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Lowenstein is responsible for perhaps the single greatest moment in baseball history. It happened on June 19, 1980 against the Oakland A's. While trying to stretch a single into a double, he was hit on the back of the head by First Baseman Jeff Newman's throw. Lowenstein lay motionless at second, as trainer Ralph Salvon and the Orioles' team doctor, Leonard Wallenstein, ran out to examine him. Lowenstein was placed on a stretcher and carried off the field in front of a hushed Memorial Stadium crowd of 15,491. When the stretcher was near the dugout, Lowenstein rose from the waist and gave a two-fisted salute. The fans went wild. "It was simply an opportunity I could not pass up," he says. Many Orioles now wear a T shirt with a cartoon depicting the moment and the slogan TONIGHT, LET IT BE LOWENSTEIN.
The incident stands as a metaphor for Lowenstein's career. After the '78 season, he was given up for dead by the Texas Rangers and placed on waivers. "I always thought he could play," says Weaver. "He'd hit Jim Palmer hard and then go and make a great catch." Lowenstein plays with the same reckless abandon with which he assaults the English language, banging into walls, getting hit by pitches. Once he stole 36 bases in a season (1974); now he has his doctorate in Weaver's specialty, long ball. "I have run the full gamut of thrills in this game," says Lowenstein. "What's good about the home run is that it tends to immobilize the other team's outfielders."
Lowenstein is into snake hunting, casino management and cakes, the latter literally. Whenever a cake appears in the Orioles clubhouse, he conducts an examination. "If it's from a known source, I leave it alone," he says. "If it's from an unknown source, you never know what viral infections it may be carrying. I give it the finger-plunge test. If it tastes very good, I leave it alone." However, if it fails to meet Lowenstein's strict standards, he takes a specially designed bat to it. "Costs me $5 every time," he says. "That's what I pay the clubhouse man to clean it up." This year he has been treating baseballs as if they were so many Schwarzw�lder Kirschtorten.
Ayala is properly pronounced ah-yah-la. Weaver says aye-yell-a. No matter. "He's a pure hitter," says Weaver. "He's so good he knocks himself out of games. I'll start him against a lefthander, and he'll hit a three-run homer off him. Then they'll bring in a righty, and Benny's back on the bench."
Lowenstein maintains that Ayala is the most profound player on the Orioles. "He will sit there, arms folded, for eight innings. If he's going to hit, I'll ask him what he's looking for. He'll say, 'Something white. Coming through.' Sometimes I'll ask him where they'll pitch him. And he'll say, 'Up and away. And in.' I'll say, 'Which is it, up and away or in?' And he'll say, 'Up and away. And in.' "
Orioles still scratch their heads when they recall the time a few of them were in the dugout, talking about a desert movie. In the middle of the conversation, Ayala, who had shown no interest in the discussion, asked, "What is the minimum number of men it takes to safely cross the Sahara Desert?" After a few moments of silence, he answered his own question. "One hundred," he said.
Like Lowenstein, Ayala was given up for lost. After trials with the Mets and Cardinals, he had decided in '79 to go to Japan to play for the Taiyo Whales. But Doc Edwards, his skipper in the Puerto Rican Winter League, talked him into joining Rochester, the Orioles' Triple-A farm club, which Edwards was going to manage. After a fast start, Ayala was called up on April 30, and he's been with Baltimore ever since.
Playing a part-time role, Ayala has barely accumulated a full season's worth of statistics for the Orioles. But in 398 at bats through last week, he had hit 23 homers with 75 RBIs. He would play more, but he's not the best fielder in the world. He knows it and has been working to improve himself. "But it's a difficult situation," he says. "I'm here for my hitting. If I work too hard on my fielding, I might neglect my hitting."
In a May 19 game against Minnesota, Twins Pitcher Pete Filson had a two-strike count on Ayala in the second inning when the umpires ordered play stopped because of rain. After a delay of an hour and 21 minutes, Ayala came to the plate and drilled a three-run homer deep into the seats in left. When asked if he thought he was in a tough spot, having to face a two-strike count after sitting for so long, Ayala replied, "Not really. I just felt like I was pinch-hitting for myself."
Roenicke is pronounced Renn-uh-kee, mispronounced by Weaver as Rye-nuh-kee and shortened by his friends to Rhino. He's an excellent outfielder and one of the streakier hitters in baseball. "It's always been that way," he says. "I hit in bunches, oh for 10, then six for seven."