As the Baltimore Orioles look at the strange combinations that won world championships for the 1984 Tigers and 1985 Royals, the way the 1986 St. Louis Cardinals are failing and the San Francisco Giants are succeeding, they have again realized how unpredictable the summer game is.
"It is a matter of taking advantage of breaks, or getting a few breaks," Orioles General Manager Hank Peters said. "But you put yourself in position for those breaks by preparing."
He's speaking from a perspective of watching his team 42 times, and he now believes the overhaul of the Orioles might be complete -- and successful.
Yet, when this season was 26 games old, his Orioles looked to be on their deathbeds. They had offensive holes at third and catcher, an outfielder (Mike Young) who had suddenly stopped hitting home runs and a starting pitching rotation that was every bit as unpredictable as it had been in 1985.
Then something strange happened.
On May 10, Mike Boddicker returned from the disabled list and held the Royals to three hits in eight innings. That night, Fred Lynn, just moved into the No. 3 spot in the batting order, hit a first-inning two-run homer, and the Orioles started a six-game winning streak with a 5-2 victory.
Since then, it has been easy, and the keys to their 13-3 stretch have reminded them again how much a 24-man game baseball is. In short, the Orioles have gotten: Game-winning RBI from seven players. (First baseman Eddie Murray has had none but has hit .391 and driven in 19 runs in this stretch.) Outstanding work by Boddicker, who is pitching despite a sore finger and sore knee, but remains their guttiest performer. Since May 10, he has gone 3-1 with a 3.70 ERA and has pitched at least 7 1/3 innings in all four starts. More outstanding work from two relievers. Don Aase has been the best closer in baseball, finishing 18 of his 20 games and getting 11 saves in 13 chances. Since May 10, he is 1-0 with five saves and a 1.13 ERA. Good work from Aase's bullpen teammate, Rich Bordi, who was acquired from the New York Yankees for Gary Roenicke to take Sammy Stewart's place. Bordi has lived up to expectations and more. Since May 10, he has been Manager Earl Weaver's second-most reliable reliever, going 2-0 with one save and a 1.04 ERA. Help from a couple of people who were counted on to hit and who have begun to hit; one is second baseman Alan Wiggins. Mariners Manager Dick Williams, the former San Diego Padres manager, calls Wiggins "the most valuable player" for the 1984 NL pennant-winning Padres, and the Orioles know why. He's not only getting on base and stealing runs, but he has made only two errors. In the 13-3 run, he has hit .354 and has a .426 on-base percentage.
That means when the heart of the Orioles' lineup comes up, Wiggins is on base about half the time, and he has scored 10 runs in these 16 games. Production from the team's big bats. Weaver switched Ripken and Lynn in the lineup May 10, and since then, Ripken, Murray and Lynn have averaged .343 while hitting 10 homers and driving in 42 runs. Lynn was named the AL's player of the week yesterday. And production from some of the little bats, too. Rick Dempsey won the second game of the streak with a grand slam and tied another with a homer. Floyd Rayford won another, as did Larry Sheets.
"This is definitely one of the best teams I've been on," Lynn said. "We've got a lot of different ways to come at you. We can hit home runs, but we've also got some guys that can get on base, steal and score on a single.
"I think it's real important that we've now all been together for a whole year. Last year, the three free agents were new, Wiggins came in, Sheets and Ken Dixon were up from the minors. I don't care what anyone says, it's important that you get to know the guys you play with because you spend more time with them than your family in some cases."