Hours before tonight's 4-2 loss to the Minnesota Twins, perhaps seven of the Baltimore Orioles were down on the field singing their own praises for a local television commercial: ". . . there's something in the air . . ."
There certainly was. The Orioles lost more than their 13th game of the season tonight -- although that was depressing enough, with Twin pitcher Doug Corbett striking out Lee May with the bases loaded and two out in the bottom on the ninth.
They also lost second-string catcher Dave Skaggs, designated for reassignment when the Orioles decided to bring up minor-league catcher Dan Graham, who was hitting .375 for the Rochester Red Wings.
There was no singing in the clubhouse. No sound at all.
On the surface, the move, as these things are euphemistically called, does not seem likely to shake up a championship team with a record of 9-13.
After all, Skaggs had appeared in only two games, and was hitting .200, only 27 points fewer than the team as a whole.
"I hate to be cruel, but that's what it amounts to," said Manager Earl Weaver. "I'm a sentimentalist but I'm also a baseball person. I had to make the decision to bring Graham up and send Dave down. That's my job."
But to the Orioles, who gathered protectively around Skaggs in the dressing room, the move was not a small one.
"When you get a guy that is that well-liked, that, well, loved . . ." said Pitching Coach Ray Miller."It's a business. And more often than not it's the nice guy that gets hurt, as the end result of some guys not doing their thing.
"It puts things back into perspective for young ballplayers, who worry so much about themselves. There's too much I, I, I. Maybe now they'll think, 'if I had bunted the guy over or got a base hit, if things were going good this might not have happened.'"
The Orioles and Skaggs have 10 days to determine his fate. He can go down to Rochester, as the Orioles wish, or ask to be released to make his own deal. Skaggs, who has been in the organization for 11 years, and with the team for the last three, has already been optioned to the minor leagues three times (the limit), and would have to clear waivers before he could rejoin the Orioles should be return to the minors.
"I'm not real sure of all the details of how it works," said Skaggs, "but I'll probably find out real quick.
Weaver said, "We might have to make another (move) before the week's over. This again is a case where the defense gets penalized because the offense doesn't come through. Skaggs did nothing wrong but we got a guy down there who's wearing the ball out and proved to us he could catch."
The Twins scored all four runs off starter and loser Steve Stone (2-3), who gave up single runs in the first, second, fourth and fifth innings including solo home runs to second baseman Rob Wilfong, and designated hitter Glenn Adams.
Stone was replaced in the fifth by Tippy Martinez, who gave up only one hit, two walks the rest of the way.
The Orioles, who appeared to be somnambulate for the first eight innings, seemed to wake up in the ninth. His team down 4-2, designated hitter Terry Crowley led off with his third hit of the night, a single to right. Doug McCinces singled to left.
But catcher Rick Dempsey bunted down the first base line and Crowley was out at third on the fielder's choice.
After Pat Kelly, pinch hitting for Mark Belanger, struck out, and Al Bumbry singled to center. May, who is hampered by a pulled hamstring was sent up to pinch hit for Floyd Rayford, who had started his first game at second. On the first pitch, May popped up to catcher Butch Wyneger, who. . . dropped it.
Perhaps, the gods, who has been teasing the teams all night who threw a squirrel out to play shortstop, posted two fifth innings on the scoreboard, caused a member of the ground crew to get rolled up in the tarp at the end of the 11-minute rain delay, were feeling mearciful.
No. They were just prolonging the torture. Two pitches later, May struck out.