The Baltimore Orioles' gallant experiment in youth and enthusiasm received a critical blow here today before 51,798 distressed Bird lovers.
The final, losing score against the Boston Red Sox had an ominous ring: 10-4 over and out.
Perhaps ironically, the Orioles young team was undone by the greenest of players - a rookie in his first major-league game.
Boston's Ted Cox, an International League third baseman turned designated hitter, collected a walk, three singles and a double, ignited three rallies and helped two others blossom.
This was the day when the largest regular-season crowd in Memorial Stadium history came to honor Brooks Robinson before the game. They stayed to watch the Orioles' pennant chances grow dim.
By the third inning both teams knew that New York had beaten Detroit, 6-5 to finish a three-game sweep. Before this Bosox-Birds series started the Yank's Reggie Jackson predicted; "When they're finished, somebody's going to have a hurtin' problem."
As it has turned out, both Boston and the Orioles are hurtin' bad, trailing now by 4 1/2 and 3 1/2 games, respectively.
"We've won nine of our last 11 and we've fallen back," said Baltimore shortstop Mark Belanger incredulously. "Now we've got to wonder if winning streaks and hopes not dead, but the fact remains that New York has won 34 of its last 42.
"If Boston doesn't win both games Monday and Tuesday (against the Yankees) in Fenway, then the race is about over," said Belanger.
Today's game was a combination of a lot of Cox at crucial moments, and many an Oriole faux pas in the pinch. Some runs Cox took, others the Birds frittered away. It could have been a tight game.
"I still don't know where I am," said the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Cox after tying a major league record by getting four hits in the first game of his career. "When they told me I was playing, I figured I'd be in the nine hole, not batting second."
Before the game Cox was too shy to try to shake Brooks Robinson's hand, though he admitted. "Brooks, Mickey Mantle and Carl Yastrzemski were my three childhood idols."
But he wasn't too shy to get the O's in dutch five straight times. In the first he singled Rick Burleson from first to third, from whence he scored on idol Yaz's single for a 1-0 lead.
Two innings, later, with the Orioles ahead, 4-2, thanks to a three-run Doug DeCinces homer in a four-run second. Cox got a leadoff walk and scored eventually on a hard Carlton Fisk groundout.
Perhaps the turning point of this game, and the beginning of the end for the Orioles' 50-23 pennant drive since July 1, was Cox' dribbler toward third with one out in the fifth.
DeCinces who said before the game that he was anxious not to make a fool of himself on Brooks Day, made a scoop and flip that Robinson would have accepted. Replays indicated Cox was out by inches (maybe one) but umpire Larry McCoy didn't see it that way.
When Fisk's two-out single tied the game, 4-4, and knocked out Baltimore starter Mike Flanagan, Weaver acted as he had salt on his tail.
"If McCoy gets that play right, we've out of the inning, they don't score, we're ahead, 4-3, and Flanagan's getting stronger," Weaver said.
Instead, the Orioles' bullpen of Scott McGregor, Dick Drago and Tippy Martinez - a most erratic firm - was on call. None did well.
Burleson and Cox singled in runs in the sixth to break the tie. McGregor's bad pickoff move allowed Burleson a no-throw steal that led to a run.
In the four-run ninth that ended any Baltimore hopes all three relievers flunked. Cox opened with a double to get McGregor in hot water. A bloop single and sacrifice fly meant one more run and one less McGregor.
Drago did no better, allowing a single and two walks, the second with the bases loaded. Martinez finished the travesty with another bases-loaded walk and an RBI groundout.
With four straight home games against Toronto on tap, the Orioles have at least a chance to get back in hailing distance of the Yanks, and perhaps break the club's all-time attendeance record, too.
But even if they don't possibly the 51,798 here today would go along with the idea of one more appreciation day, something on the order of "Thanks, Orioles."