None of the three, though, gives a particularly burning impression off the mound. They look like any Cuban guy, any Irish guy and any Southern California guy (Palmer was born in New York but grew up in Los Angeles, and his father Max was an established Hollywood character actor). "McNally is your typical pitcher," says Leonhard, meaning that McNally mixes up a well-controlled fastball, curve and slider the way the model pitcher is supposed to. "Palmer is your two-pitch power pitcher—curve and fastball. Cuellar is tricky—screwball, throws it all different speeds. There's nothing so unusual about any of them, really."
There is nothing so unusual about a starter for the Orioles finishing and winning a lot of games, either. To go along with firm will and burning desire, there is nothing quite like a heap of hitting and fielding behind you. The Orioles were shut out only four times all year when a Big Three pitcher started. Their fielders, next to Cleveland's, gave up the fewest unearned runs in the league and prevented an untold number of runs that would have been earned.
But to say that the Orioles' Big Three were in an ideal position to win 68 games is no more of a detraction than to say that Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins had the moon made all the way. And when Leonhard says his three teammates are not so unusual, he does not mean to deny that they are consummate. They have done what pitchers are supposed to do. If everyone did his job as well, the world would be a better place and the American League playoffs would have gone on forever.
Observers agree that the three have at least six important things in common:
1) Each works very hard both during his starts and between them. That means he does a lot of running, thinking, throwing and counseling with Oriole fielders when he is not pitching.
2) Each challenges the hitter. He keeps throwing the pitch he wants to throw no matter how likely it seems that the hitter will foul it off or take it or belt it if it is not thrown just right.
3) Each has excellent control.
4) Each is, as they say, a tough competitor, full of, as they say, desire.
5) Each is a good enough hitter—ask the Twins—to keep from being pulled too often for a pinch hitter, and each fields well.
6) Each knew a period of misery that almost ended his career.