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E.M. Swift
June 01, 1987
The Orioles have been terrorizing American League pitchers with a record home run barrage
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June 01, 1987

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The Orioles have been terrorizing American League pitchers with a record home run barrage

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When the streak finally ended, the bleacher-blasting Baltimore Orioles—they of the record-setting 38 homers in 14 straight games—were, like the cow being led from the cornfield, less teary-eyed than stuffed to the muzzle. "All good things must come to an end," said a sated Cal Ripken Sr., Baltimore's manager, happy to be able to direct his bottomless cache of clich�s toward something other than lively baseballs. "We finally won a game without hitting home runs."

Which is not to say that after seeing his O's belt 66 balls over the wall in the season's first 41 games, Rip Sr. had become numbed by the sight. Homers, he will be the first to admit, are nice. But it was comforting to see his team scratch out a win for a change. Trailing the Oakland Athletics 2-1 in the eighth inning on the road Saturday, their consecutive-game home run streak of 14 on the line, the Orioles scored four times on three measly singles, two walks and two errors, and then held on for a 5-4 victory—their 13th win in 18 games. On Sunday the O's reverted to their power game as Ray Knight hit a fourth-inning home run to help lift them to a 4-3 win over Oakland.

During their home run spree, the Birds set major league records for most homers in 11, 12, 13 and 14 consecutive games (32, 35, 36 and 38, respectively, all of which surpassed the marks held by the '47 New York Giants), while putting themselves on a pace that would shatter by 12 the '61 Yankees' record of 240 homers in a season. Still, by week's end Baltimore was only three games over .500 and in fourth place in the American League East. If pennants are won by three-run homers, pitching and defense, as Ripken's predecessor, Earl Weaver, so often said, then the '87 Orioles have been heavy on the long ball and suspect elsewhere. But don't count this club out. "Things are starting to fall in place very well," says Rip Sr. "I like what I see."

Four weeks ago the only falling the Orioles were doing was toward the cellar, and all Ripken could see was his team playing the patsy. On May 5, Baltimore had a 9-15 record, had lost 14 of its last 18 games and was 11 games out of first place. Combine that start with the club's performance at the end of last season—42 losses in its final 56 games to finish below .500 for the first time in 18 years and in the cellar for the first time in its history—and you had a team that seemed, well, for the birds. Eddie Murray, the cleanup hitter and team leader, was batting .174 and was unhappy. The fickle Baltimore fans booed him in person and ripped him on radio call-in shows. One sports-talk host, former Baltimore Colts linebacker Stan White, told his listeners that he had seen Murray without his clothes on in the locker room after a recent game and, "Boy, has Eddie gotten fat."

That's all the locals needed to hear about their nonslugging slugger, who has a new five-year, $13.5 million contract. Murray told the Royals' George Brett, a close friend, that in his 10-plus seasons as an Oriole he had never been so miserable. Further, while roaming the Baltimore clubhouse one day, he was heard to mutter sarcastically, "It's great to be young and be a [bleeping] Oriole," a variation on the team motto his rookie year, 1977, when he would say the same thing in sincerity, minus the expletive.

Murray's wasn't the only bat that was silent in the early going. On May 5, Fred Lynn was batting .198 with one home run. Second baseman Rick Burleson was batting .151, and rightfielder John Shelby, who, along with minor league pitcher Brad Havens, was traded last week to the Dodgers for relief pitcher Tom Niedenfuer, was batting .185.

With a combined ERA of 4.36, the pitching staff wasn't faring much better. Veteran starters Scott McGregor and Mike Flanagan had a combined record of 0-8, and bullpen stopper Don Aase had been on the disabled list for 21 days and had yet to make a save. The offense sputtered, the pitching fluttered and the fans did more than mutter: They hunkered down and booed. "The way the fans were treating us," says outfielder/designated hitter Jim Dwyer, "it was almost like, oh, boy, we can go on the road and relax." Indeed, as of last weekend the Orioles were 6-11 at home and 17-9 on the road.

The unsung Dwyer helped get the offense untracked. A pinch-hitting specialist who has never started more than 62 games in a season during more than six years in Baltimore, the 37-year-old Dwyer was a forgotten man early in the year. He had only 15 at bats during spring training and 15 in the Orioles' first 24 games. The Baltimore papers began to speculate that he would soon be released. "It's always been my job to sit and wait for someone not to hit," Dwyer says, "but when I read that they might let me go without giving me at least one chance to save myself, I was upset. It's not like I sit around and cause trouble."

Orioles G.M. Hank Peters denies ever giving any thought to releasing Dwyer, because, says Peters, "there are half a dozen ball clubs that would trade for him." Small wonder. When Dwyer finally got his first start, in Minnesota on May 5, he responded with a two-run homer and a single. He has been playing against righthanded pitchers ever since, and in his last 57 at bats has hit seven homers and driven in 14 runs. Not bad, considering his career high for home runs in a season is nine. Lively ball, perhaps? "Weights," says Dwyer.

"No question."

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