In case Earl Weaver isn't enough, the Orioles have another friend in high places. God is on their side, said Pittsburgh second baseman Phil Garner. No other explanation will do. By hanging onto an early lead . . . by coming from far behind . . . by making the play while the Pirates don't make the play . . . by winning with a reformed basketball player on the mound who gets an RBI single in his first-ever at-bat, this in a world Series -- this is how the Orioles have won three games to Pittsburgh's one.
Garner, the Pirates' leading hitter with seven hits and a .500 average, tried to explain today's 9-6 victory by Baltimore in terms that would make sense. It was an impossible task. Hesat on an equipment trunk, leaning against a concrete pillar. Frustration owned him.
"They kicked our butts today," Garner said. into the holes in my whole life. They're the greatest ball club I've ever seen."
Whoa, here. The greates ever? Garner played on one of the wonderful Oakland A's teams that won three straight world championships. Has Garner heard of the '27 Yankees and the Big Red Machine? These are the no-name Ballamer Oryuls. In that declaration of greatness, might a listener detect a touch of sarcasm?
"I said it's the greatest ball club I've ever seen," Garner said. "They're kicking our butts."
No doubt of that. In Baltimor's first two victories, the Pirates helped out mightily with defensive plays for which Little Leaguers would be sent to bed without supper. And in today's game, though the Pirates finally did a lot of things well, they blew it in the late innings when their best relief pitcher, Kent Tekulve, did everything wrong.
C'mon, Phil, the greatest ever?
"Look, we're hitting shots. And they're catching every one of them. They don't have to move to catch them. They hit it and we can't get to them at all.
"It looks like there's somebody up there -- "
He raised his eyes heavenward.
" -- who is looking down on them and saying, 'This will be a hit for the Orioles. And when the boys in gold hit it out there, it's going to be caught.'"
It God had anything to do with the boys in gold losing, it probably was punishment for Tekulve's violation of that old sinker-baller's commandment: Thou shalt not get a pitch three inches above a hitter's knees.
A sinker-balling right-hander, Tekulve, the man who won the pennant for the Pirates with a direct hand in 41 of the team's 98 victories, is vulnerable to attack by left-handed hitters if he allows any pitch much more than knee-high.
We might nit-pick with Pittsburgh Manager Chuck Tanner for sending reliever Don Robinson to start the eighth inning when he also had Tekulve ready. Though the winner in Game 2, robinson was unsteady then, his control putting him in trouble from which only his laser-beam fast ball saved him.
Today Robinson faced only four hitters, giving up two singles and a walk to load the bases with one out. then came Tekulve to protect a 6-3 lead. He needed only six outs to even the Series. he had retired nine straight Orioles in two other appearances.
But left-handers John Lowenstein and Terry Crowley smashed pulled-to-right doubles to produce a six-run inning.
"it wasn't 'up' 'up," Tehulsve said of the pitch to Crowley. "But it was up a little and in the middle of the plate."
Ed Ott, the Pirate catcher, said Tekulve's pitches "were up and in, exactly where we didn't want them to be. We were supposed to be pitching those guys away. We had out outfielders positioned that way, too. And if Kent gets the pitch up and in, we're going to get hurt."
Even with the Pirates' best reliever botching his day's work, even with Ott himmself messing up some base-running and getting caught 30 feet from home plate to bog down a four-run second inning, even with Omar Moreno being picked off first base to end that second inning -- even with all these evidences that the Pittsburgh problems begin and end with themselves and not with an extraterrestrial commander, Ed Ott believes in the Pittsburgh Pirates.
He believes the Pirates are a better baseball team than the team that leads this Series.
"Oh, definitely, we're a lot more superior ball club to the Orioles," Ott said. "we've got more talent, we've got better pitching, we've got more power and more speed. Rigt now, they're just cashing in on out mistakes more than we're cashing in on theirs."
These Ballamer Oryuls are, in fact, a great baseball team. Today's game proved it beyond argument. A brilliant manager, Earl Weaver, controlled a dugout full of players -- only outfielder Benny Ayala and six pitchers did not play -- who under the game's greatest pressures are producing marvelously.
Kiko Garcia had 24 runs batted in this season, he has six in two Series games. Tim Stoddard, the former North Carolina State basketball player, not only pitched three shutout innings, he drove in a run in his firstever major league at-bat. Pinch-hitters Pat Kelly, John Lowenstein and crowley were 3-for-3 with four RBI.
Someone went to Willie Stargell to ask about God's role in this Series. Does God wear black and orange and make long-distance calls to Earl Weaver? Stargell, the Pirates' old sweet warrior who had a home run and double today, was eating ribs when someone asked what he thought of garner's suggestion that God favored the Birds.
"Everybody's got a right to an opinion," Stargell said, and he went back to something that makes sense: eating his plate of ribs.