Some baseball games deserve a specific final play with just the proper actors to bring a long evening of struggle to an appropriate ending.
When Boston's Dwight Evans blasted Baltimore catcher Rick Dempsey eyebrows-over-shinguards in the bottom of the 10th inning tonight to score the winning run in a 3-2 sudden-death Red Sox win, it was the proper final touch.
After all, the Bosox and Birds had bashed heads in one long collision for nine innings as the teams' pitching aces, Dennis Eckersley and Jim Palmer, did battle-all to a 2-2 stand-off.
It was fit that Evans should walk to open the 10th off reliever Don Stanhouse, then steal second base and finally score as Jerry Remy poked a soft line single into left.
Evans was the man who had made the most spectacular of six dazzling Red Sox defensive jewels tonight as he leaped into the right field bleachers in the eighth inning to take a two run homer away from Baltimore's Eddie Murray.
This evening was one long brilliant Boston robbery after another as the Sox, now 22-11, moved past the O's by a half-game into first place in the American League East.
If this night was any indication, the old foes have only begun to claw at each other's eyes.
The Birds, winners of 19 of their previous 22 games, might well have won this game, 6-1, in regulation time had their own defense played routinely well and the Sox not been so splendid.
The Sox set the tone immediately. In the first inning, that rascal Remy dived spread-eagled behind second on a Ken Singleton hit-and-run grounder, snagging the ball and then arising in a cloud of dust to nail Singleton at first.
What might have been a first-and-third and one-out uprising turned to nothing.
The Birds took a 1-0lead in the second when slew-footed Lee May doubled off the Wall, then scored in a strange manner. After a Billy Smith walk, both runners took off as Rich Dauer tried to pull a hit-and-run
Dauer missed, but the Sox rookie catcher, Gary Allenson, was so shocked to see such strange runners in motion that the not only threw to the wrong base-second-but pegged the ball into center field, allowing May to waddle home.
That was Boston's last defensive sin. In the third, with Belanger on second base after a double, Sox first sacker George Scott leaped high to snag a liner by Murray, then doubled Belanger off second.
Surely, Belanger must have remembered the 244-pound Boomer Scott of '78, not the diet-conscious 212-pound Gorgeous George of '79 who could never have become airborne in such a fashion with his belly of previous years.
Then, in the fourth inning, with a man on base, Scott made a fabulous diving stab of a grounder, then got a force at second. In the fifth, after Butch Hobson hit a towering double off the wall, Scott singled him home to tie the game, 1-19
Scott alertly took second on what may have been the crucial faux pas of the night as Ken Singleton's far too-late throw to the plate was far too high to allow a cutoff. Scott leisurely rumbled to second, then scored for a 2-1 lead off Palmer as Evans (who else) singled home the go-ahead run.
Palmer, touchy on the outfield defense issue, fired his glove against the dugout wall after the inning. In the last 10 years, he has won just six games in Fenway (and lost 10). Had Scott not gotten his gift base, Palmer might have won tonight.
The Boomer, however, was not finished. With Birds on the corners and two out in the sixth, Scott flagged down a blistering one-hopper to his right by Billy Smith to end the inning.
That succession of defensive thefts culminated in the eighth.After Singleton barely beat out a hit after another diving stop of a ground smash by Remy, Murray crashed a deep fly ball through a crsswind. As Murray stood calmly at the plate, preparing his home run trot, Evans sprinted to the fence, fought off three fans as he leaped for the ball, then dragged it down as Wes Unseld would grab a rebound.
On an evening full of Sox heroes, the O's had to settle for one-Dempsey, the man flipped at the plate on that final collision. After fanning twice with feeble swings against Eckersley's side-arming, speed-changing nastiness, Dempsey battled to a 3-2 count in the seventh with O's behind, 2-1, then unloaded a line drive homer halfway up the screen to tie the score.