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.

"It was just one of those weird days," Hendricks says.

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 the time.

"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.' "