Dapper Al Bumbry, dressed as usual for crucial occasions in a subdued but classic three-piece suit, held the remains of a bottle of champagne in his hand.

He had no thoughts of letting it go. Seldom has a man been so glad to forget as this littlest Oriole.

"I would have gone to my grave still thinking about the ball I dropped last night," said the Baltimore center fielder, whose error Friday night helped lose a game and jeopardized a season.

"That's just how I am. If we'd lost this playoff because of me, I would have been in bad shape."

If one reason existed that Baltimore won today's fourth and final American League playoff game so convincingly, 8-0, over the California Angels, it was because the Birds wanted so desperatedly to exonerate Bumbry.

Baseball has a special place for famous blunders -- ask Fred Merkle, Mickey Owen of Ralph Branca. That place to some, is called hell on earth, a lifetime of the same stupid questions about the same irretrievable split second.

If Merkle's Boner can remain vivid since 1908, so could Bumbry's Drop -- or BUMbry's Drop -- have lasted a lifetime.

"The nicest thing about today, is that we won for Al Bumbry," said Steve Stone."The bottom line is that for the rest of us, this was still a ball game. For Bumbry, I'm afraid it might have been something more.

"Now, he can forget it in less than 24 hours."

"It" was a line drive in the bottom of the ninth in Friday night's third playoff game. Had Bumbry caught Bobby Grich's blistering, sinking, knee-high liner, he could have tossed the ball underhand to second base to double off runner Rod Carew and end the game.

"Last night was very tough," said Bumbry, who hurried back to his hotel room to see the TV replays. "I'm a person who believes in doing things right. I'm hard on myself, harder than anybody else. I'm a perfectionist and I take things very badly.

"I didn't get much sleep. I got up at 5 o'clock, 6 and then 7:30. I didn't dream about it. I couldn't get that far. I'd think about it and I couldn't get to sleep.

"I could see that ball falling out of my glove time after time."

Bumbry, a 5-foot-8 ball of muscle and good cheer, has been the Oriole ignition all season. But that wouldn't have been remembered in a cruel world.

"Al is the reason, the main reason, that we're a better team than we were last year when he was out. He gives us a leadoff hitter, speed on the bases and he's become a helluva center fielder," said Belanger.

"But I can't think of a guy in this whole game who would have been as eaten up by it as Al -- he is just so sensitive.

"I said to him after we got way ahead, 'If we'd lost it all, you'd never have forgotten it, would you?'

"He just said, 'You're right.'"

In his worst athletic hour, Bumbry was most a man. Dressed in that suit, he sat for 45 minutes in the Oriole locker room as wave after wave of reporters, expecting evasion, grilled him with less than gently questions.

And to them all, Bumbry simply said, "I blew it. It was knee-high. I should have caught it. It's my fault."

Manager Earl Weaver fumed and blustered like a champ trying to protect his man, saying all manner of foolish but good-at-heart things about how Bumbry hustled, how no one else could have reached the ball, how anyone who criticized Bumbry was a know-nothing idiot.

That was because Weaver knew, knew about Merkle and a succession of others.

And Bumbry kept saying, "I blew it."

By the batting cage today, Bumbry said, "I was close to running (leaving the locker room). But if I'd caught that ball, I'd probably have been the hero. I'd have hit the triple and scored the winning run (in the seventh). I'd have made the game-winning double play.

"If I'd held it, I'd have stayed for the praise. So, I stayed for the blame."

And he took it alone -- a small, hard man who never complains, never comes out of the lineup, until, like last year, the broken bones stick through the skin.

"I had lots of phone calls last night from relatives, home folks, and friends," said Bumbry, born and raised in Fredericksburg, Va. "I didn't talk to any of them.

"Unless I called someone myself, unless I felt I had to, I'd keep it to myself. I try to work things out myself. I sort of go into a shell when things go bad. Maybe it's not good for me, but that's the way I am.

"Like, I always play better on the road than at home, even after all these years. I guess I just try too hard at home and I start not thinking right."

None of the world's commiseration sunk in on Bumbry -- not his teammate's admonitions to forget it, nor a fist full of telegrams that were waiting for him this morning.

When he stepped into the batter's box to start today's game, the Orioles continued tradition. "Let's go, Little Boomer," hollered Ken Singleton.

And the entire Baltimore bench let out a deep-throated, "Ooooohhh, Aaaaaghhhh."

That locomotive cheer has started every Oriole game. Some opposing teams have jumped in shocked surprise at their positions when they first heard it.

Today, it was the loudest Oriole locomotive ever.

"Heah," said Bumbry sheepishly, "I heard it more louder today."

Bumbry, who hit .285 this season with 37 stolen bases, and who hit .308 and reached base eight times with two steals in this four-game series, adjusted his tie tonight and walked out into the evening -- that champagne bottle, grabbed by the neck, still in one hand. Soon, he could forget forever.