The Baltimore Orioles showed the dark, closeted side of their character tonight, committing defensive suicide in the sixth game of the World Series.
The birds overdosed on baggy-pants fielding, losing, 4-0 to Pittsburgh to force a seventh and final Series meeting here Wednesday night in a horse-shoe-shaped Memorial Stadium that still will be full of memories of tonight's donkey baseball.
The National Weather Service forecasts a 30 percent chance of showers Wednesday night with temperatures expected to be in the mid-50s.
There is a reason why the Orioles are a team of no-names. If they owned all the baseball skills, then they'd be famous. But they don't, so they aren't. This evening, the Birds demonstrated, all too painfully, why many of them are anonymous.
"We try to use our abilities and hide our disabilities," says Manager Earl Weaver, whose greatest strength is his ability to keep those Baltimore failings locked in the attic.
On this night, when 53,739 came to see the Birds cinch a World Championship, all those family secrets came tumbling out into public as Baltimore handed Pittsburgh two run in the seventh and two in the eighth -- all on misplays that bushwacked their brilliant pitcher, Jim Palmer.
"That's the best game I've pitched all year," said Palmer. He needed to say no more.
The pirates can claim heroics for their RBI men -- Dave Parker, Willie Sargell, Bill Robinson and Omar Moreno. And they can, with justice, sing the praises of the six innings worth of junk dished up by winner John Candelaria, plus the exemplary three-inning save by Kent Tekulve in his 100th appearance of this season.
But this game should still be scoreless in extra innings.
"Palmer pitched one of his all-time jewels tonight," said the Orioles' Terry Crowley.
However, Kiko Garcia, Rich Dauer and Bennie Ayala all made fundamental and grotesque mistakes -- and on balls scored as hits -- that made every Pirate run a gift.
Monday was Palmer's birthday, his 34th. Tonight he got his present, a booby prize from his erring mates. The record book will say that Palmer got clobbered for 10 hits on this temperate night.
The fact of the matter is that he was a crime statistic: an Oriole fratricide.
When the seventh game pits the Orioles' Scott McGregor against the Jim Bibby, there will be many who have seen the Birds lose their last two games by a combined score of 11-1 -- with total defensive collapses in the late innings of both games -- who will feel the O's are doomed to be the fourth team in history to blow a 3-1 Series lead in games.
However, the Orioles long have known the severe limits of their raw talent. And following these dark nights, which seem to occur as often as a full moon, Baltimore always has been able to forget those weaknesses it tries to disguise.
Whether they can forget on the eve of the final game of the World Series remains very much to be seen.
The O's also are in one of their grimly hopeless-looking team batting slumps. Eddie Murray, now 0-for-7, is the leader of the pack. Only Ken Singleton, with three more hits (10 in the Series) is carrying his weight.
"This club has the ability to be realistic about itself," said Coach Jim Frey. "Invariably, we have bounced back from particularly bad games with a bunch of runs."
"Tomorrow," said Crowley, "put us down for a bundle of runs."
"Gimme the ball," said relieve Don Stanhouse, thought to be out for the Series. He reported, after warming up tonight, that "I feel pretty darn good and loose."
If nothing else, the Orioles put up a remarkable front, considering they are on the verge of repeating the stumble of the '71 Birds, who led the Bucs, 2-0, in games, then lost a seventh game in Baltimore.
"Bomb threat, bomb threat" announced Al Bumbry in the crowded locker room afterwards. "Due to go off in four minutes."
"Somebody save the bats," yelled Coach Frank Robinson. "They're full of home runs. Ain't none of 'em been used up yet."
If the Birds think they know themselves and can sense their own tendencies, their almost unique resiliency that has allowed a team of limited skills to post a 108-61 record this year then Pittsburgh thinks it knows itself too.
Like a heavyweight whose body punches eventually make the head die, the Bucs think they see the signs of Pirate-inflicted coma -- which strikes teams who play Pittsburgh too many times in too few days.
"We played a lot of games against Montreal in a row (six in 10 days)," said Bill Madlock, "and we won all but one. We won the last two by 10-4 and 10-1. I don't know if we wear teams down head to head, but I guess maybe it seems that way."
Madlock, hitting .429, gave his biggest smile: "We got some real big horses."
It was hard to tell if this game was decided by big Pirate horses or little Oriole goats.
Certainly the O's threw away enormous psychological advantages in the early innings, then blundered utterly later.
Few teams get the shot in the arm that the O's did in the first. The Pirates swung at Palmer's first four pitches and hit them all. Omar Moreno singled, Tim Foli doubled and, suddenly, Memorial Stadium was silent.
The question hung in the air. What was the shortest game in Series history? Answer: this one -- two pitches, two minutes.
That's certainly how it looked when Parker lashed a grounder just inside third for an almost-sure two-run double.
But Doug DeCines dived over the foul line, made a gorgeous grab, scrambled to his feet astride the foul line and threw out the swift Parker by inches.
The gloom lifted as Stargell popped up the next pitch and John Milner tapped back to Palmer.Gentleman Jim was so psyched that he sprinted to first for the putout himself.
Palmer never fell below that level of Hall of Fame magnificence all night. But everyone around him did.
In four of the first five innings, the leadoff Oriole cracked a single to Moreno in center. Two got to second, none farther. For a man who hobbled around the mound like Walter Brennan and threw only one pitch in five any faster than a change-up, Candelaria was brilliant -- just as many a crafty southpaw has been against Baltimore all year.
"By the sixth, it was a psychological stalemate," said Pirate shortstop Tim Foli, meaning that the Orioles' early theft of two or more runs was balanced off against their constantly blown opportunities.
Gradually, the Orioles' always-suspect infield began falling apart. Kiko Garcia, the most likely candidate to start such a process, set the tone in the sixth by running a route that looked like a question mark before finally fluffing a ball that he could have caught in his vest pocket had he simply backpedaled in a straight line.
The stage was set for the seventh. With one out, Moreno nudged his third hit of the game past Eddie Murray, the Oriole who seems to have gone completely into his shell since making the bad cutoff play that helped lose Game Two.
Foli followed with a chop over the mound.
"If Palmer hadn't tipped it with his glove, it's a double play," said foli.
But Palmer did. Garcia, however, kept his foot nailed to second base, hoping he could field the ball for a force and throw to first for that double play.
It might have been a good idea if Moreno hadn't reached second considerably before the ball. But Garcia kept that foot on second, even though it meant getting caught in between on a tough hop that he never touched.
That ball, like his earlier adventure, was scored a hit.
Then it happened. The big one. After all, the Bucs did their best to making laughing stock of themselves in the first four games. Would it have been fair for the O's, who have a few stand-up comics themselves, to escape showing the other side of their nature?
Parker hit a medium liner at Auer at second, one that looked like a perfect one-hop double-play inning-ender.
"When a batter pulls a ball, he hits it with a lot of top hand, so it hooks," explained Mark Belanger, trying to exonerate Dauer. "Rich took a jab step to his left to get in front of the ball when it hooked a little.
"But it didn't. Parker hit a knuckleball -- he hit it so square that he knocked all the spin off it. So the ball went dead straight. By moving a halfstep, Dauer actually got out of the way of a ball that was right at him."
A short, skidding hop didn't help. Nonetheless, in the World Series, talk of spins and skids is second rate. Dauer had a medium-speed liner hit right at his feet and he never touched it.
Had he fielded it cleanly, double play. Had he just blocked it, one out. But he missed it, a run scored and Foli took third. Willie Stargell's sacrifice fly made it 2-0.
In the seventh, the O's struck again -- or, rather, they bushwhacked Palmer again.
With one out and one on, Garner hit a rope to left field.
"I figured it was a routine out," said Garner.
But, ah, left field. Memories of a rich tradition. Russ Snyder, Curt Biefary, Don Buford, Andres Mora, Carlos Lopez and Pat Kelly -- what a rogues gallery of Dr. Strangegloves.
This season, the curse has been taken off the place by Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein. However, Bennie Ayala -- part of Weaver's right-handed, "will-somebody-please-get-a-hit-off-a-lefty" lineup -- was in left tonight.
This man, as he proved Saturday when he almost played another liner into a suicide, can do anything his predecesors could. Never mind the gory details -- the ball bounced over the fence, untouched and unthreatened.
When Robinson flied out, it should have ended a scoreless inning. Instead, it was a sacrifice fly. Moreno then singled home Garner. End of Palmer's mugging.
For any club but the Orioles, these two humiliating defeats would have ended their Series. Proud teams -- belligerent champions -- cannot stand embarrassment. The Boston Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers -- think of the clubs that have crumpled and quit once they showed their flaws.
But the orioles always have been humble, always known about those secrets in the attic.
The Pirates have given their best body punch. The Oriole response all season to such indignities has been a hail of home runs.
But that long night of forgetting, that wisdom of humility, has never been tested when two huge words rose to greet their eyes like the morning sun -- Game 7.