"There's just no doubt we've got the strongest pitching staff in baseball," says Palmer. "And the numbers for the starting pitchers could be a lot better than they are. The difference so far has been the quality of long relief. We're getting excellent work from the bullpen,"
Baltimore succeeds because the relief pitchers are able to keep the games under control until the batters crank up. Tippy Martinez beat Oakland last month when he retired 23 straight batters after issuing a walk. Last week against New York, rookie Dave Ford came on in the fifth inning to get another victory. "I've been knocked out six times this year before the third inning was over," says Flanagan, who leads the staff in shutouts with four. "But I don't feel like I've been knocked out. Maybe they've only scored three runs. But Earl can bring in a guy like Sammy Stewart, who might be a 20-game winner with another club, and he'll hold us close. I can't remember the last time we were blown out of a game."
The early shower also saves wear and tear on the starters, which is why Weaver scoffs at the idea that his pitchers might tire down the stretch.
The one man who occasionally has taken exception to Weaver's early-inning hook has been Stone, whose 6'1" record at home is offset by his dreadful 2-6 on the road. "Earl and I have had our differences," he says, "but that's because when I came here I had to concentrate on the 'we' concept. The losing clubs I was with were all 'I' clubs. In the second half of the season when you were out of it, everybody was concentrating on his personal statistics. Here everybody talks in terms of the ball club. As I've learned to accept that concept, it's taken the sting out of being knocked out. In a game against Milwaukee, I had a one-hitter going with two out in the ninth when Weaver came out and told me, '[Cecil] Cooper's yours if you want him.' Well, Cooper had just hit two long flies off me, and we were ahead 2-1, so that made him the winning run. If I had pitched and lost, I would have felt pretty bad. The best man for the job was Tippy, and one pitch later, we won."
When he was in Chicago, Stone was the team's poet laureate. Asked if he would rattle off some verse in praise of the Orioles, he declined. "If I try to do instant poetry, it would have to be iambic pentameter, and I don't want to do that. Later, I'll put something down on paper. The way this team's been playing—that's poetry."
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