When the subject is Ben McDonald, sometimes it's difficult to separate fact from fiction.
This is a guy who has been known to hunt alligators barehanded, but apparently has trouble clipping his own fingernails.
The latest McDonald scare surfaced after the 6-foot-7 righthander was scratched as the scheduled starting pitcher yesterday. It was revealed that he had cut a fingernail too close, increasing the chances of a blister developing.
The Orioles went through a similar episode with McDonald a year ago, leading to speculation they might have to add a manicurist to the staff. But, as soon as the game with the Texas Rangers was officially rained out, manager Frank Robinson said McDonald would start against the White Sox tonight in Chicago. It turned out that the short fingernail story, while accurate, was slightly overplayed.
"I didn't even tell Frank about it," said McDonald, surprised by all the fuss. "Somebody else must've said something to him. It [his finger] acted up a little bit during the game Friday night [when he threw in the bullpen], but it wasn't any big deal."
Was it enough to sideline him yesterday?
"I didn't think so," he said. "Last year I couldn't even throw [with the condition]. This wasn't enough to keep me from pitching."
Robinson said he did know about the alleged nail-clipping adventure, but that wasn't the reason McDonald was cut out of the starting lineup.
"He was scratched because of the weather," said Robinson. "I didn't want him to warm up, then maybe have to stop and start up again and then lose him [for one start].
"He'll pitch tomorrow [tonight] unless it's raining," said Robinson, who was advised that the weather report for Chicago was clear -- and seasonably chilly. "The temperature doesn't matter," said Robinson. "The only reason I would hold him back would be if it rained."
The one person who had an inkling all along that McDonald wouldn't pitch yesterday, even though he had been announced the day before, was Dave Johnson. He became the odd-man in -- or out -- in the McDonald caper.
It was originally planned that Johnson would pitch yesterday, one day ahead of schedule. Then, he was scheduled to pitch in his regular turn tonight. And now he's been bumped back until tomorrow night. "I had an idea Ben wouldn't pitch when I came to the park," said Johnson, who would've started if the rains had stopped.
"It was rainy, cloudy and cold," said Johnson. "I figured it might not be a good day for him to be pitching."
McDonald's nail-clipping adventures drew a lot of attention as members of the media searched for the first rainout story of the season. "Did I miss something?" quipped reliever Gregg Olson, arriving at his locker and noticing the crowd around McDonald. "Did Ben pitch another shutout?
"Congratulations, Ben," yelled Olson. "I guess they would've come and got me if they needed me."
This time McDonald, perhaps the chief prankster in the Orioles' clubhouse, was taking the brunt of the barbs. As soon as he finished his post-postponement interview, he caught a shaving cream pie in the face from clubhouse attendant Butch Burnett, who is usually on the receiving end of such things.
Within minutes Burnett was being retained in the whirlpool -- with the well-lathered McDonald using a hose to drench him with cold water. Such is life in a clubhouse after no game and a 90-minute rain delay.
Tonight McDonald gets back to the serious stuff. His first start will come exactly two weeks late. Had things gone as planned, he would've made his third start of the season tomorrow night.
The fact that he's missed two starts with a sore elbow isn't the important factor at this point. Keeping McDonald healthy and effective in a regular rotation the rest of the year, however, is vital if the Orioles hope to contend in the AL East.
McDonald is already late. What Robinson is hoping is that he won't be absent the rest of the way.