You never know whether a man who pitches a no-hitter, as Chicago's Wilson Alvarez did against the Orioles here yesterday, is the real thing or simply the beneficiary of a good day and some lucky breaks.
Alvarez, 21, in only his second major-league start, appears to have the talent to be for real -- although in his first major-league start in 1989 he retired none of the five hitters he faced.
A pitcher who once threw a no-hitter in his first major-league start was Bobo Holloman. He tossed one in 1953 for the St. Louis Browns against the Philadelphia A's.
Holloman finished the year 3-7. It was his only major-league season.
Orioles manager John Oates is an old catcher who knows something about a pitcher's stuff. Of Alvarez's performance in the 7-0 Chicago win, Oates said, "All I can tell you is that Bob Melvin said Alvarez had the best stuff he's seen from any lefthander this year."
Does this mean Alvarez is on his way to great things? Not necessarily.
The last no-hitter pitched in Memorial Stadium was thrown by Milwaukee's Juan Nieves on April 15, 1987. The score was 7-0 and the losing pitcher was Mike Flanagan.
And where is Juan Nieves today?
"He's had a lot of arm trouble," Oates said. "I know he's not in
the big leagues. He may be doing a rehab in the minors somewhere."
On the other hand, the O's Dwight Evans also knows a few things about good pitching. Evans has seen a lot of it in his 19 years in the big leagues.
"Alvarez [called up only Saturday from Birmingham] has better stuff than you think when you get up there," Evans said. "From the side, it didn't look like he was throwing that hard. He's quicker than you think. He had a good fastball and changeup and an exceptional curve."
* Stadium-goers, another 40,455 of them yesterday (total for the year: 1,749,689), have been enjoying the work over the weekend of an umpire -- Durwood Merrill.
The showmanlike Merrill, who does everything with a flourish, worked home plate Friday night and delighted box seat spectators with repartee between innings. One fan brought him a large cup of lemonade, which he downed in about three seconds. "This," he told the spectators, "is better than sex."
On a steamy August night, calling balls and strikes for three hours can hardly be fun. Merrill makes it fun. That's an accomplishment -- and a plus for the game.
* Andy Etchebarren, now a Milwaukee coach, surprised a lot of people when he and Rick Dempsey spoke at the monthly sports luncheon at J. Patrick's in Locust Point the other day.
Etchebarren, a quiet, hard-working type when he played for the Orioles from 1965-1975, is a most entertaining and informative speaker. Among the things he said:
"The best pitcher I caught in Baltimore was Dave McNally. Jim Palmer was a great natural talent, but if there was one game you had to win, the guy I wanted to pitch it was McNally.
" . . . The thing that hurts baseball most today is salary arbitration."
" . . . When the Orioles swept the Dodgers in '66, our ballclub's total payroll was less than $1 million. I know that because Harry Dalton [now Milwaukee GM, then Baltimore's personnel boss] told me."
The Orioles' payroll this year, though it is the second lowest in the majors, is a little over $14 million.
* Dempsey, who has never been anything but entertaining, made this confession about his former manager in Baltimore, Earl Weaver:
"I played for Earl for 10 years and I hated him. Now I love him. I've learned."
* Dempsey and Etchebarren, both catchers, of course, agree that the best catcher the game has had in their time is Carlton Fisk, who's here now with the White Sox. I'm amazed. I'd have thought they'd say Johnny Bench.
* Chris Hoiles' father, brother-in-law and uncle departed Baltimore this morning after spending the better part of a week here visiting and cheering on their favorite Oriole. The O's haven't won a game since they got here.
"That's all right," said Chris' dad, a gregarious, happy kind of man. "We're used to it. We're from Wayne, Ohio, just outside Toledo. We follow the Cleveland Indians. They haven't won anything since 1954. If the Orioles don't win for a week, we can handle it."