Manager Earl Weaver adjusted the fine-tuning dial on his Baltimore Orioles lineup tonight, starting John Stefero at catcher and flip-flopping Fred Lynn and Cal Ripken in the batting order.
And, for at least one night, it worked. Lynn hit a first-inning two-run homer, Mike Boddicker and Don Aase combined on a four-hitter, and 24 hours after their ninth loss in 14 games, the Orioles beat the Kansas City Royals, 5-2, before 34,416 at Memorial Stadium.
"There was no science to that at all," Weaver said of the moves. "I just wanted to give it a shot. The little thinking was that no one had been throwing us strikes anyway, so maybe if we put people in different spots, it might affect things."
Whatever the reason, the Orioles got five runs and eight hits off the American League's best pitcher this season, Kansas City's Dennis Leonard (3-3), who had his first bad start of the year and saw his ERA skyrocket from 0.73 to 1.64.
The 13-14 Orioles got two hits apiece from their hottest hitters, Alan Wiggins and Larry Sheets, and scored in only one inning after a two-run first. That was in the third when Sheets keyed the rally with a two-run double. His two hits raised his average to a team-high .370, and Wiggins has raised his average from .178 to .250 in seven games.
One of the first things Weaver had wanted to do when he rejoined the Orioles last June was switch Ripken from No. 3 in the batting order to No. 5, and move Lynn from No. 5 to No. 3.
His thinking was that Lynn would get more good pitches to hit with Eddie Murray and Ripken hitting behind him, and that Ripken would hit his home runs no matter where he batted.
He tried it only a couple of times last season, but with the Orioles averaging 3.77 runs per game this season, he tried it again and said it might be a permanent move.
This time it worked as Lynn hit his second homer of the season to give Boddicker a 2-1 lead.
"You get better pitches in that spot," Lynn said. "I've hit third my whole career, but I came here to hit fifth. I like it, but I like whatever Earl wants me to do. The difference may have been that we'd seen Leonard once already, and some of the guys hadn't seen him before."
Most of the rest of the game belonged to Boddicker, who has been the Orioles' most consistent performer since he joined the club in early 1983.
He was pitching for the first time in three weeks and was just off the disabled list because of a torn ligament in his right middle finger, but he performed as if he'd never left, exactly what the Orioles expected from a guy who pitched a one-hitter in Toronto two years ago and had to have the muscle spasms rubbed out of his back between innings.
Boddicker allowed the Royals only one extra base hit, Steve Balboni's homer, and sailed through their lineup after allowing a run in the first. He ran his record to 3-0, and more important, the Orioles have won all four of the games he has started.
He allowed three hits in eight innings and struck out eight, giving him 29 strikeouts in 29 1/3 innings.
Weaver removed Boddicker after he hit Balboni with a pitch to lead off the ninth, and Aase finished his 12th game and collected his seventh save.
"Hell, that's not throwing," Weaver said of Boddicker. "That's pitching. That's the kind of game we'd hoped for, and it makes everybody look good. If we only give up two runs a night, look out."
Boddicker's first pitch of the night hit Willie Wilson, and Wilson ended up scoring for a brief 1-0 Kansas City lead. After Wilson went to first, Boddicker struck out Rudy Law, but George Brett and Frank White followed with singles for the run.
After that, Boddicker was terrific, allowing the Royals only five base runners the next seven innings.
"I felt pretty good," he said. "I didn't go out there with the idea of doing anything special. I didn't know how long I'd be able to go since I hadn't pitched in three weeks, but the only difference was that I was a little wild early."
After the game, he packed the damaged finger in ice, and when he took the ice away, he had a swollen, ugly finger.
"It hurt, and the doctor said it's going to hurt all year," he said. "It didn't seem to bother the breaking ball, which is what I was afraid of. There were maybe five or six times when I'd make a pitch and have a lot of pain, but it didn't last long."
The Orioles wasted no time getting to Leonard. Wiggins led off the first with a single to center, and after Lee Lacy flied out, Lynn lined a homer down the right field line for a 2-1 lead.
"What is it, 310 down the line?" Leonard asked. "I got the slider up, and he hit it. When you're playing here, it's just part of the game."
Then in the last of the third, Stefero, playing in place of Rick Dempsey (seven for 37 slump), singled to center.
Wiggins tried to get a bunt down and popped it to catcher Jim Sundberg, but Lacy singled to center. Leonard walked Lynn to load the bases, and Murray hit what should have been a double-play grounder at shortstop Argenis Salazar.
But Salazar bobbled the ball and had to settle for throwing out Murray. Stefero scored on the play, and Ripken was intentionally walked to again load the bases.
Sheets then jumped on Leonard's next pitch and slapped it down the right field line for a two-run double and a 5-1 Orioles' lead.
An indication of how good Leonard has been is that in those first three innings, he allowed two more earned runs than he had given up in the previous 37 innings. The Orioles didn't get anything else, either, as Leonard allowed two hits the final four innings.
"I had a chance to get out of it, but I didn't," Leonard said of the botched double-play ball. "You can't say if. I'm not making an excuse, but I think I was a little too strong. I got the ball up more tonight than in my first five games."
Aase's seventh save ties him with New York's Dave Righetti for the American League lead, and he has held opponents to a .157 batting average. He has seven saves in his last 10 appearances . . . Mike Boddicker's career record is now 54-37 (.593) . . .
Research by the Orioles' public-relations department showed this is the team's slowest offensive start since 1977, when that team scored 95 runs in its first 26 games. This season, the Orioles scored 98 in their first 26.