The Oakland A's brawled their way to a major league record 11th straight season-opening victory today by defeating the Seattle Mariners, 6-1. But the streak ended there.
In the second game, the A's helped beat themselves, falling 3-2, on Richie Zish's two-out home run in the eighth inning. A brawl also broke out in that game and, as in the first, Seattle's Len Randle was a central character.
"Inevitable we were going to lose," said Oakland third baseman Wayne Gross. "All records are for is for people to read. We're not looking for records. We're looking for victories.
"What hurts is we didn't get beat in the second game. We lost the ball game because we made mistakes."
The defeat in the second game before 29,834 watching at the Oakland Coliseum could be traced back to an incident in the first game that started the first bench-clearing fight.
Randle, the guy who one-punched his Texas manager Frank Lucchesi into submission in 1976 and was fined $10,000 for doing so, tried to go after first-game pitcher Mike Norris following a low, inside fast ball in the second inning.
Randle started toward the mound. Catcher Jeff Newman stepped in to block his path. Randle threw a few blows and suddenly both teams were on the field fighting.
Randle was ejected by the umpires. Norris had to leave the game after six innings, his third win without a loss intact, because of injuries suffered in the fight. He was punched in the neck by Seattle's Jim Beattie and thrown to the ground from behind by teammate Dave McKay to keep him from further punishment.
Unfortunately for Norris, he landed on his right shoulder, which eventually numbed his fingers. A medical examination showed no apparent permanent damage and Norris is expected to make his next start as scheduled Thursday. He went home with an orthopedic collar for his neck.
In the fourth inning of the second game, Randle, playing third base, caught Tony Armas in a rundown after a squeeze play failed. Randle tagged Armas extra hard, as if trying to hand him the baseball through his back.
Armas turned and made a more toward Randle. The benches cleared again. Oakland rookie Shooty Babitt, who had gone from first to second on the play, also ran over to join in the fight, without noticing center fielder Joe Simpson creeping up behind him. Randle turned around and threw the ball to Simpson, who tagged Babitt for the third out, ending a rally that had put Oakland ahead, 2-0.
No punches were thrown in this incident, but A's putcher Rick Langford didn't want it to end with that. Randle was the first batter of the fifth inning and Langford wanted to knock him down. Manager Billy Martin wouldn't let him.
Langford ended up walking Randle and three singles tied the score.
"Rick wanted to knock Randle down, but I had to stop him from doing it," Martin said. "He lost it for that one inning and he was disgusted with himself. Maybe he's learned something."
Said Langford: "I was upset by what happened. Everybody in the stadium was. But I'm a professional and that shouldn't happen. The thing that hurt me was walking the leadoff hitter."
Despite an 11-1 record that has the A's far ahead of the pack in the American League West, Martin was not pleased by "Shooty getting into the fight. Things like that shouldn't happen. You don't mind getting beat in ball games, but you don't like to beat yourself."
Babitt's blunder helped saved Seattle starter Mike Parrott from losing his 17th straight. As it was, Oakland was beaten by Bryan Clark, whose seven-year minor league record was 43-74.