Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
That slender tightrope of victory - woven from pitching, defence, brains, gumption and luck - snapped beneath the Baltimore Orioles last night for the first time in 16 days, five cities and 14 games.
None of those first four sturdy yarns betrayed the Birds. Only that most mischievous hemp - luck - was against them. But that unraveled all the others.
The first Oriole defeat of June, after 13 wins, might look like a dreary 5-1 loss to California's Frank Tanana, the southpaw who beats Baltimore more easily and often than any man in baseball.
More accurately, this defeat was eloquent testimony to the streak it ended, showing how narrow a rope this gritty team balances uponN and how precariously it must guard against every breeze of error or ill-fortune.
The O's saw every chance turn its back on them. The ball had Angel eyes, avoiding Oriole gloves at modest speeds while zooming into every California mitt. Baltimore might easily have lost by 12-1.
Instead, due to starter Scott McGregor's fortitude, his defense's brilliance, and the Bird batters' orneriness, Tanana had to squirm in the hot cauldron of a 3-1 pitchers' duel until two eighth-inning Angel runs broke the game open.
Some Orioles tried to laugh in the wake of what may have been the season's best-played game at Memorial Stadium, worthy of more than the 15,004 customers on hand.
"We'll break this losing streak sooner or later," quipped shortstop Mark Belanger.
"Tanana and I scrapped and struggled for eight innings," said McGregor, his personal seven-game winning streak snapped, also. "But they got the breaks we've been getting for two weeks. Except they got about two week's worth in one night."
Manager Earl Weaver, after hearing that both Boston and New York had won again, was not so pleasant. He blistered the paint on his office walls with expletives. Despite the longest winning streak of baseball's season, his Birds trail Boston by 71/2 games.
"Two plays turned the game,"Weaver spit out, not satisfied with 15 victories in 17 games. "Joe Rudi hits a ground ball off Scott's glove into center field in the first inning for two runs.
"Then in the second, Rick Dempsey hits a shot back through the box with the bases loaded and none out and it sticks in Tanana's glove for an easy double play.
"If the ball sticks in Scott's glove and goes past Tanana's, it's four runs difference. Maybe more."
Even Tanana, 10-3 after his crafty five-hitter, admitted, "Most of the time you see those liners, but they're by you before you can move. This time it was right at my glove. Probably won me a ball game. If that goes through, the game's tied (3.3), they got men on the corners with none out and I might not make it through the second inning."
The game had a sweet dramatic flow, sustained by constant srisis for eight innings. Rudi's two-run single in the first trick.
But Baltimore's second batter - Rich Dauer - ripped a line-drive homer just far and fair enough to left.
"They really battled me," said Tanana, after bringing his career record against the o's to 10-3, 1.75 ERA. "They had chances every inning. By the fifth, I was gassed. Felt like it was the ninth."
"I've lost 15 percent off my fast ball (arm trouble) so I tell myself, "Frank, better pitch 'em away. 'cause if you live inside, you're gonna get ripped apart.' I made one mistake inside and Dauer took it downtown."
While Tanana worked the black edges of the strike zone, McGregor battled his control. After walking five in his last 56 innings, he walked five tonight.
But excepting a solo homer by ninth-hitter Ike Hampton in the second, McGregory was superb. He started two double plays - one on a comebacker with the bases loaded, the other on a sacrifice attempt. In all, the Orioles survived with four sparkling double plays.
"Nellie Briles warmed up seven times," Weaver noted. "But Scotty battled like a trooper."
The McGregor of April - ERA 13.50 - might have wilted. The McGregor of June - ERA 0.96 for his seven wins - just dug deeper, glaring at hitters, poking his cap bill in toward the plate like a feisty Bird.
The Angels answered with defensive wizardry.
Tanana's stab hurt most, but Rick Miller also robbed Ken Singleton of a double with a flat-out diving catch in center and Dave Chalk saved a run with a smothering stop at shortstop. Luck helped, too. Andres Mora's double hit the top of the left-field wall and Lee May flied out to the top of the fence in center.
"Thank goodness we're not in this (American League East) division," said Tanana.
McGregor was finally kayoed by a walk and checked-swing hit to lead off the eight. "I hate to go get (relieve) a pitcher after a cheap hit," growled Weaver.
Perhaps the season's longest winning skein was over, but in its wake, enormous respect remained for a team that constantly plays to the edge of its limited talent, walking the high wire of pennant contention in baseball's windiest division.