The Orioles, who started so slowly, have won 13 of 16 and gained one measly game and a half on the Tigers, who led them by 9½ at week's end. But the world champs are convinced they'll prevail.
"I admit it's difficult seeing them win every day and wondering what the rest of the league is doing out there," says DH Ken Singleton, "but before it's over we'll be there in those funny black and orange uniforms."
"It's hard to persevere when you know the other ball club is doing exceptionally," says leftfielder John Lowenstein. "Lesser teams would've succumbed. The other night somebody asked me, 'Do you think the Tigers have peaked?' Can you believe it? I told him, 'I certainly hope so.' "
Unsurprisingly, the key to the Orioles' surge has been Eddie Murray. He's batting .519 with runners in scoring position, and in 23 games between April 19 and Sunday hit .395 with 26 RBIs, 13 of which were either tying or go-ahead runs.
Another plus has been Floyd Rayford, an infielder who recently has been an emergency catcher. Rayford, who was called up from the minors on April 19, caught nine games recently because Joe Nolan was on the disabled list after knee surgery and Rick Dempsey was resting a sore shoulder. The O's won seven of those nine games, and Rayford, a .199 lifetime hitter, contributed 10 RBIs on only seven hits.
Steve Carlton is a mere mortal, after all. Lefty, who is 39, was 60-24 from 1980 to '82, years of martial arts workouts having turned his body into a machine that seemed to defy aging. But he is 1-2 this season, hasn't won a game since Opening Day and is 10-16 since May 15, 1983.
"Instead of looking at Lefty as Superman anymore," says Phillies pitching coach Claude Osteen, "we should consider him just a helluva pitcher. He isn't the kind of guy who, when he pitches, you can say you're guaranteed a win. The overpowering stuff isn't going to be as regular as we've seen in the past. But he can take you into the seventh or eighth inning on pure knowledge."
Here's another indication that Lefty doesn't wear an S on his undershirt anymore: His right eye was blackened when teammate Kevin Gross accidentally kicked him during a pre-game martial arts workout last week.
Red Sox shortstops Glenn Hoffman and Jackie Gutierrez have committed five and seven errors, respectively; project that over 162 games and they'll combine for 59 errors.... The Blue Jays hoped free-agent Dennis Lamp would be their bullpen stopper, but he's had only five saves in 10 opportunities.... Dan Quisenberry has nine saves and a win for the Royals, who've won just 12 games.... Joe Morgan is doing it again. Morgan, 40, is hitting .264 for Oakland with 25 walks for a .425 on-base percentage, tied for fifth in the American League.... Rangers' backup catcher, Marv Foley, started the season with six home runs in 304 major league at bats. In his first 32 at bats for '84, he had five homers.... Twins catcher Tim Laudner has caught 14 of 23 runners trying to steal after throwing out only 13 in 67 attempts last year. "I'm working like a dog on my throwing," he says. He's gotten help from coach Rick Stelmaszek, who devised spring-training drills that concentrated on improving Laudner's lateral movement. Last year Laudner was winding up, and also throwing off the wrong foot.
The Reds are hot and so is Dave Parker—and, yes, there's a connection. The Reds have won 13 of their last 15 games, and Parker, the free agent the Pirates let go, had a 12-game hitting streak that produced 24 hits in 50 at bats (.480) and 14 RBIs. Parker, however, didn't get his first homer of the season until last Wednesday in Montreal, soon after the rest of the Reds started a pool on when he would hit that first one. "The pool's still on," Tony Perez declared. "He hasn't hit one in the United States yet."
Why is this man fidgeting? Last August, Ranger G.M. Joe Klein traded Rick Honeycutt to the Dodgers for righty Dave Stewart and throw-in Ricky Wright. Honeycutt is 5-1 with a 1.89 ERA, while Stewart is 1-6 with a 6.88 ERA and a sore shoulder. Last December, Klein traded catcher Jim Sundberg to the Brewers for catcher Ned Yost. Sundberg is hitting .307 with 14 RBIs and has thrown out 12 of 22 would-be base stealers, while Yost, in his first shot as a regular, is hitting .161 with 11 RBIs and has thrown out only four of 36 runners.
Also last December, Klein sent righties Mike Smithson and John Butcher to the Twins for outfielder Gary Ward. Smithson is 5-3 with a 3.38 ERA and Butcher is 2-1 with a 2.34 ERA, while Ward is hitting .189 with seven RBIs and four errors.
Finally, the Rangers released Bucky Dent in spring training and put rookie Curt Wilkerson at shortstop. Wilkerson is hitting .209 and has committed nine errors in 32 games. The Rangers, it should be noted, had the worst record in the AL at week's end—12-22. In fact, since last July 4, when they were 44-34 and in first place in the AL West, the Rangers have gone 45-73.
Joe Niekro has a 2.48 ERA. He also has a 2-6 record because the Astros have scored only nine runs for him in the 58 2/3 innings he's worked. "This is the best I can pitch," he says. "When that's the case and you're 2-6, you go a little nuts." ...Are the Phillies using lead gloves, or what? They have committed 32 errors over their last 17 games and 48 for the season, with Mike Schmidt, who has won eight Gold Gloves, leading with 12 and rookie second baseman Juan Samuel close behind with 11. This is the first year Schmidt, who has a swollen right knee, has made 10 errors before hitting 10 homers.... Cubs manager Jim Frey wanted second baseman Ryne Sandberg to pull the ball more in certain situations, and so far Sandberg is hitting .328 with nine doubles, five triples and 20 RBIs. Last year Sandberg hit .261 and had only 48 RBIs, 25 doubles and four triples.... Reds manager Vern Rapp, who used 27 different lineups in the team's first 34 games, says, "I have my computer between my ears." ...The Expos complained long and loud when Fred Breining showed up with a sore shoulder after being traded to Montreal in the Al Oliver deal; Breining's on the disabled list at present. So the Giants sent righty Andy McGaffigan as a peace offering. McGaffigan, 3-9 with a 4.29 ERA in '83, is 2-1 with a save and a 1.21 ERA.... St. Louis' Bob Forsch, who is 0-3 with a 5.97 ERA, has a sacroiliac problem that isn't going away.
Steve Boros used some participatory democracy to figure out a new rotation. When the A's manager enplaned for Baltimore last Thursday, he had decided to start Mike Warren, Ray Burris and Bill Krueger on a regular basis and use Steve McCatty, Lary Sorensen and Chris Codiroli as swing men. After June 1, the least effective of the swing men would stay in the pen.
"I sat down with each of them on the flight," Boros said, "and they all thought the idea stunk. They talked me out of it. They [the swing men] all said they'd rather be the odd man out than sweat out the uncertainty of their roles. They also didn't like the idea of rooting against each other."
By the time the plane landed, Boros had chosen his odd man out—Codiroli, who had a 7.61 ERA.
The catcher as stern father figure:
It was the sixth inning in Kansas City one night last week and the Royals' Jorge Orta had just taken the Tigers' Jack Morris deep to give the home side a 2-0 lead. Morris, who can go off the deep end himself, started waving his arms and kicking dirt. So Lance Parrish paid him a visit and told him, "Nobody wants to play behind you when you act like that."
"I get so ticked off at myself sometimes I can't help myself," said Morris, who held the Royals scoreless the rest of the way and got his sixth victory when Alan Trammell hit a grand slam off Dan Quisenberry. "I've been acting like a little kid again. And he [Parrish] is right. Lance knows how to handle me now. He's got so much more class than I have."
Terry Kennedy, the Padres' All-Star catcher, has decided to let everyone know he's no fan of Dick Williams. Kennedy says he's tired of his manager second-guessing his pitch selection.
"If they don't like what I'm doing back there," he said last week, "they can either get somebody else or call the pitches themselves."
Kennedy is also tired of listening to Williams tell him he has to pull the ball more. "I'm going back to hitting my way," he said. "I have to hit to all fields. When I try to pull everything I hit a lot of ground balls to the second baseman."
The Mets' 19-year-old righthander, Dwight Gooden, appears to be a strong candidate to succeed teammate Darryl Strawberry as the National League's Rookie of the Year. He has a fastball in the mid-90s, a curveball that is positively nasty, a changeup—think of that, a 19-year-old with a changeup—and the poise of a veteran. And after seven starts, he has three wins, two losses and 51 strikeouts in only 38 2/3 innings.
He won No. 3 Friday night in Los Angeles, shutting out the Dodgers 2-0 on four singles and striking out 11, including the side in the ninth inning. It was the fifth time this season he has struck out the side. Once he struck out five straight batters, and twice he has whiffed four straight.
"He's the best young pitcher I've ever seen," says Cubs manager Jim Frey, "and I've seen Palmer and Gibson and the rest. He's already a great pitcher."
"Only one or two come along in a generation who've got what he's got," says the Mets' Keith Hernandez. "He's just 19 and it's just so hard to believe."
Not to Gooden, who struck out 300 in 191 innings in Class A ball last season. "I told myself that if I do the job I'm capable of, I'd get these results," he says.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
MARIO SOTO: The Cincinnati righthander became the 27th pitcher in big league history to come within one out of a no-hitter, allowing a two-out, ninth-inning homer in a 2-1 win over St. Louis.
BALL PARK FIGURES
Chicago's 7-6 victory over Milwaukee last week was the longest game in innings (25) in American League history and the longest in duration (8:06) in major league history. It was so long that nine players who had at least eight at bats gained or lost 10 points or more, in some cases much more, in their batting averages. Those players, their longest-game stats and their averages before and after the game:
Paciorek, Chi, LF
Fisk, Chi, C
Gantner, Mil, 2B
Oglivie, Mil, LF
V. Law, Chi, 3B
Ready, Mil, 3B
Cooper, Mil, DH
Cruz, Chi, 2B
Stegman, Chi, LF