The Baltimore Orioles played baseball tonight like they were covered with volcanic ash.
Perhaps no excellent team in memory has been able to look so truly pathetic on certain cursed days as these Birds.
Any team can lose, as Baltimore did, 10-5, to Seattle this evening, but the O's can play so hopelessly and expose so many glaring limitations in so short a time that their overall achievements seen even more stupifying.
For nine innings here in the hideous Kingdome, the Orioles and Mariners seemed to have switched uniforms.
From the moment Seattle scored six runs in the first inning, helped by a succession of Oriole botches, it was difficult to believe that Baltimore was the club that had been 32-12 since the All-Star break while the Mariners had been 8-34.
From the first Martinez to the last -- from Dennis allowing five runs in one-third of an inning as a starter to Tippy allowing a two-run icing homer by just-up-from-Spokane rookie Reggie Walton in the eighth -- the Orioles' eight-game winning streak was doomed.
"Some teams in some parks just wax our butts," said veteran Mark Belanger. "We've played some horrible looking games in this thing (the Dome). This was a beaut."
The only good news for the night was word that the New York Yankees were similarly humiliated in Oakland, 9-1, keeping their American League East Division lead at just half a game.
The O's did have the encouragement of seeing slumping switch hitters Eddie Murray and Ken Singleton each hit two-run homers.
That, however, was small consolation. The Mariners are so bad that they have not won two games in a row in over two months. And their winning pitcher tonight, Glenn Abbott, had not won any game in over a month.
This was the evening when the O's might finally have moved into first place. Instead, they should have played in sack cloth to match the taste of ashes that this game left.
Out of the first 10 Mariners to step to the plate tonight, seven scored.
The Birds did it all. They missed four ground ball AstroTurf hits by inches as surehanded, but slow, infielders demonstrated the humble extent of their range. They bobbled grounders, getting only one out instead of two and above all, Dan Graham -- a hitter trying to learn to play catcher while in the majors -- botched two tag plays at the plate, which probably caused a total of four runs to score.
We must back up a bit. This episode of doom in the Dome all started when Earl Weaver couldn't decide how to make out his lineup card -- the task he calls his top daily priority.
He had two major decisions: who should pitch, and how the lineup should be juggled after he learned that neither Doug DeCinces nor Mark Belanger could play because of bad backs.
First, he decided to start Dennis Martinez because his career record of 7-0 against Seattle is the best of any hurlr in history. That seemed simple enough. But hindsight is so much clearer. There was no need to start the undependable great-or-awful Martinez because the O's have an off day on Wednesday. Why not stick with the normal four-man rotation, all of whom would get an extra day's rest even if Martinez continued to molder?
Don't say that in the presence of Weaver, who also plans to start Martinez when Seattle visits Baltimore next week. Martinez retired one while allowing a walk, a steal, two singles and two doubles that translated into five Mariner runs.
Weaver's other tough decision -- the one about the lineup -- had a great deal to do with the early suffering of Martinez and his successor, Dave Ford -- at least four runs worth.
"Graham's hitting great. He's gotta play," said Weaver before the game. "But should I put him at third base and let (Ricky) Dempsey catch? Or should I have Graham catch, put (Rich) Dauer at third and let Lenny Sakata have a chance to play at second?"
And so it went, Dempsey begging and teasing -- a daily ritual -- and Weaver spitting and thinking. Finally, Weaver thought Graham might be better hidden defensively at catcher, where he boxes and crates about a case of balls a game, than at third. Besides, Weaver is adamant about trusting all 25 men -- a sort of perverse point of honor in a man who knew what it was to be No. 25 when he played -- so, he decides to let Sakata play second which meant Graham had to catch.
It was bad enough that Weaver had to watch a first inning in which Julio Cruz walked, stole second and scored on Dan Meyer's double to right. Meyer took third as Bruce Bochte poked a grounder to short past the transfixed Kiko Garcia into left field, and scored as Tom Paciorek grounded a double over third base.
Then, the Sakata and Graham show started, Juan Beniquez grounded an RBI single to right that the diving Japanese-Hawaian barely missed.
Next, on the most importat play of the inning, Larry Milbourne grounded to first on a Mariner hit and run with men at the corners and the score 3-1. Murray threw home.
The play might have been close had Graham tagged Paciorek and Paciorek tagged home. But both missed what they aimed at Graham could still have recouped, had he simply stayed with the tag, as every schoolboy is taught. But he gave up on the play and Paciuorek eventually got around to tagging the plate with his hand.
When the next man grounded out, advancing runners to second and third, it should have ended the inning with only three runs home. Instead ninth-hitter Jim Anderson hit a modest grounder through the box. It was a tough play, the kind that Dauer often makes. But he was at third. Sakata dove, got nothing but air and two run scored.
As a final embarrassment, the chugging Meyer led off the second inning with an inside-the-park home run on what should have been a double off the center field wall. Al Bumbry missed a leaping catch. John Lowenstein received and threw to Garcia, who relayed to the plate. The ball arrived on one hop, in time. Graham made the tag correctly. But this time, he forgot to catch the ball.
Even the Bird's finest heroics ended up tainted.
In the fourth, after Singleton singled, Murray demolished a Glenn Abbott pitch 480 feet into the sixth row of the upper deck in the Dome -- only the eighth ball to reach that deck in right. It was one of the longest blasts of Murray's life.
And in the eighth, after a Dauer walk, the heretofore slumping Singleton smoked an opposite-field liner that skimmed over the short fence in the alley by inches to cut the Mariners lead to 8-5 with six O's outs yet to get.
Then, the last boneheaded play of a miserable night capped off affairs.
Murray chunked a no-out double into the left field corner that Joe Simpson misplayed. The only way Murray should have tried for a triple runs down was if Simpson had a coronary.
Murray ran out of gas midway between second and third and was taggeed out -- directly on the mouth.
When two of the next three O's ripped hits in what might yet have been an important rally, Murray's gaffe looked even worse. All were stranded.
That figured. The Orioles took it on the kisser all night.