Along with O's Hemond on a roll

KEN ROSENTHAL

July 11, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It was a day to sweat rather than gloat, yet there was Orioles general manager Roland Hemond, bouncing around his private box, smelling like a rose.

Yesterday, Fernando Valenzuela pushed the Orioles within 1 1/2 games of first-place Toronto. Today, Jamie Moyer can move them even closer.

Valenzuela and Moyer, two non-roster pitchers who have combined for 40 2/3 scoreless innings. Valenzuela and Moyer, two more scrap heaps Hemond rescued from the baseball junkyard.

The Orioles are 28-11 since May 31, the best record in the majors. In that stretch, Valenzuela and Moyer -- the club's fourth and fifth starters -- are a combined 8-2 with a 2.35 ERA.

Don't ask how this is happening. Don't ask how long it will last. As Hemond said during yesterday's 6-0 victory over Chicago, "You don't gloat. You just enjoy it."

So many awful pitchers were available last winter, yet Hemond landed these two. Remember Storm Davis? Oakland released him Friday. Craig Lefferts? Texas is using him in middle-inning relief.

Some of this is luck, but it's also the product of Hemond's greatest strength -- encouraging input from his baseball people, then trusting their judgments.

Lest we forget, Fred Uhlman Sr. is the scout who recommended Valenzuela, right around the time he created a national stir by making insensitive remarks about Mexican players.

The Orioles insisted Uhlman wasn't racist, insisted the Valenzuela signing was sheer coincidence, not a peace offering to the Mexican community.

Few believed them.

But who looks brilliant now?

"This is unsolicited, but Fred Uhlman Sr. took a lot of heat in spring training," manager Johnny Oates said. "He had a lot of sleepless nights. If anyone deserves credit for Fernando being here, it's him."

Uhlman was in Hemond's box yesterday, watching Valenzuela weave eight more scoreless innings. It was one thing for Valenzuela to pitch this way in the Caribbean Series. But this?

"It's pretty hard to imagine," Uhlman said. "I don't know if even Fernando could answer that question. But I saw he could still pitch -- if someone gave him a chance."

Enter Hemond.

"I couldn't blame people for being skeptical when we signed Fernando," he said. "I didn't say at the time, 'Gee, they're wrong.' But what did we have to lose?"

As it turned out, nothing. The same goes for Moyer, a minor-league free agent the Orioles first tried to acquire from Detroit last season in a trade for Jack Voigt.

Assistant general manager Doug Melvin was all set to close the )) deal -- and then Moyer pitched poorly against Rochester the night it was to be completed.

"Joe McDonald, the Tigers' farm director, was pretty well prepared to make the deal after the game," Melvin recalled. "But we hit Moyer around pretty good. I got cold feet.

"It was a good thing. I didn't want to give up Jack. He's a farm director's delight, a guy who earned his way to the big leagues. I always felt he could be part of a major-league club."

Wouldn't you know it?

Voigt helped start the Orioles' 10-game winning streak in June, hitting a home run off Randy Johnson and then the game-winning single in the 10th inning of a 6-5 comeback victory over Seattle.

Moyer, meanwhile, has won five straight starts entering today's first-half finale -- not bad for a pitcher let go by four teams (the Chicago Cubs, Texas, St. Louis and Detroit).

The Orioles signed Moyer last winter along with two other non-roster left-handers, Steve Searcy and Wayne Edwards. Valenzuela joined that undistinguished group in March.

Edwards was released, Searcy and yet another non-roster lefty, Pat Clemens, retired. But Valenzuela endured, and Moyer has proven a quality replacement for the injured Arthur Rhodes.

Sometimes, it all just works out. Remember the criticism Hemond took for the Fred Lynn deal? Back then, nobody had ever heard of Chris Hoiles.

Yesterday, Hemond recalled scout John Stokoe driving his daughter to college the day of the trade, and repeatedly pulling off the road to phone him to make sure the package included Hoiles.

These days, Lynn is an ESPN announcer whose assignments include the College World Series, and Hoiles is a slugging catcher whose destiny might include the actual World Series.

Want the final proof Hemond is on a roll? His daughter Susan eloped on June 30. You know it's your year when you spend all your time hunting for bargains, and don't even have to pay for a wedding.

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