Many a time when the Boston Red Sox have come to this town, the cheering in the Memorial Stadium horseshoe has been so split that it was hard to tell which was the home team.
Not tonight. A crowd of 43,025 came to praise the Baltimore Orioles, and no one else.
The 5-3 Bird victory, which began and ended with standing ovations, was not so much a game as a testimonial to the most surprising and inspirational of all moderan Oriole teams.
When the Orioles left on the road eight days ago with a 9 1/2-game lead, some slim fear existed that hard times might lie ahead. But by tonight, all reasonable doubt had been eliminated, and this throng reveled in a typically crisp Bird victory based on Ken Singleton's hitting and the pitching of Steve Stone (11-7) and Don Stanhouse (19th save).
Singleton, the club's most conspicuous year-long hero, and Stone, its best camouflaged star of late, shared the spotlight.
Singleton knocked a solo homer (his 34th) into the right-field bleachers to tie the game, 2-2, in the third, then broke that deadlock two innings later with a two-run bases-loaded single to left off Boston starter Bob Stanley.
The O's right fielder, hitting .422 in September, now has 108 RBI, 102 walks, and a .301 average. The sign draped behind his position on the outfield wall tonight said, "ken's Korner: MVP."
"My homer almost hit the sign," said Singleton, grinning sheepishly. "Maybe I shoudl have pointed at it before I hit it."
On this O's staff, Stone, who has the club's highest ERA (3.69), has been a hidden man.
Few notice that since discovering the fork ball at midseason he has been a transformed hurler. In his last 19 starts over three months, the O's are 14-5. Stone has not lost in more than nine weeks, but, because of weak batting support, he has only five wins over that span.
After that drought, including two 10-inning performances in which he had no decision, Stones luck 'may have changed after the Birds gave him 16 runs last Sunday in Boston's Fenway Park.
On this evening, he battled the Bosox -- baseball's leading hitting and slugging team -- through 7 1/3 innings and 121 pitches before letting Stanhous obtain the final five outs.
Stone appeared headed for a short night's work when the first two hitters of the game got a single and double -- both eventually scoring for a 2-0 Sox lead on a Fred Lynn grounder and a Carl Yaztrzemski fly.
But, in the second inning, Stone changed the shape of this game by fanning Lynn -- the man with the .394 season average with men on base -- withe bases loaded and two outs.
"He's startin' to remind me of Mike Cuellar," crowed Manager Earl Weaver. "Once he gets through the first couple of innings, he finds himself and just gets tougher and tougher."
The man who helped Stone stay tough was catcher Rick Dempsey, who turned 30 Thursday. Twice he gunned out stealers as Sox hitters swung through pitches on hit-and-run plays. Once, he made a brilliant pounce and peg on an excellent Rick Burleson bunt that was 40 feet toward third. And, once, he held a foul tip third strike.
In the O's locker room, as his teammates praised him, Dempsey began making a huge melange out of all the remaining food on the cold-outs table. "Julia Child Dempsey, we call him" said Stone.
Finally, Dempsey poured the whole concoction over himself, rubbing it into his hair, before exiting to the shower with the sarcastic words. "Sometimes I love this game so much I can't stand it."
Many a team has such fraternity humor. The distinctive Oriole twist came five minutes later when Dempsey quietly came back, got down on his hands and knees and cleaned up the whole mess so the going clubhouse man wouldn't have to.
As so other happens, the O's, now 95-49 with their magic number down to five, hung in this game by their teeth until suddenly it swung their way. This time, the momentum shift came in a three-run fifths inning that erased a 2-2 tie.
After Sox first baseman Bob Watson hashed up Billy Smith's deflected single, and A1 Bumbry 12-for-his-last-23) singled to right, and Kiko Garcia beat out a swinging bunt, the bases were loaded with one out and the kettle was boiling.
Up stepped Singleton, who had knocked a 3-2 change up into the first row of right field bleachers aboe the 360-feet stripe in his last at-bat. With a steady left-to-right field wind blowing, the worried Sox chose to throw Singleton nothing but five straight fast balls away -- a particularly poor choice since that may be the one pitch that Singleton hits best.
After Singleton rifled his 10th game-winning hit to left, Eddie Murray, who has driven in 22 runs in his last 18 games, cracked an RBI double into the right field corner to KO Stanley.
Stone endured until the eighth when Jim Rice sliced a double and Yastrzemski drew a walk.
Stanhouse allowed a soft RBI single to right by Watson then closed the door. For a final fillip, he ended the game by fanning Fred Lynn for the third time of the evening.
"This time of year, there's no guessin'," beamed Stanhouse. "Everybody knows what's coming and why it's coming. So, here the heck it comes."
As Lynn waved at the final pitch, and a furious Rice in the on-deck circle waved his bat at a heckling fam and invited him to draw nigh for destruction. Stanhouse and Co. marched off the mound as the packed Stadium stood and cheered.
There was no guessin' who was comin' and why.