The Boston Red Sox, the team all of Baltimore loves to hate, rode into town tonight fresh from losing two of three to first-place New York. They had nothing to lose, since they are as far back in the American League East race as John Anderson is in the polls.
But instead of just playing out the string, Boston surprised the Orioles, 5-3, leaving 23,260 Memorial Stadium fans even more hateful of the Bostonians -- if that is possible.
And if losing behind Scott McGregor -- in quest of his 20th Victory -- weren't enough, the Orioles had to reckon with the Yankee defeat of Cleveland, which increased New York's lead over the frustrated defending champions to five games with just 12 to play New York's magic number -- any combination of Yankee wins and Oriole losses -- is now eight But don't tell Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver the race is over.
"They still gotta win eight of 12," said Weaver, who was in a surprisingly good mood considering his team left 10 men on base and hit into three double plays in crucial spots while outhitting the Red Sox, 12-10.
"It's not impossible that they could lose six in a row and us win six in a row," Weaver said.
"Well, that's the only decent damn statistic I could come up with," he said, with a reluctant smile.
"The point is, we gotta come out tomorrow and play as if tonight never happened. There ain't no use in trying to figure out who can win what and lose what and still wind up where. . .Hell, we each got 12 games left to play. That means there's 144 combinations. So that means. . .wait a minute. I ain't figuring this stuff out."
Weaver had enough to do trying to figure out how to get his team to score some runs against Dick Drago (7-5) and Tom Burgmeier (23rd save), both of whom summoned their best spot pitches for when the Birds seemed to be on the verge of a big inning.
Boston scored single runs in the first and fourth, the first coming on a single from Jim Rice after Rick Burleson had reached base on Doug DeCinces' two-base error to start the game. The Red Sox scored the second run on a Tony Perez double and a Dwight Evans single. Perez and Evans teamed up again in the seventh for back-to-back home runs off McGregor (19-8), who had won 10 of his last 12 decisions before tonight.
Releiver Sammy Stewart allowed to more singles for another run, also in the seventh.
Baltimore had cut the lead to 2-1 in the fourth when John Loenstein singled in Eddie Murray, who also had singled and stolen his seventh base.The Birds took a short-lived lead in the fifth as Boston played a giveaway with two runs.
Rick Dempsey and DeCinces led off the inning with hits to left field. Dempsey taking third when Rice blew a chance to throw him out, going instead to second. Mark Belanger then hit what should have been a double-play grounder to second baseman Dave Stapleton. But he raised out of his filding crouch to throw as the ball skittered into right field, Dempsey coming home and tying the score, 2-2.
Perez added to the miscues in his handling of Al Bumbry's sharp grounder; as Perez ran to first base to retire Bumbry, DeCinces slid in safely with the lead run, 3-2.
That was it for the Orioles' offense.
In the seventh, Belanger led off with his second hit, but Bumbry grounded into his second double play of the evening. Rich Dauer and Ken Singleton followed with hits but were stranded when Murrya popped out.
In the eight pinch hitter Gary Roenicke led off with a single and moved into scoring position on Lee May's pinch-hit single through the infield. Nobody out. But Burgmeier, the only pitching bright spot for Boston this season, retired Dempsey, DeCinces and pinch hitter Benny Ayala on easy pop flies.
"I don't know if Drago and Burgmeier were making decent pitches in those spots because we hit a lot of line drives," said Weaver, shaking off someone who suggested the Boston pitchers stymied Baltimore hitters.
"We just didn't have the strokes tonight. But it's not always hits that win," Weaver said. "What did the Yankees have tonight? Four, five hits. Sometimes it's a walk, a wild pitch and a bunt."
To add insult to injury, Perez, who had three hits, stole his first American League base in the eight inning.
"He'll be on his own the rest of the year," said Boston manager Don Zimmer of his 38-year-old speedster.
"Boston just plays well against us, that's all," said McGregor, who insisted he made only one bad pitch -- a fast ball Perez lost in the left field bleachers.
"We just have to come out tomorrow and keep our heads up," added McGregor. "We can't give up."