Orioles pull ahead of rivals; reliever racking up saves
The recent impressive breakaway from the four other contenders in the American League East (Detroit, New York, Milwaukee, and Toronto) was a long time coming this season for the pitching-rich Baltimore Orioles, but it finally happened last week for Baltimore when it won three of four games from New York to take a commanding position in its division race.Neither the second-place Tigers nor the Yankees nor the defending champion Milwaukee Brewers look strong enough now to catch the Orioles in what little remains of the schedule.
Baltimore continues to win regularly and has the advantage of knowing that September has always been a magical month for the club. In fact, for the last l 5 years the Orioles have played .638 baseball from Aug. 3l on. That record was forged under fiery Earl Weaver, who has retired but apparently left the blueprint for fast finishes to Joe Altobelli, the club's current manager.
''Right now, Baltimore is playing like the best balanced team in baseball,'' said Charlie Metro, director of major league scouting for the Oakland A's. ''The Orioles are peaking at just the right time. All their great pitchers, who were injured early in the season, are back and winning.'' If the American League playoffs were starting tomorrow, Baltimore would meet the Chicago White Sox.
Meanwhile, division races continue to sizzle in both the National League West and East. The Los Angeles Dodgers, whose mental and physical errors this year are incredible for a team in first place, helped themselves tremendously over the weekend by taking two of three games from the second-place Atlanta Braves. A veteran pitching staff plus the run-producing power hitting of Pedro Guerrero and rookie first baseman Mike Marshall continue to save the Dodgers. In the NL East four teams (Montreal, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Pittsburgh) share the same telephone booth. The way this race is going it may take a one-game playoff before the regular playoffs can start. Quisenberry: Royal game saver
The Kansas City Royals, who are going exactly nowhere this season, nevertheless have a potential record setter in relief specialist Dan Quisenberry. The Royals' submarine-style pitcher has already tied the major league mark of 38 saves in one season, set by John Hiller of the Detroit Tigers in l973. ''When a team is winning, the saves are generally spread around among two or three relief pitchers,'' Quisenberry told reporters. ''But when the going is tough on a team, the way it's been for us this year, you go for the best man you've got in the bullpen every time you think you have a chance to win.''
Although Dan and his sinkerball had a fine year with the Royals when they won the pennant in l980, his first full season in the big leagues, he had 11 fewer victories and 15 fewer saves in 1981. What turned things around was an exhibition trip the Royals made that winter to Japan, where submarine pitchers are common and where he learned to throw a knuckleball. Between April 23 and Aug. 19 of this year, Quisenberry didn't lose a game. Murphy's hitting key for Braves
Asked to describe the tight division race in the National League West, Manager Joe Torre of the Atlanta Braves, replied: ''When the season is running late and you're only a couple of games out of first place, you hope that somebody on your team, in fact anybody, gets hot. It can be a pitcher who not only wins three games in a row, but also gives your bullpen a rest by finishing his start, or it can be a hitter who suddenly drives in a lot of runs. Even without Bob Horner (a power hitter out for the season with an injury), we can still win our division if Dale Murphy continues to hit the long ball for us. But when Murphy doesn't come through, we seem to become a slack ball club.''
Questioned about pitcher Len Barker, a late season waiver acquisition from the Cleveland Indians, Torre said: ''Barker (who has one victory with Atlanta) hasn't helped us that much yet. But since he has arrived, two of our starters who have been in slumps (Pascual Perez and Craig McMurtry) have pitched much better. With so few games left in the season, there isn't anything I can tell these guys except that it is important to win as many games in a row as possible , because winning can become a habit. Unfortunately losing can also become a habit!'' Tidbits from around the majors
* It probably won't be announced until after the season, but the Kansas City Royals plan to shift hard-hitting third baseman George Brett to first base. There is also speculation that the Royals will trade Willie Aikens for an established starting pitcher and will go after free agent third baseman John Castino of the Minnesota Twins.
* If power-hitting Ron Kittle of the Chicago White Sox needs anything to put him over the top as 1983 American League Rookie of the Year, he provided it himself recently by hitting home runs in five consecutive games. Only a couple of weeks before that, Kittle had been struggling with a slump that reportedly began when he started dropping his left shoulder.
* There may be a lot of things wrong with the last-place New York Mets, but left-handed relief pitcher Jesse Orosco isn't one of them. On the strength of five wins, no losses, and one earned run in 222/3 innings of work in August, the National League has named Orosco Pitcher of the Month.
Considering that Jesse has either won or saved almost half of New York's victories, he is probably also the team's most valuable player. Jesse's best pitch is a slider that is said to be just as effective as what Ron Guidry throws for the Yankees.