A couple of unlikely heroes are more or less expected at World Series time, but this year it's been ridiculous. While most of the all-stars on both teams were having their problems, a succession of lesser performers took turns stealing the spotlight.
Baltimore's Jim Dwyer, a journeyman part-time outfielder, set the tone in Game 1 with a first-inning home run, and John Lowenstein, another Oriole part-timer, was the batting hero of the 4-1 second game victory that evened the Series at one game apiece. Then when the scene shifted to Philadelphia the fun really began.
The Phillies' 300-game winner, Steve Carlton, was breezing along with a 2-0, two-hitter when Dan Ford, who shares right field with Dwyer, homered in the sixth. Then in the seventh with two out and nobody on, a new wave of unsung Orioles got into the act to produce what may well have been the pivotal rally of the entire Series.
Catcher Rick Dempsey, the No. 8 man in the batting order, doubled and reached third on a wild pitch, bringing about one of this Series' very big moments. It was Carlton, the future Hall of Famer, versus pinch hitter Benny Ayala, a very sparingly used .221 hitting outfielder, with the ballgame on the line. So of course it was Ayala who came through with a game-tying single, after which the Orioles went on to a 3-2 victory.
Then in Game 4 Baltimore came up with still one more unlikely star in Rich Dauer, the veteran second baseman who had endured his worst-ever regular season (.235) and had been having an even more disastrous time of it in post-season play. Dauer had gone 0-for-14 in the four playoff games against Chicago, and was 1-for-12 in the Series when he came up in the fourth inning with the bases loaded. So following the script, he proceeded to bang out a two-run single to break up a scoreless game. And that wasn't all. The next time up, Dauer doubled and eventually scored. Then in the seventh he singled home what proved to be the decisive run in a 5-4 thriller that gave Baltimore a 3-1 lead in the best-of-seven battle.
Dwyer also had a couple of key hits and two runs scored in this game, Dempsey chipped in with a pair of walks, and John Shelby, another member of Baltimore's merry-go-round outfield, drove home a big run with a long sacrifice fly.
And where were Baltimore's MVP candidates Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken or Philadelphia's major league home run leader Mike Schmidt in all this? Well, through the first four games they were 2-for-16, 3-for-15, and 1-for-16 respectively for a collective batting average of .128, with no extra base hits and one RBI.
Amazing? Not really. Feared hitters like these always draw extra care and attention from opposing pitchers, and more so than ever at World Series time.
So Dauer and Dempsey have been the keys. In addition to their batting heroics, they have combined with third baseman Todd Cruz to produce this year's best offbeat story. Somehow a gag got started in the Baltimore clubhouse that they were the Three Stooges and the whole thing has snowballed. Columbia Pictures even sent them large dolls representing the zany comedians, and the players have gone along with it all in good fun.
But despite their low positions in the lineup and their meager season-long statistics, these three are anything but ''stooges'' on the playing field. Even without his recent batting heroics, Dempsey would be a key performer via the outstanding job he does defensively at his vital position. Cruz is an excellent third baseman whose acquisition from Seattle on June 30 was what solidified the infield. And Dauer has been a fine second baseman, who also contributed more than his share on offense in most seasons.
''I just had a terrible first half this year,'' Dauer explained to the hordes of reporters who descended upon him after his Game 4 heroics. ''When I was still hitting .200 with 300 at-bats, I knew I could never have any sort of average for the year, so I just didn't worry about it anymore. I just came out to try to contribute anyway I could, to be consistent, and to help the team win.''
Dauer did pick it up at the end, hitting .300 or so over the last six weeks, only to slump again in post-season play until Saturday. But he knew all about that sort of thing from his very first major league experience.
Dauer had some reason to be confident when he reached the big leagues late in 1976, for just the previous year a young outfielder named Fred Lynn had won both Rookie of the Year and MVP honors while leading Boston to the pennant - and at the University of Southern California, where they had been teammates, Rich had been a much bigger star.
''So I started off going 1-for-41,'' he recalled with a laugh. ''I figured out right then that it wasn't going to be as easy as I thought - and that there were two sides to this game, and I better work on the other one (defense) too.''
He did just that, of course, becoming one of the best glove men around at second, while quickly developing into a solid hitter as well.
As for Dempsey, he has come to be thought of over the years as the heart of this scrappy Baltimore team, but he demurs at such a description.
''I don't know about that,'' he said. ''I'm not doing anything any different from anybody else. I just play hard all the time - but all the guys do that. Maybe I'm just in a position where it's more noticeable.''