ARLINGTON, TEX., AUG. 3 -- Scott McGregor still remembers the chilling feeling that shot through him that night. "My God," he recalls thinking, "they don't even want me anymore."

He also remembers a conversation with Baltimore Orioles pitching coach Mark Wiley, who recommended a new pitch, and he remembers one with General Manager Hank Peters, who talked about McGregor's skills having deteriorated.

He said he'll never forget the booings at Memorial Stadium or the half-dozen or so team meetings. Someone would talk about players not doing what was expected of them, and McGregor thought every conversation was aimed at him.

"The low point was Minnesota {in early July}," McGregor said. "I'm sitting in the bullpen, and the starter is struggling. I was the one pitcher rested and the logical long man. But I looked up, and Eric {Bell} was trotting down from the dugout. That's when it hit me what they thought of me. It got to the point where I wasn't being used, but guys were being brought up from the farm system and put into the rotation."

A few days later, McGregor, 33, accepted a demotion to Class AAA Rochester. He did it even though he could have refused and possibly gotten his release and the remaining $2.5 million on his contract. But he didn't because "morally" he owed it to the Baltimore Orioles to keep trying, and also because he "loves to pitch. Everyone knows that I'll go into the ministry someday, but right now this is what I love doing."

He ended up in strange company, starting in a rotation with Ken Dixon and Mike Flanagan, a minor league team with a major league flavor. They'd all been in the major leagues on opening day, and in the middle of July, all found themselves pitching for the Red Wings.

They were wearing baggy uniforms that didn't fit and playing in parks McGregor hadn't seen in a decade. It was a tough adjustment.

"I don't mind telling you," Dixon said, "I was willing to do anything to get it together again. I wasn't in the best frame of mind when I left Baltimore."

The Orioles weren't sure what to expect when the trio came back to the major leagues after the all-star break, but because the team was 35-53 and 19 1/2 games out of first place, they didn't have much to lose.

"In spring training, we thought our best five starters were McGregor, Flanagan, Dixon, {Mike} Boddicker and Bell," Orioles Manager Cal Ripken Sr. said. "I don't think our judgment was off by that much." So having used 17 pitchers, the Orioles decided to go back to their original five (plus Dave Schmidt, who entered the rotation June 9 and earned a spot).

And it has worked out.

The Orioles begin a three-game series at Milwaukee Tuesday night having gone 13-4 since the break. New second baseman Bill Ripken has provided a spark both on the field and in the clubhouse, but mainly the Orioles have been better because the pitching has been better.

Their starters are 8-2 with a 3.65 ERA, and McGregor, Flanagan and Dixon have been no small part of that (2-1, 3.59). From having almost played themselves off the team, they're now important parts again.

"Hopefully, the true Orioles will play the rest of the way," McGregor said. "It was a situation where we all lost it at once, except for {Boddicker}. Personally, I got it back by going down there and seeing I had about the same stuff as everyone else. When I won in the past, it was never the stuff. It was throwing strikes and setting up hitters. But I'd just lost the confidence to throw the ball over the plate, and if you don't do that, you've got no chance."

He said the demotion wasn't humbling, but "the hard part was accepting it. After I got down there, it wasn't bad. I actually enjoyed reading on the bus trips and in the hotels and all that. It gave me perspective. When we were losing all those games up here, everything became so pressure-packed. In our meetings, we'd go over every hitter in detail. We tried to do everything just right when we, to use Flanny's words, needed 'to try a little easier.' We're back to that now. In the meetings, we ask, 'Is there anyone you want to talk about?' or 'How do you want to pitch this guy?' That's the way it should be."

Flanagan was sent down on a rehabilitation assignment after leaving a May start with a sore elbow. At the time, he was 0-5, and the Orioles let it be known they were ready to see others in the rotation. At 35, he was at a crossroads.

"The injury was a blessing," he said. "It gave me a chance to back off and get my mechanics together. I was down about losing, but my confidence wasn't destroyed or anything like that. No matter what kind of stuff I have, I always think I can figure something out when I get to the mound. The key for me was getting back to throwing the ball right, and that helped me have the right attitude about being down there."

He said he went "right back to scratch. I'd been throwing the ball poorly since spring training began, and I had a lot to work out."

Which Flanagan apparently did. In three starts since his return, he has allowed six earned runs in 18 2/3 innings (a 2.89 ERA). He was won once and left another game with a lead the bullpen couldn't hold. He has been so good, in fact, that almost no one talks about a 1988 team without Mike Flanagan.

"All the signs are good," he said. "I'm throwing the ball as well as at anytime in my career. What I like is that I've gotten progressively better each time out. I haven't allowed a home run yet, which means the ball is sinking and the curveball is biting. They're not getting under any balls."

Dixon's problems always have been more confusing, especially because he's 26 and has the best stuff on the team. His problem was that about a dozen times a game, he laid a pitch down the middle, which resulted in 23 homers in 82 1/3 innings.

"I've spent a lot of time talking to guys about pitching," he said. "Doug Corbett has told me about what I should do when I'm ahead in the count and how I should get some guys out with only two or three pitches."

What the Orioles mainly have asked him to do is simple: When he gets ahead in the count, throw the curveball or slider or whatever out of the strike zone, not in the middle of it. But early in the year, he was one part of a confused team.

"Everything snowballs," Flanagan said. "When the starters were getting knocked out early, the bullpen was worn out, which messes up everything. Now, the starters are going six or seven innings, and the bullpen is rested. It starts looking like everything is falling into place, but it's a fine line."