They had been heroes, in their special ways, Ken Singleton, Eddie Murray and Rick Dempsey. But a house full of Oriole fans left Memorial Stadium wondering how perhaps the slowest Pirate, Ed Ott, could score the winning run from second on a sharp ninth-inning single.
Even the Orioles were debating the play that allowed the Pirates to even the World Series at one game each. Was first baseman Murray's cutoff of Singleton's throw wise? Or was the peg losing speed too rapidly, or simply off line? Could catcher Dempsey have made a better tag try?
"Of course I would have liked to have the throw gone through," said Singleton.
"Off line," said Murray. "The ball skips better on wet grass. Did Dempsey yell? You think I can hear anything with 53,000 people screaming like that?"
No, Dempsey did not yell. He had best view of the play -- and his silence was the signal for Murray not to cut the throw off.
"It was up a step," Dempsey said, meaning Singleton's throw was a shade up the third-base side of home. "If I don't say anything, it's a set signal for the throw to go through. But Eddie just felt it was off line.
"It was a judgment on his part. But when he did cut it off I went back toward the plate a bit. I took a backward step. And when I did that, I didn't know where home plate was.
"All I could do was take a swipe. And he got by."
Manager Earl Weaver's television expression not long after the play seemed to agree with Dempsey, though he later said: "It might have been dying.
And on this field the ball might well have stuck hat and gone nowhere."
There were other points of contention, the major one why Weaver chose to allow John Lowenstein to hit away instead of following Doug DeCinces' sacrifice bunt with another with none out and Orioles on first and second in the eighth.
"I thought they had a (bunt defense) play on," Weaver said. "I just took a chance on Lowenstein winning me a ball game, like he has before (with a dramatic home run in the first game of the American League playoffs).
"It was as good a shot as we'll get all night."
The shot ended up as the sort of double play that so typifies the Pirates. The shortstop missed the lead Oriole runner, but forced the man coming from first. Then they trapped the lead runner.
"Just a gamble," Weaver kept muttering, referring to that decision and also to the one that sent Murray from third toward home after Lowenstein's liner to Dave Parker in right field in the sixth.
Parker had made as embarrassing an error as this Series is likely to see earlier, dropping an easy pop while trying to finish that one-handed flick with which he ends all catches. this time his throw had Murray so dead he did not bother to slide.
They just won all the gambles," Weaver continued. "I'd hate to have been goin' against them in Vegas tonight."
Weaver took his final chance with the fellow who has been his season-long savior out of the bullpen, Don Stanhouse. But ageless Manny Sanguillen made him a loser with that poke to right.
"Sanguillen is the kind of (bad-ball) batter you throw the ball down the middle against," Stanhouse said. "Anywhere else, he hits it. He's a free swinger. It's a smart move to go to him (as a pinch hitter for reliever Don Robinson).
"The pitch he hit was a slider on the outside of the plate. I threw him fast balls to set him up for the slider. But the slider didn't slide very much. The slider didn't slide -- and he reached out and hit it to right."
Which began the set of unimaginably fast actions that led to the winning run -- and to the performance of Singleton, Murray and Dempsey to be somewhat tarnished.
Singleton's and Murray's contributions have been as obvious as they had been meaningful. Dempsey's had been overshadowed -- until tonight.
"He's the hidden star," said Pirate second baseman Phil Garner during batting practice. "He stops a couple of balls in the dirt last night that save at least a run and possibly two."
Just before the final, game-deciding drama, Dempsey's skills had come into sharp focus. With the Pirates' designated thief, Matt (the Scat) Alexander, off toward another steal with nobody out, Rick the Rifle gunned him down.
Not long after the game had ended, Weaver paced in his office and became philosophical. The possibilities on the critical play were too many for any sensible person to point a solid finger, though testimony suggests the throw should have gone directly to Dempsey, if only because he would have been in better position for the tag.
"Well, gentlemen," Weaver said, "We lost to Pittsburgh last time (in the '71 series). And we lost to 'em after winning the first two here at home. Let's see what happens this time."