And on the next to last day, it ended.
Every Oriole knew it was coming, of course. It had been expected since early last week when the New York Yankees took a five-game lead with nine to play. The guillotine finally fell today, before Baltimore took the field for a doubleheader against Cleveland that would be full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.
The O's won the first game, 3-2, on Gary Roenicke's two-out home run in the 13th inning.
By the time Steve Stone, baseball's leading winner, threw the first pitch the O's had the news they had been dreading and expecting. The Yankees' 5-2 victory over the Detroit Tigers had clinched their fourth East Division Title in five years and doomed the Orioles to another October at home. The center field flag, telling the world the Orioles were the defending American League champions would have to come down.
The O's clubhouse was more fun than funeral. There was no gnashing of teeth or cursing the fates.
"You have to accept it," Manager Earl Weaver admitted. "It's hard, especially after the way we've played in the second half, but it's one of those things you have to do in baseball.
"The last 35 games did us in. We only played .700 ball (since Aug. 27 when they were a half-game behind the Yankees and tied in the lost column). I guess we should have played .800."
That would have been sufficient, since the Yankees played an inhuman .765. All that was left for Weaver was some numbers. A sweep of the remaining two games of the series would give the O's 101 victories, one less than they won last year. That would make them the first team since the 1962 Dodgers to win 100 games and not win the pennant, the first to do so since divisional play began in 1969. Two more victories also would make Weaver the second manager (after Connie Mack) to win 100 games five times.
"That's the only difference," Weaver said before the game in the Memorial Stadium clubhouse. "Sixty-one losses on our side and 58 on theirs. And you can't separate any of them. Sometimes it could have been a base-running mistake.Sometimes it could have been me taking out a pitcher at the wrong time or putting in the wrong hitter against a certain pitcher. Or maybe it was three balls that went foul by inches.
"Everyone said we had a bad start (7-18). But that depends on where you end it. And on Aug. 27 we were equal (sic). So whatever happened before then didn't matter anyways. We've had a great season."
Some of his players surely have. Stone, who left the first game after 7 innings leading, 2-1, had his bid for 26 victories sabatoged when Tim Stoddard allowed the tying run in the ninth inning. But his 25 set a club record, and he is the favorite to win the Cy Young Award. He also leads the league in winning percentage and set six career highs, including a 14-game winning streak this summer.
Eddie Murray became the fifth switch hitter in baseball history to hit 30 home runs. He also established five career highs. Al Bumbry set a personal and team record for hits. Ken Singleton will lead the league in game winning hits. The team set records for runs and hits, a major league mark for consecutive seasons with at least one 20-game winner (13) and seems certain to break its major league fielding record.
All this for second place with the second-best record in baseball.
"I've got no complaints," Weaver said. "Except that other teams didn't beat the Yankees enough or we didn't ourselves. (The O's won seven of 13). We'll just have to win some more games next year, which is a tough thing to think about after you've won 100. The Yankees played great ball and they earned my respect.
And he and his players earned theirs.
Elsewhere in the American League, the Chicago White Sox defeated the California Angels, 4-2; the Oakland A's beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 4-0, and the Toronto Blue Jays swept a doubleheader from the Boston Red Sox, 7-6 and 3-1.
In the National League, the Chicago Cubs shut out the Pittsburgh Pirates, 6-0; the San Francisco Giants defeated the San Diego Padres, 4-2; the New York Mets won, 5-2 over the St. Louis Cardinals, and the Cincinnati Reds beat the Atlanta Braves, 3-2.