If the Baltimore Orioles catch the New York Yankees in the American League East race, credit their pitching coach, Ray Miller, for never moving his feet in the dugout and their catcher, Rick Dempsey, for watching players' feet.
Mike Flanagan, battered and beaten the past five weeks, took a tip from Miller to regain his 1979 form today and defeat the Toronto Blue Jays, 2-1, as the Orioles remained four games behind the Yankees with 13 to go. A crowd of 14,251 showed up, allowing the Orioles to go over the 1.7 million mark for the first time in the club's history.
But it took a game-ending pickoff play engineered by Dempsey to preserve Baltimore's 11th win in its last 14 games.
Flanagan (15-12) allowed four hits, one John Mayberry's 28th homer in the fourth, before retiring with a sore shoulder after eight innings. With the birds ahead, 2-1, Tippy Martinez got the first two Blue Jays out in the ninth before Mayberry cracked a double off the right field wall.
Oriole Manager Earl Weaver called on Tim Stoddard, who pitched to pinch hitter Steve Braun.On a 1-1 count, Stoddard blew a fast ball by Braun and Demsey whipped a throw to shortstop Kiko Garcia, easily picking off pinch runner Lloyd Moseby.
"Do I get a game winning play on that?" Demsey asked, chuckling, afterward. "Let's get a new category: saves for the catcher."
Stoddard picked up his 24th save without retiring a batter.
"I gave Kiko the sign on that pitch," Demsey said. "You just watch the way their feet are coming off the bag. You want to see if they're flatfooted. wYou keep watching, and maybe you pick off one out of every 15 or 20."
Miller kept watching Flanagan, trying to figure out what ailed last year's Cy Young Award winner. Miller finally diagnosed that Flanagan's arm has been drifting lower and lower in his delivery, and that if he adjusted his body position on the rubber, he could begin throwing it over the top again.
"I figured it out just from sitting in the same place in the dugout all the time," Miller said. "I thought back to last year's first game of the World Series, and I remembered seeing half of his name on the back of his uniform when he pitched. That struck me as odd, because I had never seen it before .ORIOLES, From C1> and I always sit in the same spot. I thought maybe he wasn't squaring off on the mound correctly.
"Did I help him? Maybe I did, but I should have helped him four games ago."
Flanagan, who threw only 77 pitches and go 13 Blue Jays to ground out, described the solution this way: "It's kind of complicated, but actually it's very simple."
Flanagan added, "You always search when you're struggling for some massive change, and it's usually very basic."
Flanagan did not have his best stuff but eight Toronto players swung at his first offering and he stayed ahead of the batters. By contrast, Toronto's Jim Clancy (13-14) threw 127 pitches and constantly was behind in completing his five-hitter.
Baltimore reverted to one of its punchless, homerless performances on Fan Appreciation Day at Memorial Stadium, but strung together three singles in the third to score twice.
Al Bumbrey led off with a walk and Rich Dauer forced him a second. Then Ken Singleton chopped a single up the middle that shortstop Alfredo Griffin should have reached, and Dauer went to third.
Eddie Murray hit Clancy's next pitch, a curve, to right to score Dauer and send Singleton to second. It was Murray's 102nd run batted in. John Lowenstein drove in the eventual winning run, bouncing a single just past Mayberry at first. Singleton, running as fast as he can, reached the plate a moment ahead of Barry Bonnell's throw from right.
Aside from Mayberry's homer, Flanagan did not permit a Blue Jay past second base as the Birds beat Toronto for the 16th straight time at home.
The Orioles again watched the scoreboard futilely for a Yankee loss. "We have to force them to lose," Flanagan reasoned.
And Weaver, walking around in circles, smoking a cigarette, watching the Colts game on television and talking all at the same time, saw both good and bad.
"How many games have we ended like that (on a pickoff play)? Those guys do it themselves. Flanagan looked better. I guess it was a mechanic thing he and Ray Miller talked out. But his shoulder was throbbing. We may wind up with a couple of guys out of the rotation before the season is out."