As Bucky Dent sat in the New York Yankee dugout today in late afternoon, he looked across at the Baltimore Oriole bench and nodded toward Manager Earl Weaver.
"Before this is all over, the difference could be him," said Dent. "We have a good manager (Dick Howser) but he's a rookie. It's inevitable that he'll make some mistakes. Earl Weaver doesn't give you anything."
At dusk today, with Baltimore leading, 6-5, and Yankee runners on second and third with two outs in the ninth inning, Dent stood in the batter's box with a full count in him and 6-foot-7 Tim Stoddard glaring down at him.
Although Dent has been a World Series MVP, he still had no business carrying all the Yankees hopes for this game -- and perhaps for a season -- on his shoulders in that spot.
He is a glove man, a career .252 hitter, a man who averages one RBI every 11 at bats. The Yankees, the team (in the words of Elrod Hendricks, an Oriole coach) that "issues the long green whenever it wants anything," has hitters on its bench who exist just for such clutch situations.
But this evening it wasn't Joe Lefebvre or Bobby Brown, or any other southpaw swinger who faced Stoddard. It was little right-handed Dent. The reason was that Weaver had, not the first time in the last 11 days, managed Howser into a corner where his hands were tied, his options extinquished.
"We were out of moves. I had no choice," said Howser.
"Steeerike three," said umpire Rich Garcia as Stoddard's near-90-mph slider ripped the low outside corner.
Moments later, Dent sat in front of his locker, both hands running through his hair -- his whole body shaking with rage and frustration. No Yankee came close to him. There was nothing to say.
The Yankees issue a statistics sheet of which they are proud that shows how all the pin stripers hit with men in scoring position: nine of them are over .310, lead by Lefebvre (.357). Clutch hitting has been the Yankee core this season.
The dead-last 16th man on the list is Dent -- .226 this season with men in scoring position and 70 men stranded.
Yet, in the most crisis-filled instant of this season, when they were in danger of losing for the sixth time in eight fabulous meetings with the Orioles in the last 11 days, when their division lead -- once 11 games -- was within one out of being trimmed to 2 1/2 games, the No. 9-hitting Dent was the last recourse.
This game had many conspicuous heroic moments. Fans will remember Jim Palmer's 7 1/3 victorious innings, and a pair of RBI each by scrawny Mark Belanger, Al Bumbry and Rich Daucer.
They will remember yet another Ruppert Jones catch above the center field fence, and one more grab he almost made that would have been even better. They will remember the way the Yankees, trailing, 6-2, after the O's blasted Ron Guidry and Rudy May for three runs in the fourth and three in the fifth, came storming back with three runs of their own in the eighth.
But above all, they should remember how the Yankees scrapped and clawed in the nineth, getting the tying run to third and the lead run to second, only to find that Weaver had them handcuffed.
The Machinations are devious, but important. Weaver used his prize lefty, Tippy Martinez, to get out of the New York uprising in the eighth. But, to start the ninth, he waited until the Yankees announced leadoff pinch hitter Bob Watson for Jim Spencer before summoning Stoddard.
That caught the Yankees flat-footed. Who yanks a reliever who has just retired Lou Piniella and Reggie Jackson to end the eighth? Well, Earl Weaver does.
When Watson got an infield hit, Howser had rookie Bobby Brown pinch run for the codger. That burned a switch hitter. Now, with both Spencer and Watson out of the game, he had no first basemen left. In the eighth, he had used Fred Stanley to run for Willie Randolph, who has a muscle pull. And third baseman Graig Nettles has hepatitis.
"It was getting pretty complicated," said Howser. "Earl will do anything he can to force your hand, to get you to go deeper into your bench and make extra moves."
Howser had to worry about the bottom of the ninth, if there was one.
'I wouldn't have had an infield left if I pinch-hit for Dent," said Howser."I was already going to have to put Aurelio Rodriguez at first base."
So, after Jones singled to send Brown to third, and then stole second base himself, everything -- perhaps this whole pennant race -- came down to Stoddard against Dent, a percentage overmatch that was all the Orioles' way. sLefebvre sat on the pine.
A few Yanks raged that the final call was awful. "How can Weaver keep showing up these umpires," stormed Piniella, "and then when it's a crisis, they always give the little S.O.B. the benefit of the doubt?
Of course, Weaver might say there was a connection.
A final irony, not lost on Piniella, is that he and the Yanks vow that this makeup game at twilight never should have been played. Back in April, the Yanks had a safe-looking 4-1 lead in the fourth inning here when rain started.
Weaver and grounskeeper Pat Santerone pulled every trick in the book, including, stalling, arguing and dumping all the water on the tarp into left-center field. The game was called off, due to wet grounds, the lead erased, and the Yankees blew their stacks. An hour after the "ppd." was posted the sky was clear and the night balmy.
"I've watched Weaver's tricks since he managed me at Elmira," growled Piniella. "He's disgusting."
If you're on the other team.
Tonight, the Orioles won a game they probably should have lost back in April. That will stick in many a Yankee craw as they try to hold a slim two-game edge in the lost column with 45 games still to play.
For 11 days, Weaver has been lieing his blow-dried head off, talking about how happy he would be to come out of this August Armageddon no further behind than when he went into it (5 1/2 games).
"Maybe I was fibbing a little," he snorted tonight. "But I don't have to cheat no more. The Yankees have 45 games left and I'll betcha they don't win all 45.
"I don't see why we can't make up two games on 'em in the next seven weeks, 'cause we just made up nine on 'em since July 14th."
Snort, chuckle, rub it in. "We just took six out of eight head-to-head and went 7-4 against two best teams in baseball (New York and Kansas City). I'll take it," said Weaver.
The Orioles won this game in typical fashion. Palmer, the craftsman who only unveils his slider when the money's on the line, gave up just two runs (on Oscar Gamble's homer in the fourth) on three hits for seven innings.
"My job is to keep us in the game, let us have opportunities to get a big inning started," said Palmer, now 13-9.
And that the Birds did twice with back-to-back three-spots in the fourth and fifth.
Guidry, hot but mostly cold all season (12-9), had nothing on the ball but his fingers tonight. His slider didn't exist; his off-speed straight ball bailed him out of one jam, but then the Orioles sat on it until they crushed his bones.
Eleven Birds reached base off Guidry and the damage would have been far worse if Jones hadn't robbed Gary Roenicke of a two-run homer leaping two feet above the 387-foot sign and Gamble had not made the catch of his Dr. Strangeglove existence to take an RBI double away from Murray.
But when the roof fell on Guirdry, it was total: a Doug DeCinces double, a walk to Rick Dempsey, an RBIflare hit by the mighty belanger, a booming RBIdouble to left by Bumbry and a rocket sacrifice fly by Dauer. aAfter that the staggering Guidry walked Singleton and Murray before May escaped further bases-loaded damage.
Guidry's outfield saved him twice, and it was almost a miraculous three times Jones got his glove on Bumbry's drive toward the Oriole bullpen with a full-speed, leaping, over-the-head catch after a 100-foot sprint. But he slammed into the fence and dropped what would have been a Willie Mays special.
In the next inning Rudy May got the same shock treatment.
May dug his own pit by bobbling DeCinces' poor bunt back to the mound for a leadoff error. Then, he compounded the felony by walking Roenicke. After a Dempsey whiff, Belanger astounded the multitudes with a ringing RBI double into the left-field corner on a wicked low-and-in curve.
"I was looking for nothing else," said a grinning Blade. "On the first pitch, I swung in the same place, but it was a fast ball down the middle, so I missed it by a foot."
With the infield in, Bumbry, who went eight for 19 as the Birds added this three-games-to-two series victory to their previous three-game sweep in Yankee Stadium, roped an RBI hit to right. Dauer followed with a run-scoring ground out.
As if this crowd needed more to cheer about, additional good news came in the next inning with the announcement that the house of 51,528 (third-largest in the O's regular-season history) brought the five-game series total to 253,636 -- the largest one-series attendance in the entire history of major league baseball.
A large bed sheet in right field asked, "have we won the trial yet, EBW?"
When the crowd was announced, owner Edward Bennett Williams got up, waved from his box and gave the crowd his own standing ovation for "support" that matches even his standards. Then after joining with Baltimore Major William Schaefer in a public-show handshake, Williams led cheers by shaking his fist in a "let's go" gesture.
Those two men that the clutch Dauer had plated from third with one out became vastly more important when the Yankees obliterated Palmer suddenly in the eighth with a Jones double, Randolph RBI single and Bobby Murcer's knowckout RBI triple to right. Martinez got Piniella on a run-scoring ground out, then finished a glum night for Reggie Jackson (who ended the series in an 0-for-12 slump) with a weak grounder.
"I should have brought in Tippy to pitch to Murcer," said Weaver. "It was a two-run mistake. I'm second-guessing myself now."
Weaver has to, because nobody else is quite up to the job.