The Baltimore Orioles woke up on the West Coast today as heroes. The New York Yankees arrived with worries.
Now, for the American League East foes, the digestion process begins. They will have weeks to decide how they feel about the eight-course baseball feast that they have finished devouring.
For the Orioles, it figures to be nourishing. For the Yankees, it may cause lingering stomach problems.
What did these six Oriole victories in eight games with New York reveal? What do we know now about these teams that we did not know before they started their two series? And what do they know about themselves now as each begins a three-city West Coast road trip?
The most striking skeleton left behind is the bare-boned carcass of the Yankee batting order after the Oriole pitching staff finished plucking it and exposing its vulnerable innards.
In Yankee Stadium, the New Yorkers hit .245 in their three defeats. In losing three of five games in Memorial Stadium, their batting mark was a nearly invisible .189, for an overall showing of .211. That's just the surface.
The worst new for the Yankee is that the Orioles had a plan for attacking the New York order and made it work sowell that other teams are now sure to try it. The Birds simply pitched around Reggie Jackson -- frustrating him, stealing the limelight from him, tempting him to chase bad pitches -- and then dared the No. 5, 6,and 7 hitters behind him to do their worst. And that is what they did -- their worst.
Jackson drew eight walks in eight games. He hit two home runs. But of the regulars on both teams, he had the lowest average -- 120 (three for 25) -- and was hitless in his last 12 official at bats. In fact, Jackson produced only four runs in eight games compared to the 126 he had produced in his other 94 games.
The gentlemen who followed Jackson to the plate had numbers that can only be called infamous -- and revealing.
The Yankees' fifth, sixth and seventh hitters came to bat 91 times with a total of 53 runners on base. Of those 53 ducks on the pond, they drove home none. The only RBI from those three lineup spots (which hit a combined .161) came on a meaningless solo home run
Pray tell, who might these gentlemen be? Do they have names?
Actually, with the Yankee batting order in such Ouija-board disarray it was hard to identify the culprits. However, Eric Soderholm (.154, 1 RBI in 26 at bats), Rick Cerone (.156, 1 RBI in 32 bats), the combination of Bob Watsun and Jim Spencer (1 Rbi, 32 at bats) and Aurelio Rodriquez (.143, 0 RBI in 14 at bats) must share most of the blame.
What do these fellows have in common? What links Reggie with the ciphers behind him? Why, with the exception of Cerone, they are George's boys -- the players that George Steinbrenner, Yankee owner, bought either as free agents or in cash-plus-players to-be-named-later trades. They are hiswallet brigade.
Who says there is no baseball providence?
And which Yankees came through best?Bobby Murcer (.389), Oscar Gamble (three homers) and Ruppert Jones, all acquired in old-fashioned square-business horse trades. This, of course, is pure coincidence.
The Yankee pitching staff got all its best work from SteinbrennerS senior citizens -- Tommy John (age 37), RudyMay (36), Gaylord Perry (41) and Luis Tiant (39) -- the pin stripe Gray Panthers.
Perhaps the difference between these Orioles and Yankees was best put by Earl Weaver, who said, "We buy our own players (with contract extensions). They buy other people's players."
The contrast between Oriole organization and Yankee dollars has seldom been clearer. The birds are a team whose humble role-playing pieces have finally fitted into the right places, while the Yankees are beginningto wonder if there is any pattern to their team's acquistive jigsaw puzzleroster.
Baltimore has solved two dilemmas, solidifying its offense in just those middle-of-the-order spots where the Yankees have sprung leaks.
Left field, an early season vacuum, has returned to normal with John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke. They are hitting over .340 between them since their respective return from the disabled list.
Also, the Birds have solved a year-old designated hitter dilemma: what to do with aging Lee May (37) and PatKelly (36). They've exchanged roles with the pinch hitters of last season --Bennie Ayala (29) and Terry Crowley (33).
The Ayala-Crowley duo is hitting .308 with 58 RBI and 14 homers in 256 at bats. It is now a fixture.
By contrast, the Yanks can seldom anticipate who is supposed to do what. It is in Spencer's contract that he has to give his permission to be benched against a right-handed pitcher. (Can anyone imagine Weaver asking a player's permission before making out his lineup?)
When the Yankees signed Rodriguez this month, it was a slap in the face to Soderholm's defense. When they jerked Joe Lefebvre back up from the minors and stuck him in left field in a crucial game while his laundry was still back in Columbus, Ohio, imagine how cheerful that made the trio of overpaid, underplayed outfield insurance policies named Murcer, Lou Piniella and Gamble, who after 30 years' big league experience, were already veteran clubhouse lawyers.
The Yankees have many strengths, butthey are being uindermined by a sense that nobody knows who is steering the course.
The New York bullpen of Goose Ossage, May, Ron Davis and Doug Bird can correct countless wrongs and is a perfect complement to aging or mediocre starters like Perry, Tiant and Tom Underwood, who are now five-to-seven-inning pitchers. Also, the New Yorkers would have a hard time picking a lineup that could not hit homeruns.
But the Yankees are a loosely cinched cast of characters at best -- a group of rich, proud free lancers. It would be improper to call them a team; they are a crazy-quilt network of fiefdoms. Even they don't know whatthey will do next.
Twice in the late innings of close games against Baltimore, Jones took off to steal second base on his own authority when it was a blank-brained, bonehead play. Once he made it. Oncehe didn't.
Both times, Manager Dick Howser was so stunned that he could only say, "We have a 'Do not steal' sign, but Ididn't put it on because I didn't think he would run."
Translated, that means Howser couldn't believe anyone could be so untutored a base runner.
This 11-day confrontation between the seasoned, high-priced Yankees and the interlocking cerebral mistake-proof Orioles -- a team which has now played exactly .600 ball for its last 600 games -- was an almost unsurpassable display of baseball.
Only the inexcusable American League "balanced schedule," which forced these games to be played in August rather than September, where they belong, diminished their place in the sport's lore.
"These were better-played games, and a more intense rivalry, than either the playoffs or the World Series last season," said Lowenstein.
"These teams only gained respect for each other after these eight games," said Oriole Doug DeCinces.
"Great for the game . . . great for the fans . . . but particularly great for us because we put 'em (the victories) in the right column," said Mark Belanger.
All this pandemonium -- Reggi MeetsWall, Earl Blasts Umps, Ruppert Leaps Fence -- produced in Weaver a single response.
"Everybody's too excited," he said. "There'll be times, before this is all over, when we think we have it all wrapped up. And there'll be times when we may wonder what we have to do towin a game.
"This race will have so many more upsand downs that people who haven't been around it before are going to get on and off our bandwagon four or five more times.
"But we won't. The guys in that room," said Weaver, pointing to the Oriole locker room, "will be on' unitl we're three games down with two to go . . . or until we've won it all."