The Baltimore Orioles have gone from the World Series to Are You Serious?
Again tonight defending American League champions went through the seemingly listless motions of another one-run defeat -- this time to the New York Yankees 4-3.
Never has Baltimore's lack of an on-the-field leader been more apparent. The Birds are a team of gentlemen and when they go bad no team loses so politely and calmly.
Just as in the past Series, only one Oriole shows any visible displeasure, any fury, and old-fashioned high-spikes defiance: catcher Rick Dempsey.
This evening, Dempsey drove in all three Baltimore runs with the first two-homer game of his career -- one off starter and winner Luis Tiant, the other off four-inning reliever Rudy May, who earned a save.
That wasn't enough, however, to offset homers by Willie Randolph (the 15th of his career in 2,185 at bats) and Reggie Jackson (his 373rd) off losing lefty Scott McGregor.
The Birds, now 6-11, have lost eight of their last nine -- sixe of them by one run. Counting spring training, the O's have lost 22 of their last 28 in six weeks of consistently shabby, though not yet disgraceful, play.
Oriole reactions are strong, but totally varied -- from Earl Weaver's frustrated cursing of the fates, to captain Mark Belanger's total disbelief, to some anonymous potshots at the manager by a veterna regular who insists, "Earl's been in a slump, too."
One aborted rally in the Oriole sixth, with Baltimore trailing 4-2, summarized this game.
Al Bumbry, the only .300 hitter on a club that has 11 players who aren't hitting their weight, got a leadoff single, just as he had gotten a leadoff walk before Dempsey's homer in the frist inning.
Dempsey then battled Tiant through 13 pitches -- including seven consecutive full-count foul balls -- before walking. The little firebrand, who also hit a solo homer in the eighth to cut the deficit to 4-3, was battling the Yanks almost alone, just as he taunted the Bucs with his throwing arm and barbed tongue last October, even after most of his mates curled up for a winter of disappointment.
Once again, however, no one came forward to follow his lead.
Weaver, with several possible pinch hitters to choose from, let designated hitter John Lowenstein -- a poor bunter -- bat for himself against May, a southpaw just entering the game.
"I hate the sacrifice bunt," said Weaver afterward, "but I put it on all three pitches."
On the first pitch, Lowenstein fouled feebly. On the second pitch, he missed the sign and swung and missed at a curve ball strike down the pipe. On the third pitch, he bunted even more meekly, fouling the ball off his foot for a third strike."
"I'm in no mood now to be talkin' to nobody about a missed sign," said Weaver. "I'll talk to John tomorrow."
"If Lowenstein had been a rookie," said another Bird, "he'd have been yanked out of the game after that pitch."
The strategy blowup concluded with the O's two big bats -- Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray -- making two quiet outs on a first-pitch pop up and a checked-swing third strike.
"How good a bunter am I?" asked the sardonic Lowenstein, who is as helpless against right-handers. "Well, I guess I'm better than a billion Chinese. Those guys can't bunt at all."
Asking Lowenstein, to bunt, instead of sending in a pinch hitter -- Kiko Garcia to bunt or Lee May to swing -- was another in a series of moves by Weaver that -- right or wrong -- haven't worked.
"If Earl keeps managing like he has so far, there's no way we'll win this year," said a veteran Oriole regular before the game, perhaps more frustrated than rational. "He's helped take us out of several games already with decisions that guys are just looking at each other in disbelief about.
"Earl's left starters in too long. He's had outfielders way out of position in the late innings of tied games. He's made strange pinch-hitting decisions with the game on the line," said the regular.
"We're in a bad slump. Every phase of this team has looked horrible at one time or another -- pitching, relief pitching, fielding, hitting and hitting in the clutch. But Earl's been in a slump, too," he concluded.
"We're carrying this team concept -- all for one and one for all -- much too damn far," said Ken Singleton. "What one of us do, we all do. We better all start hitting."
After five hits tonight, the Oriole season average is .208 with a staggering mark of .169 for their last seven games.
"What has happened to us for the last four years in April is absolutely beyond belief," said Belanger. "We've been here before. We hate it. But none of us understand it. These aren't little slumps. They're extended periods of time when an outstanding team plays like lost souls."
The Yanks, now a modest 9-8, have now been recipients of four games in eight days in which the Orioles built small early leads, then lost by one. "The Orioles don't look any different to me," said Yank Manager Dick Howser. "Whenever they don't hit, they don't look good."
"We're a team that's always looking for some little spark to set us off," said Mike Flanagan. "Something clicks, and we start rolling every year. It's been an enormous break that we aren't already buried by a bunch of games."
"The (Milwaukee) Brewers hit seven homers in Cleveland tonight," Singleton announced to those around him. "We can't keep counting on our luck much longer."
How long can this thing last, Weaver was asked.
"Maybe 'this thing' ain't a 'this thing,'" said Weaver. "I waited for Don Buford to hit for the entire dadblame year of 1972 and he didn't hit until Sept. 29.
"This thing might be like this all year. But I say we ain't playin' that bad baseball."