All night long Oriole pitcher Mike Flangan had been trying to avoid throwing Pittsburgh Pirate slugger Willie Stargell a fast ball. On Stargell's first three times up he had gotten him out with a sweeping sidearm curve, twice striking him out, once getting him to ground to second base.
But in the eighth inning Stargell got wise to him and smashed a sidearm curve deep into the right-field seats to cut the Baltimore Orioles lead 5 to 4. And so when Stargell strode to the plate with two outs in the ninth inning and Dave Parker on third base with the tying run, Flangan was through throwing curve balls.
"Most of the night I had good luck with the sidearm curve," Flangan said moments after the Oriles had held on to win in the opening game of the 1979 World Series, 5-4. "But I went to the well once too often in the seventh inning. He's just a good hitter and you can't fool him all night.
"When he came up in the ninth I was determined not to throw him another sidearm curve ball. I didn't want to throw him anything slow that he could get the bat head out on. I just reached back for what I had left and fortunately I had something left."
Having already thrown 134 pitches before Stargell come to the plate, Flanagan was tired but he and catcher Rick Dempsey agreed they had to go with the fast ball.
Flanagan ran the count to 2-1 on Stargell, then got his 138th pitch of the night past Stargell, who popped it to left field where shortstop Mark Belanger dropped back and made the catch to end the ball game.
One way or the other, Stargell was going to be the last batter Flanagan faced, according to Oriole Manager Earl Weaver. "I had just told him before the inning not to give Stargell anything good to hit if he came up," Weaver said. "If Stargell had gotten on I would have gone to someone else to pitch to (Bill) Madlock."
Once before Weaver almost took his left-hander out. That was in the eighth inning with two men on, two men out and center fielder Omar Moreno coming up. "I thought about going out there." said Weaver, "and I would have gone out there if he hadn't gotter Moreno.
But Flanagan got Moreno, who was zero for five for the night, catching him looking at a third strike -- a sweeping sidearm curve ball.
According to Dempsey it was Flanagan's off-speed pitch which made the difference. "Mike couldn't have won the game if he hadn't had his good changeup working. You can't beat Pittsburgh without a good changeup."
One off-speed pitch that Dempsey did not want Flanagan to throw was the one Stargell hit for a home run. "I shook Rick off," said Flanagan. "He wanted to throw a fast ball but I wanted to throw the sidearm curve again. I was wrong.
While Weaver was not delighted that Flanagan had to throw so many pitches, pitching coach Ray Miller pointed out that the cold weather helped his pitcher. So did Flanagan's ability to throw strikes and get ahead of the hitters.
"Out of 138 pitches he only threw 38 balls, that's phenomenal," said Miller. "F this had been a typical Baltimore day I don't think Mike could have lasted. But the pitcher is the last one to get cold. Thery're always moving, keeping warm. The hot weather would have taken too much out of him."
What also helped was that Flanagan retreated to the warmth of the clubhouse between innings, coming out only when he had to go bat.
Most Orioles were fairly subdued in the clubhouse, partly because of the close call, partly because of the frigid field conditions.
"My feet are completely frozen, said right-fielder Ken Singleton. "It was a long night out there" (The game lasted three hours, 18 minutes.)
"We knew it was going to be tough even when we got the big lead early. We knew Pittsburgh had a long time to come back and they're too good a team not to come back. I would have been surprised if they hadn't made it close.
"These kinds of games are the ways the Orioles play baseball. Flanny just had to bear down all night."
Dempsey said he began to worry a little about Flanagan in the middle innings as he tried to protect his lead. "When Mike has a big lead in the middle innings he tends to stop bearing down a little," the catcher said. "He tried to just throw his fast ball and get away with that.
"You can't do that against Pittsburgh. They're a fast ball-hitting team. I went out and told him to pitch like it was a one-run ball game, to mix up his pitches and try to keep the ball in the park.
Eventually, it became a one-run game and when he had to, Flanagan made the crucial pitches. "Several times I thought about taking him out, but with their left-handed hitters and the left-handed hitters they had on the bench, I was afraid if I went for a right-hander I might open the floodgates," Weaver said.