Baltimore Oriole fans have learned their lesson well during the giddy month of June: They don't start getting excited until the final innings, no matter how the home team is faring to that point.
The Johnny-Come-Lately Birds once again tonight produced their patented last-gasp comeback, squeezing out a 3-2 victory over the Cleveland Indians before 16,497 at Memorial Stadium.
Late-inning long balls principally have accounted for first-place Baltimore's flirtation with Lady Luck - enabling the Orioles to take 10 of their 17 June victories prior to tonight with go-ahead runs in the eighth inning or later. But tonight's success came compliments of momentary wildness by Indian starter Wayne Garland and a grievous error by right fielder Bobby Bonds.
Bonds dropped a one-out fly ball by Ken Singleton in the top of the eighth, allowing Al Bumbry and Kiko Garcia to score from third and second, respectively, for a 2-1 Oriole lead. Gary Roenicke later socked a two-out double to score Singleton with the eventual winning run.
Bumbry and Garcia had reached base on consecutive walks issued by Garland, who otherwise pitched a fine game before leaving in the eighth with a shoulder injury. The luckless Garland, now 3-8, shut out Baltimore on five hits through seven innings. He did not give up an earned run, although all three Oriole scores were charged to him.
Oriole starter Steve Stone was even better as he earned his first victory since June 9 to even his record in 10 decisions. The Indians managed only three hits off Stone until he yielded to reliever Don Stanhouse following Rick Manning's leadoff single in the ninth.
Stanhouse pitched his way out of a bases-loaded no-out jam, giving up only Cleveland's second run of the game, on a scrifice fly by pinch hitter Jim Norris. The right-hander struck out Gary Alexander on a 2-2 slider for the inning's second out and then leaned over to snare Duane Kuiper's hard ankle-high liner to end the game, stranding two Indian base runners.
Frustrated base runners had plagued the Orioles until the eighth. In the first, Garland struck out Singleton and fanned Roenicke, sandwiched around a walk to Eddie Murray, to leave Baltimore with two stranded on base. Garland, who finished with eight strikeouts, ended the sixth inning by fanning Singleton and Murray to leave two men on. An Indian double play initiated by Rich Dauer's ground ball to shortstop in the seventh left still another Oriole duo on the bags.
But, despite the failures to see a teammate cross the plate during the first seven stanzas, Stone remained cool.
"This club doesn't like to get beaten," Stone said. "I knew that if we held them down long enough, we'd get it. However, at times I had visions of losing another two-hitter, like I once did to Jon Matlack.
"My curve was working exceptionally well, more so than it had been for quite a while. I haven't had much consistency recently. But I started getting the breaking pitches over in the early innings. That's when I knew I'd pitch a good ball game."
Stone's only mistake was a second-inning off-speed slider to Andre Thornton "that didn't fool him," according to Stone. Thornton launched a 390-foot shot to center field that Al Bumbry conceded was a round-tripper after taking only two backward steps.
The Indians, who lost their eighth straight, got another single in the fourth and then went hitless until the ninth.
Was Stanhouse concerned when, after relieving Stone with Manning on first, he then loaded the bases by walking Thornton and hitting Cliff Johnson on an 0-2 pitch?
"I don't worry about nothing," Stanhouse said, reclining underneath the "Stanhouse's Corner" sign in the Bird clubhouse. 'Some nights I'm gonna be better than them, some nights I'm not. I thought I threw some pretty good pitches out there."