Earl Weaver and his Baltimore Orioles are a notoriously superstitious flock. Tonight, all the portents were ugly.
Wayne Nordhagen, a journeyman outfielder who had never struck a major league home run in 10 years of organized baseball, hit the first two round-trippers of his career tonight and drove in four runs to key the Chicago White Sox's 6-4 victory.
The loss dropped the Orioles into third place in the AL East, three games behind the New York Yankees and a game back of Boston. Last night, New York edged Minnesota, 6-4, while Boston whipped Texas, 9-6.
Chicago moved from fourth to second in the four-way West race. The Chisox lead Texas and Minnesota by two percentage points. All three trail Kansas City by three games.
Nordhagen's three-run homer in the sixth inning that wiped out a 4-1 Oriole lead was a hooking, sinking line drive that landed in the first row of bleacher seats, a foot inside the foul pole.
"Our starters have to give us good games, that's the whole story," said manager Earl Weaver, who was ejected for arguing strike calls for the second straight night. "Pitching for nine strong innings is what has gotten us here and it's what we've not getting now."
The Oriole staff's two veterans, May and Jim Palmer (13-10), are the culprits with the Weaver finger pointing straight at them. Such fledgling hurlers as Dennis Martinez, 11-7 after a brutal relief loss tonight, and Mike Flanagan are pitching better than could have been dreamed while the supposed workhorses have waited.
Like many a team playing better than predicted, the Orioles are developing a certain paranoia about the causes of their defeats.
Tonight Weaver and several Birds wanted to give the unpires at least as much credit as Nordhagen and reliever Lerrin LaGrow (three shutout innings of relief for a save, for their demise).
In the seventh, with the score tied at 4, two out and none on, Martinex thought he had struck out Richie Zisk immediately beat out an infield hit to Rich Dauer and took second as the second baseman's throw sailed into the Chisox dugout.
Next hitter Lamar Johnson also seemed to have been set down on an 0-2 curve, but again McCoy disagree. Weaver, on the dugout step, jabbed his finger repeatedly at McCoy but never said a word. Nevertheless, none of the 19,321 in attendance had to guess who Weaver thought was messing up his job.
When Johnson dribbled a single to right past a diving Dauer, driving in the eventual winning run, Weaver saw every shade of red.
Weaver stalked to the mound and waited for McCoy to arrive to break up the mound conference. What ensued couldn't have been better if Weaver's middle name had been Hatfield.
McCoy gave the little skipper a grandiose heave-ho and Weaver did him one better, pointing at McCoy and then pretending to banish him with the same sweeping "You're outta-the-game" gesture. Weaver actually "ejected" McCoy twice, the second time after giving him a round of mock applause.
"I never said anything to McCoy except, 'I'm not leaving the mound yet. I don't have to,'" fibbed Weaver. "We've had 11-minute delays to get moths out of catcher's ears (Minnesota's Butch Wynegar), but I can't talk to my pitcher."
Actually, lip readers know Weaver said a great deal more.
If the Orioles had any perverse consolations, it was Nordhagen's second home run - a solo shot far over the 378-foot sign in left - for an insurance run in the eighth.