The Baltimore Orioles held a rummage sale at Memorial Stadium today and tried to auction off a raggedy old moth eaten pennant-race game.
For nearly four hours, nobody would take the homely mess at any price until the Kansas City Royals finally accepted the gift, 11-7, in 10 innings.
Royal Willie Wilson put this 3 hour 49 minute atrocity out of its misery with a tie breaking bases-loaded triple on a tense, two-out, two-strike pitch from Don Stanhouse.
That lazy, bases-clearing fly ball into the right field corner was the pin that burst a huge balloon of mounting emotion. The crowd of 32,058 went home disgusted, with that flim flammed feeling that comes from a total and unexpected switch of momentum at the last instant.
The last three innings of this mistake-filled affair took just over two hours. And throughout almost all of that interminable time it seemed that an Oriole picnic was in the offing -- one that would boost the O's AL East lead to five games since word already had been posted of Boston's 3-2 loss to Chicago.
After all, when the Birds, who handed the Royals three runs and a 7-3 lead in the top of the eighth with miserable fielding, roared back with a four run eighth inning of their own, it was one of their most rousing comebacks of '79.
When Eddie Murray blasted home two runs with a ground-rule double to left to cut the deficit to 7-5, and old Terry Crowley tied matters, 7-7, with a two-run double off the right field fence just moments later, this ballyard went nuts.
When the slumping Royal reliever, Al Hrabosky, the Mad Hungarian, walked the bases with just one out in the bottom of the ninth, a whole afternoon of Oriole sins appeared forgiven. Surely more Birdland magic was at hand.
As lame-armed Steve Busby took the mound to face Lee May, who is second in the AL in game-winning hits, the cheers built to a crescendo as the count reached 3-2.
May then unleashed a 400 foot swat to left field that had "game winning grand slam" written on it -- except the ball curved at the last second and hit the "Birds Will Fly" sign in the upper deck just a few feet foul.
After another loud foul by May, Busby tossed a soft curve that nibbled the inside of the plate waist high. For an instant the crowd held its breath hoping for "ball four."
Instead, umpire Steve Palermo, who had thrown O's Manager Earl Weaver out of the game on the two previous nights, yelled, "Strike three."
"Lay it on me," May said manfully.
"If it's close enough for him to call a strike, it's close enough for me to swing."
That Oriole balloon began deflating immediately as Pat Kelly ended the ninth with a routine fly out.
The rusty Stanhouse who had not pitched in 11 days, proved he could match Hrabosky in the top of the 10th, walking the sacks full, one intentionally.
The infernally slow Hrabosky and Stanhouse took a full hour for one inning -- the bottom of the ninth and top of the 10th. They were worse than a rain delay, Stanhouse taking the cake with 50 pitches in just two innings of corner-nipping.
"Things happened out there that I'll have to look at replays to figure out," said Weaver.
For instance, O's starter Steve Stone was knocked out of the game by a brutal liner that hit his right hip.
"I've never been hit that hard," said Stone, who may miss a start with the deep bruise. "My first reaction was to chase the ricochet. My second was to get on the ground as fast as possible before the thing had a chance to hit me again."
The eighth inning -- with three Royal runs and four for the O's -- was a Keaton classic, every run a blunder.
The O's sins began when Murray fielded a sacrifice bunt, pump faked to second base, pumped to first where Billy Smith was slow covering, then finally threw the ball to Smith in time, only to see the second sacker miss it completely.
Reliever Tippy Martinez then joined the show. After wild-pitching home a run, he let a dribbler roll down the third base line only to pluck it up suddenly just as it might have trickled foul. Finally, he hung a curve to Todd Cruz, the No. 9 hitter, for a two-run double.
To cap the Cruz double, O's catcher, Rick Dempsey, dropped the ball at the plate when Frank White blasted him with a shoulder.
The Royals more than did their part to reciprocate. Left fielder Wilson totally misjudged Murray's routine liner, allowing it to bounce over the fence for two runs. After Cruz made a throwing error, right fielder Al Cowens looked awful as he jogged after Crowley's two-run double -- a ball he should have caught.
In the end, the proper team lost. The Orioles certainly submitted the low bid in earning their eighth loss in 13 games. Perhaps the nine walks -- five of them led to runs they allowed cinched it.