Earl Weaver had a word for the muggy 93-degree heat in Yankee Stadium today.
"Close," said the Baltimore Oriole manager.
The weather wasn't the only close thing on Weaver's mind after the Orioles dropped a 3-2 decision to the defending world champions, ending a six-game Oriole winning streak.
They still have won 15 of their past 18 and have the strongest hold on first place in all of major league baseball with 53 games to go. But Weaver can see it disappearing in a flash.
"This can be gone in a week," said Weaver. "All you have to do is lose seven games. I'll guarantee that three different times before it's over, we'll be saying, "Oh, Jeez, we're gonna blow it." We did that in '69, when we won by 15 games." (Actually they won by 19, but it must have seemed closer to Weaver).
The Orioles blew one today, which did nothing to ease Weaver's worries.
They had a 2-0 lead early on and their ace pitcher, Mike Flanagan, going strong.
In the fourth inning Flanagan got Roy White, the designated hitter with the .182 average, and Lou Piniella to fly out. He had Reggie Jackson down, 1-2, before the slugger poked a single through the middle.
Chris Chambless worked the count to 3 and 2. With two outs Jackson prepared to spring for second base with the pitch.
"We know Reggie, and we know he's a hustler. He'll try to get every step he can," said Weaver, who whistled and waved from the dugout, trying to get Flanagan and first baseman Eddie Murray to work a trick pickoff.
Flanagan got the message, Murray did not.
Jackson broke for second, Flanagan whirled and fired to first and Murray never budged from his spot behind the bag. The ball rolled to the boxseat railing.
The inning should have been over. Instead, Jackson was on third, credited with a stolen base, and Flanagan was charged with a throwing error.
Chambliss then whacked a deep fly to right. Ken Singleton misjudged the ball for an instant. He darted in a step and by the time he recovered it was over his head and off the wall for a double, Jackson scoring.
Then the flustered Flanagan fed Graig Nettles a high, fat, first-pitch fast ball that Nettles parked somewhare over the 353-foot sign in right. It was his 14th homer and first in 31 games.
It was all the Yankees needed. "I pitched good," said Flanagan, whose record fel to 14-7. "Good enough to win except I was going against Tommy John."
The Yankee left-hander went all the way to boost his league-leading record to 15-6.
"I made three bad pitches," said Flanagan, "and Tommy made two."
The Orioles had touched John in the third. Singleton blasted his 27th homer into the right field seats. John thought that was a good pitch, but he promptly served up a blimp to Murray, who smashed it even further away in right.
Then John dumped his second mistake Doug DeCinces' way. "I could see three straight coming," said the pitcher. But DeCinces merely slashed a double into the left field corner.
John was in a jam, but his pickoff trick worked. He performed a neat pirouette on the mound that caught DeCinces leaning toward third. DeCinces was out in the rundown and John struck out Lee May to end the inning.
May, in fact, whiffed all four times against John's baffling array of whiffle balls.
Weaver conceded that the errant pickoff hurt: "Those are the little things that win or lose a pennant. We've had it all year. Today we didn't execute."
Yankee Manager Billy Martin, on the other hand, executed a neat trick. When Flanagan came out to pitch he had on a sweatshirt with holes in the sleeves.
Martin protested and the umpires told Flanagan to cut the sleeves off because the flapping might distract hitters.
After the inning the gracious Martin sent over a Yankee replacement sweatshirt.
"Great," said Flanagan, showing it off in the dressing room afterwards. "Ninety per cent wool. I could have died out there.
"Billy's no fool."
The loss ended a six-game win streak for the Orioles, who face the Yanks again Monday night in a nationally televised contest. It left them 6 1/2 games ahead of the second-place Boston Red Sox, who beat the Milwaukee Brewers in a doubleheader.