One of the ugliest, worst-played baseball games imaginable died of exhaustion at 11:23 p.m. her tonight in Yankee Stadium. There were no survivors.
Both New York and Baltimore deserved to lose this frigid, fumble-fingered affair, but the Orioles deserved the defeat more.
After this 5-4 Bird loss in which the Yanks scored two runs in the bottom of the ninth off far-from-impregnable reliever Tim Stoddard, the reigning American League champs had better look in the mirror.
The Orioles used five pitchers in this three-hour 18-minute exercise in walks, wild pitches, and wind-blown pop-fly hits. None of them looked good, or have birth to happy thought fo the future.
Starter Scott McGregor, the control artist who tonight couldn't find the plate, only got 10 outs before retiring for the night with recurrent stiffness in his left elbow.
His replacement, young Dave Ford, had three wild pitches in less then three innings. His relief, Tippy Martinez, was worse, walking two of the threemen he faced before Manager Earl Weaver dashed to the mound to yank him.
Weaver should have known that the next man he summoned -- warmweather lover Dennis Martinez -- was not the man for a night with windchill factors in the high 30s. Martinez arrived at the mound with artic mittens that reached his elbows and did not take them off until the instant Weaver handed him the ball.
He only lasted three batters -- shortarming his pitches with a restricted hunched up motion.
Stoddard, the 6-foot-7 tower of relief strength who is supposed to replace Stan, the Man Unusual -- Don Stanhouse -- entered with a 4-3 lead and the requirement that he get five outs to post a Baltimore win. He didn't come close.
The giant, who didn't look particularly mean or annoyed as misfortune befell him, faced eight men and allowed four hits, a walk and a couple of smoked outs.
The two-run Yankee ninth seemed almost effortless, although Oriole right fielder Bennie Ayala -- a budding heir to Carlos Lopez -- aided the hosts by playing Ruppert Jones' leadoff line drive into a sprawling where'd-it-go double.
"Bennie could have had it . . . got a bad jump," said Weaver, who has been in a good mood for two days here, but isn't any more after seeing his team lost it's fourth straight game and fall to a 5-7 record. "But then it didn't matter, cause Stoddard didn't get anybody out anyway."
Weaver has been able to shrug off his team's defeats by pointing out, "We've made very few mental or physical mistakes. We haven't given very much away. We just aren't hitting well and we have some pitchers with sore arms."
After tonight, his concern must deepen just a shade.
The O's have now mastered the April slump for four years in a row. Last year, the O's reached an 3-8 nadir here in Yankee Stadium before a clutch Jim Palmer win helped them right themselves and go on a furious tear for the next three months.
It should be noted that until Bob Watson and Bobby Murcer delivered RBI singles to right in the ninth -- the second hit a one-out game winner -- the Yanks had done everything possible to give this game to the Birds.
While the Oriole pitchers were granting seven walks and marking four wild pitches, the Yanks' (rookie starter) Mike Griffin and (relief winner) Tom Underwood were also allowing seven walks and courting constant trouble.
The O's, who had four hits tonight after getting only three on Monday night, have seen their team batting average drop to .206. After the first batter of the game tonight -- Al Bumbry -- hit a 400-foot opposite field homer, the Birds did next to nothing to promote their own cause.
A Yankee run off McGregor in the second inning would never have scored it second baseman Kiko Garcia had managed to turn a simple double play pivot to end the inning. And a Yankee run off Ford in the fifth reached scoring position on a wild pitch -- one of a dozen pitches that had catcher Rick Dempsey scrambling in the dirt all night like a hockey goalie.
Even the three Oriole runs in the sixth -- for a 4-2 lead -- where a total gift, even if the scorebook won't say so.
Two walks and a single loaded the bases with Birds with two outs and Lee May -- whose bat has been on vacation since last June -- coming to the plate. May hit a weak pop to shallaw right field that Willie Randolph should have gobbled.
However, swirling winds that appeared to be blowing from left to right, but really swept in a clockwise direction once they got inside the huge park, deceived Randolph. The ball, contrary to what the flags indicated, was blown back toward the infield.
Randolph overran the ball, grabbed it for a split second, then dropped it as three runs scored. A scoring decision as dubious as Randolph's play called it a three-run double.