight, moved within an eyelash of getting the team's opening day assignment.
As the Orioles beat the Philadelphia Phillies, 4-1, before 3,226 at Miami Stadium, Flanagan was only the beginning of their good news.
*Flanagan allowed three hits, no walks and a run in seven innings, easily the strongest performance by a Baltimore pitcher this spring.
*Fred Lynn continued his hot exhibition season, hitting a three-run home run in the sixth inning and raising his average to .348.
*Jackie Gutierrez started at second base and got his first hit in 18 at-bats. More important, he handled three defensive chances flawlessly -- two grounders and a relay throw.
"He didn't hurt us," Manager Earl Weaver said of Gutierrez, which was another way of saying: He wasn't Alan Wiggins (three errors and several misplays in eight games).
Weaver stopped short of naming Flanagan to start the opener against Cleveland on April 7, but came close. For one thing, he likes having his rotation arranged in a left-hander, right-hander, left-hander order, which could mean he would open with Flanagan, Mike Boddicker and Scott McGregor.
For another, Flanagan has been his best pitcher since the first day of spring training.
"He's got the experience, he's won the Cy Young Award 1979 and he's throwing well," Weaver said. "Unless something happens, there's a good chance he might be the guy. His performance tonight has me thinking in that direction."
Flanagan pitched four strong innings in his last outing but allowed four runs and two homers in the fifth inning. This night, he was midseason strong all the way through.
"I was ready to go out for the eighth," he said. "I had a little bit of everything."
Most impressive, he has been able to throw his curve for strikes, which is getting him ahead in the counts. "Then you wind up getting to throw your pitch," he said. "You're not forced to come in with a fast ball for a strike, which the hitter is usually looking for."
This spring's curve is the one he threw in 1979 and 1984, his best seasons in the big leagues, and it was so good tonight the Phillies were shaking their head in amazement.
"That's what hitters used to do when it was working," he said. "It has rolled a bit the last couple of years. Now, it has got that snap on it."
The Orioles again played without Eddie Murray (sore ankle), Mike Young (sore palm) and Lee Lacy (hamstring). Regardless, Lynn has been the only regular hitting well, eight for 23 with two homers and six RBI.
This comes after a winter when Lynn concentrated more on weight lifting than ever before. He said he did it because Weaver likes three-run homers. Sure enough, as soon as the game ended, Weaver said, "I don't know how many homers we have, but that was the second three-runner."
"I feel stronger," Lynn said, "and when you feel stronger, you know you don't have to hit the ball good to get it out of the park."