Johnny Oates had contemplated the move for a month. The Orioles manager didn't want to break up the top of his lineup, considering that Brady Anderson and Mike Devereaux were in the midst of career seasons.
But Oates had to do something, not only to take the pressure off a struggling Cal Ripken but to get more production from the entire middle of the batting order. The hotter Devereaux got, the more runs he drove in, the more obvious it became to Oates.
So shortly after he arrived at Camden Yards last Friday, Oates pulled the trigger. He changed a batting order he had used almost exclusively for the past three months. He kept Anderson in the leadoff spot, but moved Devereaux to third and squeezed Randy Milligan between them.
"With Randy hitting behind Brady, he goes deep into the count a lot and that gives Brady more of a chance to run," Oates said. "Devo [Devereaux] now has a chance to drive in more runs. They [Anderson and Devereaux] might be able to play their games better separated than together."
The jury is still out on Oates' move, because the Orioles have dropped two of three since it was made, including yesterday's 7-3 loss to the Oakland Athletics. The experiment likely will continue when the California Angels come in for a three-game series starting tonight.
Though Oates discussed his decision with all involved in the move, Anderson and Devereaux said that the switch to break up what was baseball's most explosive 1-2 combination this season came as a surprise.
And though Anderson and Devereaux understood why it was done, neither seemed overly enthused.
"I try not to make a big deal about it," said Devereaux, who has gone 3-for-9 with two RBI since moving to No. 3. "I try not to do anything more or less than I did before."
Said Anderson: "I like Devo hitting behind me. But whatever Johnny thinks is better for the team is fine with me. I'm sure I'll like Moose [Milligan] hitting behind me."
Before the move, Anderson and Devereaux were threatening to become one of the most productive 1-2 hitting combinations in recent baseball history, with 35 home runs, 151 RBI, 137 runs scored and 99 extra-base hits.
They rank first and second in nearly every offensive category on this year's Orioles team. Devereaux has one more hit (139-138), one more double (24-23), two more triples (10-8) and 13 more RBI (84-71) than Anderson. Anderson has scored 16 more runs than Devereaux (78-62). They each have hit a team-high 18 home runs.
Both are on pace to join select groups: If Anderson reaches his projected stats of 23 home runs, 93 RBI and 54 steals, he will join Joe Morgan, Barry Bonds and Cesar Cedeno in a select group of power-and-speed players. Devereaux is headed for 108 RBI and 311 total bases, figures reached by only four center fielders since 1980 and five Orioles all-time.
"They said we would have finished eighth in a seven-team division without Cal last year," Oates said. "I can't imagine where this club would be without these two guys."
If two players can enjoy thoroughly the individual success of the other, it's Anderson and Devereaux. They are of similar age and temperament. They play next to each other in the outfield, and dress next to each other in the clubhouse. They play basketball and sometimes work out together in the off-season.
"When you live and work with each other for eight months, it's only natural that you spend time with guys you like the other four months," said Devereaux, who unlike Anderson is married. "I think we like to push each other to get better."
Said Anderson: "We're good friends. We have a really good working relationship. We know how much ground each of us can cover out there. You don't see a lot of confusion between us."
They also share something else: Both have been pushed aside (( during their respective careers, only to come back and prove their detractors wrong. Especially Anderson.
After coming from Boston in a highly publicized, and later criticized, trade for pitcher Mike Boddicker in 1988, there were some in the Orioles' organization who were ready to declare Anderson a bust.
It seems a long time ago, but it was only last summer that Anderson was still on the Baltimore-to-Rochester shuttle, unable show that he was ready to become an everyday big-league player. Only a strong showing after being recalled in September brought Anderson's average up to .230 and kept alive the hope that he was a late bloomer.
"Maybe they were going to wait to see how I did when I came back up," said Anderson, 28. "That was the key to this year for me. That sort of gave me a new life. Before, it was like, 'How much is a Japanese team going to offer for me?' "
Said Orioles assistant GM Doug Melvin: "I don't think we got totally down on Brady. We never got that close to the point where we considered making a deal with anyone. We always thought that he could hit on the major-league level. It was just a matter of getting a chance."
Anderson, who is hitting .283, 64 points higher than his .219 career average, says that the key to his resurrection came when he started working with Cal Ripken Sr. in the batting cage late last season. While others had tried -- unsuccessfully -- to turn Anderson into an opposite-field slap hitter, Ripken encouraged him to use the whole ballpark.
"It wasn't a case of me being stubborn," Anderson said last week. "It was a case of me not being myself. He [Ripken] was the one person who made sense."
Anderson knew he had to improve his on-base percentage to take full advantage of his biggest asset: speed. The results this season have been nothing short of phenomenal: Anderson has reached base more than 37 percent of the time and stolen 41 bases, tied for second in the American League.
There are certainly no comparisons with Rickey Henderson. The Oakland left fielder is simply the most productive leadoff hitter of all-time, while Anderson is merely having a wonderful season. Even Anderson admits that some of his numbers are a little misleading.
"I knew that if I got the opportunity to play every day, I could steal a lot of bases, score a lot of runs, make things happen," said Anderson, who was given the left-field job and leadoff spot by Oates in spring training. "The home runs and the driving in runs have been a bonus."
While Anderson's season seems to have come out of nowhere, few are surprised by the kind of year Devereaux is having. Since being traded by the Los Angeles Dodgers for pitcher Mike Morgan before the 1989 season -- former Oriole John Shelby was the Dodgers' center fielder at the time -- Devereaux has made steady improvement in his four seasons in Baltimore.
"He's not a secret," said Oates. "He's doing exactly what we expect him to do.
As the team's leadoff hitter last season, Devereaux had 19 home runs. But he also struck out 115 times, walked only 47 times and stole 16 bases. Those numbers suggested to Oates and others in the Orioles' organization that "Devo" might be better suited to a different spot in the lineup.
"I liked the leadoff spot," said Devereaux, 29. "The best thing about it was that I was playing every day and I knew what I had to do. But I don't go up there looking for walks. I'm an aggressive-type hitter."
It was Devereaux's approach to hitting, and Milligan's team-leading on-base percentage, that helped convince Oates to make the switch. How long he will stay with the current order is uncertain.
But few would be surprised if Oates changed back should the Orioles continue to struggle. Oates, ever the cautious manager, is not ready to reassess the situation.
"I don't have any exact time frame," Oates said. "It's tough to form any opinions over one or two games, or even a week. You have to react to what you see, not your emotions."
The production of the Orioles' one through five hitters since manager Johnny Oates shook up the batting order on Friday:
No. Name..... AB... H... R... BB... HR... RBI
1. Anderson..... 9.... 2... 2... 5.... 1.... 2
2. Milligan..... 11... 1... 0... 3.... 0.... 2
3. Devereaux.... 9.... 3... 1... 2.... 0.... 2
4. Horn/Davis... 11... 4... 0... 1.... 0.... 0
5. C. Ripken.... 11... 1... 1... 1.... 0.... 1