The best lifetime ERA in the Orioles' bullpen belongs to a man who never drew a paycheck as a pitcher, who took the mound in one game, who blanked the opposition and who gladly never returned.
Ask bullpen coach and batting practice pitcher Elrod Hendricks about his
shining moment on the hill and he laughs.
He says he would just as soon forget it, although people often bring it
up. In any case, no ceremony was held this week to commemorate the 16th
anniversary of the time Hendricks played stopper on The Day the Pitching Staff
Collapsed, the day Earl Weaver sent six men to the mound against the Toronto
Blue Jays, four of whom had actually been hired by the Orioles to pitch.
Hendricks wasn't, of course. Neither was Larry Harlow. But desperate
circumstances required desperate measures. At Exhibition Stadium on June 26,
1978, the Blue Jays, in their second big-league season, scored 24 runs, the
most ever scored against the Orioles in one game.
The Orioles were down 19-6 in the fifth inning when Weaver, who was trying
to conserve pitchers for a doubleheader the following day, sent for Harlow, an
outfielder who had pitched one inning in the minors in 1971. Weaver later said
Harlow claimed ownership of a slider, and was "throwing the ball at 92 miles
an hour on our gun."
Perhaps, but Harlow only lasted two-thirds of an inning, yielding five
earned runs, two hits and four walks and striking out one Blue Jay.
The score stood at 24-6 and Weaver needed someone to put an end to the
fifth inning. He called the bullpen and got Hendricks, the former catcher who
was on the roster as player-coach that season. Hendricks had thrown batting
practice that year, but that was the extent of his pitching experience.
Hendricks recalls it well, although he says he's embarrassed about the
whole episode. Sitting in the clubhouse one afternoon before a night game
early this month, he smiles just to think of it.
"Weaver called up, he was halfway laughing," Hendricks says. "He said,
'Can you throw strikes?'
"I said, 'Yeah. . . .'
"He said, 'How long would it take you to get ready?'
"I said, 'You're speaking to Elrod. . . .'
L "He said: 'I know. How long would it take you to get ready?'
"I said, 'For what?' "
"He said, 'Well, you're in the game.' "
It was some of the sharpest baseball dialogue since "Who's On First?" but
judging by the next day's newspaper accounts, the Blue Jays were not amused.
They felt Weaver was slighting Toronto fans once again, having already pulled
his team off the field and forfeited a game in 1977, ostensibly in a dispute
over the placement of the bullpen tarpaulin. The Orioles were losing 9-0 at
"He's made a mockery of baseball in general," Toronto president Peter
Bavasi said of Weaver after the Harlow-Hendricks pitching caper.
For his part, Hendricks had concerns more immediate than protocol. Fear of
bodily injury, for example.
"I remember walking in from the bullpen thinking, 'What is the record for
most runs in a ballgame?' " Hendricks says. "My next thought was, 'Don't let
them hit it back up the middle.' "
Now pitching, Elrod Hendricks?
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