With all that pitching eventually due to shackle the opposition, it was inevitable that the Baltimore Orioles, who started the season like a team in quicksand, would bring their record up to .500 before Manager Joe Altobelli's birthday on May 26.
Looking back now, Altobelli says, the Orioles' slump can be traced to a staff that was pitching defensively, plus the club's failure to hit with men on base. The defending world champions, who are not noted for such things, walked 80 hitters in their first 16 games, with an average of two of those runners scoring per game. Since then, however, Baltimore has won 10 of its last 12 games.
In a recent 2-0 shutout of the Texas Rangers, sinkerball pitcher Storm Davis got 19 batters to ground out. Mike Boddicker, who won 16 games last year as a rookie but had been struggling all spring, finally asked Altobelli for permission to use his new and improved knuckleball. The result has been two Boddicker victories in a row. In fact, during one stretch Baltimore's pitching staff went 781/3 innings without giving up a home run.
Nevertheless, Altobelli says he is not yet ready to get into any word games with reporters about the terrific start of the first-place Detroit Tigers, who have won 23 of their first 27 games.
''There are too many other things for me to worry about right now without thinking about the Tigers,'' Joe told the press. ''While getting to the .500 mark has been great for us, it's a jumping-off spot to better things, not a destination. If we keep on winning, we'll be alright. But if we can't maintain something close to our present pace, we'll have a year-long fight on our hands.''
In addition to Baltimore's pitching shifting into high gear, there have also been signs that those Sleepy Time bats that most of the Orioles have been swinging like cornstalks, have finally begun to wake up. For example, against Texas on Sunday, Cal Ripken Jr., the American League's MVP last season, hit for the cycle. Ripken tripled in the third inning, singled in the fifth, doubled in the seventh, and hit his ninth home run of the year in the ninth to remain just one behind league leader Dave Kingman. Reds utilizing speed on basepaths
After spending the last two years in the National League West cellar, the Cincinnati Reds hope to find a better brand of housing.The problem is that without much pitching or power there isn't a whole lot new manager Vern Rapp can do except make use of his team's better-than-average speed - but that's been enough to keep the Reds in third place for the first month or so.
''You have to make the most of what you've got as a manager, and with us it's speed,'' Rapp explained. ''If we wait for someone to hit the long ball, we might end up waiting all year. So we're trying to make things happen by being aggressive on the bases, and so far it's worked pretty well.''
Dave Parker, the power-RBI man who did so much for Pittsburgh during his early years with the Pirates, has yet to hit a home run for Cincinnati, although he does have three game-winning hits. For the record, the Reds' chief speedster has been outfielder Gary Redus, who has stolen 14 consecutive bases.
Rapp, by the way, was accused of being inflexible when he managed the St. Louis Cardinals in 1977 and part of 1978, but has suddenly become as popular with his players as Pittsburgh's Chuck Tanner. Elsewhere around the majors
* San Diego's Goose Gossage may have the reputation, but the best relief pitcher in the National League in recent weeks has probably been left-hander Jesse Orosco of the New York Mets. The word is out: don't figure on beating the Mets if you are even or behind after seven innings and Orosco (two wins and five saves) is waved in from the bullpen
* The reason the New York Yankees have been losing so much is because they haven't been hitting. The Yankees have been shut out in seven of their first 24 games, a pace that would break the major league record that has stood for 76 years. The 1908 St. Louis Cardinals were shut out 33 times in 154 games. New York's figure, because of today's 162-game schedule, projects to 47.
* Frank Robinson's statement to reporters that he would quit as San Francisco manager if the Giants (11-18 as of Tuesday) didn'timprove soon, was the reaction of a frustrated man burdened with too many losses. While Robinson might eventually be fired, he isn't apt to leave on his own.
* Anyone questioning the power of Oakland's Dave Kingman should have been in Minnesota's Metrodome on May 4, when ''King Kong'' hit a towering fly ball that lodged in the building's fabricated ceiling. Umpires called it a ground-rule double. Kingman's teammates called it a guided missile.
* Major league baseball lost its only Harvard alumnus recently when the Montreal Expos ticketed rookie outfielder Mike Stenhouse for one of their minor league teams. Montreal publicist Richard Griffin claims that Stenhouse always referred to his $43-a-day meal money as ''accounts receivable.''