The stubborn, overlooked and thoroughly aggravated Baltimore Orioles won again today, ripping Cleveland, 9-5, for their 13th victory in 17 games.
"The way we're ignored around the country, you'd never know we were in a pennant race. It's brutal," said Doug DeCinces after collecting three RBI and his 17th homer.
"Nobody even knows we exist," threw in Mark Belanger, who had two doubles in a 13-hit Bird barrage that included six extra-base hits.
"We'll win close to 100 games . . . we may not lose again," snapped Ken Singleton, who had three RBI and raised his incredible on-base average to .432. "But if we win the pennant on the last day, people will say, "Who are the Orioles? It must be a fluke."
Today was painfully typical for the O's, who has gone 45-22 since July 1, yet still occupy third place. The Birds - who in manager Earl Weaver's words "have so many hot bats I can't get them all in the lineup at once" - jumped to a 7-0 lead, then watched the scoreboard while both New York and Boston came behind to win.
However, Weaver muttered that, "I've got a feeling Toronto's going to help us in the second game," after hearing that the Yanks had pulled out the opener, 4-3.
Weaver, who may not have had a dumb hunch all year, was right again as Toronto's 6-4 nightcap fictory pulled the O's to three games of first, just two behind in the lost column.
"We're such a good club now," said Weaver, shaking his head, "that I can't even get a heck of a player like Elliott Maddox in the lineup . . . but you gotta ask yourself how long we can continue to play this well."
The Orioles' biggest advantage as they enter their final 20 games may be the players' near rage at the way they are constantly short-shifted in comparison, with New York and Boston.
"I'm at a loss to understand the national news media," said general manager Hank Peters. "It's hard to understand how we've been so ignored. This team has earned recognition it hasn't gotten and may never get, if we don't win the pennant. Baltimore is not looked on as a glamor ball club or city. You get sick of it."
The Orioles finished their weekend sweep of the stumbling (65-79) Indians with a first-class job of bullying.
Al Bumbry, who has forsaken his big swing and now waits to slap the ball to left and center, raised his average to .304 with two hits.
"The Bee has finally learned patience," grinned Singleton.
Singleton continued a binge that should place him near the top of the MVP voting. His .337 average is 15 points higher than any other player in Oriole history and his on-base percentage, thanks to a league-leading 97 walks, is now higher than Rod Carew's.
Singleton lashed on RBI double to right in the first, then drove home two runs with a single to left in the second - doing a one-man job of ruining starter Pat Dobson's day. When Singleton came to the plate the third time, he mischievously asked Indians catcher Fred Kendall, "any messages you want me to give your infielders on my way around?"
Weaver was almost agog from his good fortune. "I rested Lee May 'cause (religious) Pat Kelly loves to play on Sunday." Weaver said, "so Kelly gets two walks and a hit before the fourth inning is over. Dave Skaggs is hitting .344 for his last 20 games and that gives us an added offensive position (catcher.) Now Belanger is on one of his (infrequent batting streaks and that's a dern triple bonus."
If the Orioles have had one concern, it has been their spotty starting pitching. But today Ross Grimsley/partially righted himself. After getting knocked out four straight times, he lasted seven extremely Grimsleyish innings. He allowed more hits than innings pitched, gave up more walks that he had strikeouts, gave up a titantic 420-foot into-the-wind homer to Rico Carty and survived two crises thanks to double-play balls. But he won, giving him a sterling 13-8 record to go with a tarnished 3.95 ERA.
"Grimsley is a better pitcher than Nolan Ryan," quipped one impish Oriole regular. "Why? "Cause when the smoke clears every year Ryan is still a .500 pitcher. Grimsley is 20 games over .500 (86-66) for his career.Some pitchers just have the smarts and the grit it takes to win."
Certainly brains and gumption typify the Orioles. Today they unnerved the 3-11 Dobson by showing immediately that they planned to steal second against his neurasthentic delivery every time the base was empty. After five straight pickoff throws, in the first inning, Bumbry stole second by 10 feet on the next pitch.
As soon as the O's saw the high-strung "Dobber" having a running feud with home plate ump Joe Brinkman, they started taking pitches letting the irascible and erractic ump help them.
"Brinkman crucified Dobson and we helped him," said one Bird.
The Orioles, who have won seven of eight, dismantled the lackadaisical Indians the way contenders are supposed to outhustle also-rans. Every Bird starter got a hit. Defensive replacements Mike Dimel and Tony Muser both made excellent catches in the ninth, helping reliever Dick Drago quickly obtain the last five outs.
The Birds now fly north for four games against the worst team in baseball - Toronto - in a perplexed mood.
"Everybody's waited all year for us to fold, and now we're playing our best ball in September," DeCinces said with relish. "But as much as I hate to admit it, it may be a blessing that no one is watching us - not even Boston and New York, I don't think. We may sneak in there and show up a lot of people."