Reprinted from yesterday's late editions.
This was a bad night for dreams.
The Baltimore Orioles saw their seven-game winning streak snapped, 7-5, by the New York Yankees. To boot, they saw their spunky catcher Rick Dempsey sidelined three or four weeks with a broken finger, courtesy of a Don Gullett fast ball.
The Birds came into this opener of a four-game series dreaming of further undermining the Yanks. Instead, it was Baltimore that was left with the serious worries.
This was a night for sweat, dirt, exhaustion - the ingredients that New York's quintessential pros, Thurman Munson and Graig Nettles, love.
Munson, playing with seven fresh stitches in his throwing hand, drove in four runs with a two-run homer inside the left field foul pole and a two-run single.
Nettles, the iron man who seems to accept the ups-and-downs of his game with as much equanimity as a sane man can, also pounded a home run and had the other three RBI.
While the Orioles finished the game with a lineup that looked like something out of the International League - Martinez, Skaggs, Mora, Garcia, Murray, Dauer, and they're not that far removed from the IL - the Yanks countered with a Most Valuable Player and a home run champion. It hardly seemed equitable.
"You got to admit it doesn't seem fair when you see the two teams on paper," said Nettles. "But the Orioles made a nice comeback again tonight. They don't quit."
The Orioles, now two games behind New York, cut a 6-2 deficit to 6-5 on Eddie Murray's three-run homer off starter Gullett in the seventh. But Yank relievers Dick Tidrow and Sparky Lyle got the last seven outs while allowing only one hit - a single by Mr. Four-for-Four Ken Singleton.
For a cushion Nettles opened the ninth by sweeping a low-away Dennis Martinez fast ball over the right-field fence for an insurance home run.
Tonight's undercurrent was a Tale of Two Catchers, both hard-nosed scrappers, but one seemingly indestructible while the other is mortal.
Munson seemed to epitomize his position tonight. The fellow who loves to perspire, get his uniform filthy and wear himself out in his behind-the-plate pig pen, insisted on playing the last two nights despite a 1 1/2-inch-long cut on his little finger.
After Munson's meet hand was ripped by a foul tip Monday night, preliminary reports said he was out for 10 days. He missed four innings.
"I don't live to sit down," said Munson, who never seems to lose the insecurity and hunger that are so closely felt guilty if I had known I could play and didn't."
In the first inning Munson grounded into a double play. But in the third in a 2-2 game he took an inside fast ball from Rudy May downtown with a man on second.
In the fifth with men on second and third, none out, Munson fouled off several pitches, then poked a liner to right for a clinching 6-2 lead.
"I came up with three men in scoring position tonight and I had four runs batted in," said Munson with pride.
"I guess I made the right decision to rush back."
Didn't the rather ghastly-looking little finger, swollen discolored with a long black line of stitches across the back of the middle joint, give him a lot of pain?
"It feels real good," grinned Munson, relishing his role as tough guy. Then he relented. "It hurts like the devil, but I just don't pay any attention to it."
The O's will have a hard time not paying attention to the loss of Dempsey, who has been their only line of defense behind the plate.His .223 batting average was only adequate, but his arm that has thrown out a .593 percentage of opposing base stealers has helped cement a young year.
But catching is the weakest link in the Oriole player chain, and now Dave Skaggs, a .246 career batter on the minors will try to hold the fort, with rather a rawer rookie for support - Dave Criscione, 25. Criscione was summoned after the game to come up from Rochester, where the former Texas Ranger farmhand batted .286.
Dempsey hopped up and dashed to first the instant after Gullett's blazer smacked the hand he had thrown up to protect his face. But an inning later he had to come out, and X rays told the damaging news.
The Birds played far too generously tonight for a team of relative unknown taking on millionaires. The little things undid them as much as Munson and Nettles.
Skaggs tripped over third base and was thrown out at the plate. Dauer forgot to cover first on a sacrifice bunt and Paul Blair beat it out, then scored the eventual winning run. Three Oriole rallies died when anxious hitters grounded into first pitch double plays off Gullett, who was wild as a hatter all night.