The Baltimore Orioles held a party and illustrated a parable today.
The Birds conducted a slightly premature, but no less jubilant, flag-clinching picnic as they scored nine runs in a hilarious first inning and crushed Boston, 13-3, before 42,869 sunbathed celebrators in Memorial Stadium.
Their magic number down to four, the O's may well have to uncork their champagne during the next four days in Detroit. Nevertheless, they let their fans have to day to howl as they handed Jim Palmer a 13-0 lead after four innings.
Last Sunday in Fenway Park, the Oriole damage to the Bosox reached a 16-4 score. With today's win, Baltimore completed a five-out-of-seven rout of the team that pursued them most hotly for five months.
"The Sox stayed with us all year until about three weeks ago," said Mark Belanger, who led the 15-hit Bird attack with three RBI. "You want to get rid of a club like that . . . open some ground and make 'em think for next year."
The first inning told all that needs to be known of these two teams, documenting a Tale of Two Pitching Staffs.
Palmer retired the first 14 Sox he faced, then retired for the day himself after seven innings and 77 batting practice pitches, improving his record to 9-6. That means nine of Balimore's 10 pitchers have winning percentages of .600 or better.
Boston, by contrast, put its apparent hurling future on display -- John Tudor, Allen Riplay, Win Remmerswaal and Joel Finch.
udor faced seven batters and got one out -- the other six scored. Ripley began by intentionally walking a man to fill the bases. Then he walked home one run and hit a batter with a two-strike changeup to force in another.
When Remmerswaal entered, the score was 6-0. His first pitch of the game was hit off the left-field wall and so was his last pitch three innings later, putting the O's up, 13-0.
Finch finished with 4 1/3 shutout innings, but it was an illusion. "We stole all his pitches," an Oriole coach said."We just didn't bother relaying them to the hitters. Why bother?"
The home first inning, in which 10 different Orioles reached home base, took 43 minutes and 69 Boston pitches. It was classic Boston fiasco, front to back. For posterity, the thing really should be recreated.
Belanger's leadoff checked-swing two-strike soft liner to second skipped between Ted Sizemore's feet to, shall we say, set the tone. After Benny Ayala chunked a handle-hit bloop single to right, Ken Singleton hit a perfect double-play, perhaps even triple-play, hopper to Butcher Hobson at third.
That's a safe place to hit anything. "Hobson's arm hurts him so much (bone chips and surgery) and he's so gun-shy, that he just totally misplays third base," Oriole third baseman Doug DeCinces sympathized. "You feel sorry for him. He's always out of position, trying to shorten his throws."
Hobson stomped on third for one out, then, with Singleton surely out by 15 feet, Hobson pulled the first baseman 10 feet off first with his throw.
Eddie Murray dumped a soft fly ball in front of left fielder Jim Rice, who would have had it if he hadn't been stationed practically in the bullpen. Gary Roenicke followed with a two-run seeing-eye liner that barely evaded two leaping Sox -- Tudor and Sizemore.
Lee May's fly into the right field corner hit the foul line about three feet up the wall as Dwight Evans shied away; it went for an RBI single. DeCinces followed with a liner to Rice that would have been an inning-ending DP (both runners were trying to steal), except that the ball hit Rice in the shin and richocheted all the way to shortstop Rick Burleson for a double.
Here Tudor, who might easily have gotten seven outs in seven batters, excited -- his ERA 8.57. "In that whole time not one Boston player came to the mound to say one word to him," an Oriole remarked.
Ripley entered and performed his walk-walk-hit batter routine. Actually, he never should have been in the game, since he told Sox pitching coach Al Jackson before the game that his sore arm hurt.
Jackson thought Ripley was joking. But then, what could you expect with a Ripley? You never know whether to believe 'em or not.
Remmerswaal saw Singleton double home one run, Sox first baseman Bob Watson plated another for the O's by kicking away Murray's simple grounder that should have ended the inning.
The Red Sox never did get the last out. Home plate umpire Marty Springstead called Roenicke out on a 3-2 curve that looked inside. Had Roenicke walked, the O's might have scored 13 runs in the first, since May and DeCinces greeted Remmerswaal with a single and double to start the second inning.
Many could joke about this game.
"I had a good month," said Belanger, who upped his season RBI total from six to nine before Boston could record the fifth Oriole out of the game.
Nevertheless, much hidden truth about baseball's central science -- pitching -- was concealed in this contest.
At the moment, Baltimore may have assembled the greatest of all its sterling staffs. The Red Sox, once more, must lay the burden of falling out of the race at the feet of the mound.
The Oriole team ERA (3.25) is exactly a full run better than the league average (4.25). This huge differential between the excellence of one staff and the norm of the whole league has happened only three times in baseball history (see chart).
"You could see the difference between our theories on pitching and theirs in this game," said Ray Miller, the Oriole pitching coach.
"All four of their pitchers had good young arms, just like ours. But they all pitched the same way . . . every pitch hard. Not one of them had an off-speed pitch. Every one of our young pitchers does. They get behind in the count.They never vary speeds.
"I know," Miller said. "I pitched that way for 11 years -- and never got past AAA ball. It makes you want to cry. I got so sick of hearing, 'Great stuff, kid. Live arm.' That's just not pitching.
"The first day we get a pitcher in the minors, we tell him, 'Son, from this day on, you have to change your thinking. From now on, the idea isn't to get the hitter to miss the ball, but to make him hit it -- to our guys. Stop throwing and start thinking.'"
At every level, the O's support their pitching with excellent defense. The byword at every stop is learning to get pitches of different speeds over the plate.
"Keep the hitter's stride from being the same from pitch to pitch," Miller said. "That's all pitching is."
"What I saw out there today," another Oriole offered, "was four unfinished young pitchers. It's not (Coach) Jackson's fault. He shouldn't have to teach the changeup to rookies in the middle of a pennant race."