Now this was a fine, tangy, complex baseball game, this 7-5 Boston victory over the Baltimore Orioles on a sweet over the Baltimore Orioles on a sweet spring afternoon in Memorial Stadium. The team that loses a tense, absorbing, strategy-filled game like this one moans that it's snakebitten and that such foul luck shouldn't befall anybody.
That's how the Orioles felt after the Red Sox beat them with a line drive that hit a chalk stripe, a base runner who tagged up and scored from second base on a fly out, and a starting pitcher who refused to realize that when you give up four runs to the first four hitters you face, you aren't supposed to go the distance -- and win.
The side that wins such a game doesn't want to hear about good fortune. You will be told "we made our own breaks" and "this is a more aggressie and mentally alert team" this season.
At any rate, the Baltimores could not have been bluer, nor the Bostons happier, after a three-run Red Sox rally in the eighth inning off Tim Stoddard turned a leisurely Oriole victory into a scintillating Boston win.
The Birds scored those four runs on four hitters in the first as Al Bumbry walked, Rich Dauer and Jim Dwyer (RIB) singled and Ken Singleton cranked a three-run home run into the right field bullpen off Dennis Eckersaley. How could the O's know that Eckersley would hang on for a homely but gutty nine-hitter?
"He just kept challenging us. The Eck wouldn't quit," said Singleton, whose single, two doubles and homer (four RBI) make him 24 for 46 off Eckersley in his career. The Sox sidearmer may be "eck as in wreck" to Singleton, but he was Dennis as in menace to the rest of the Baltimore lineup.
"I thought I had it won," Oriole Manager Earl Weaver said several times, trying to leave the impression that it was his fault, not that of the arms of his relievers (who couldn't hold a lead) and the arms of his outfielders (who couldn't hold a runner -- anywhere). "When I brought in Stoddard (with one on, one out and a 5-3 lead in the seventh), I was sure the game was over."
What particularly galled Weaver was that this was the day he unveiled his new plans for using 36-years-old Jim Palmer.
For two years, everybody and his brother -- including Palmer and the pitching coach, Ray Miller -- have been hitting to Weaver that Palmer, in his pitching old age, should be given vastly more relief help. Instead of trying to be 22-8 with 300 innings pitched, Palmer has probably reached the stage where he should hope to be 15-5 in 225 innings with lots of bullpen assistance.
Finally, after noting that Palmer in 1980 had a 2.10 ERA over the first six innings and a 9.00 mark from the seventh inning on, Weaver went to the new approach to handling Cy Old. Over the first six innings, he had Sammy Stewart up warming four times as the Red Sox, thanks to a two-run second-inning homer by Gary Allenson (on a 2-0 cripple fast ball) and a third-inning sacrifice fly by Tony Perez (14th RBI in nine career games in Memorial Stadium), cut their deficit to 4-3.
"You've never seen relievers up before Jimmy got in trouble," noted staffmate Mike Flanagan. "Earl usually waited as long, or longer, with him than anybody because he thinks he's one of the greatest pitchers who ever lived." He once was.
However, this afternoon Weaver did what Palmer has been asking for some time. He gave Gentleman Jim the hook before he could blow a late-inning lead after his fast ball had lost its smoke. After two Boston liners to open the seventh (one a single, the other an out), Weaver shocked the crowd of 24,438 by waving for Stoddard at a juncture when Palmer had a two-run lead (5-3), faced a mere one-on, one-jam, and had thrown only 94 pitches.
This, many an Oriole watcher thought, was the last piece in the Baltimore pitching puzzle -- the way to turn Palmer from a fading star back into a dramatic team asset.
Instead, the O's merely saw more of the bullpen nightmares (19 runs allowed in 26 relief-staff innings this April) that bedeviled them for half of '80.
Stoddard, who was bouncing his slider, escaped in the seventh with a 5-4 lead because Mark Belanger made two splendiferous plays that probably saved three runs. With two on and one out, the Bird shortstop, who has had horrid problems offensively and defensively this spring, leaped like the all-New England basketball star he once was to rob Carl Yastrzemski of a line single to center. Next, with the bases loaded, he went far in the hole to hold Perez to an RBI infield single instead of a two-run hit.
The new discount Sox of Manager Ralph Houk wouldn't take that for a final answer. They beat on Stoddard until they had given Big Foot a hot foot.
After Glenn Hoffman singled with one out in the eighth, ninth hitter Rick Miller sliced a liner to left that nicked the foul line for a double. "Clearly foul," snarled left fielder John Lowenstein, adding after a pause, "but then, I was running hard, I wanted it to be foul and, so, what do I know?"
Next, Jerry Remy, "just trying to tap the ball someplace since I had two strikes and Stoddard is a monster," snapped a sharp single to center to score two runs and give the Sox a 6-5 lead. The alert Remy took second on the throw to the plate when nobody covered the bag. Moreover, he was soon to top that larceny.
Yastrzemski, who can still get around on anybody's fast ball, greeted Stoddard's relief, Stewart, with a smash to the warning track in right that Dwyer snagged with a superb diving, rolling catch before he banged into the wall. Remy's foot never left second base -- until he tagged up and scored standing up. Score it a two-base sacrifice fly as the relay from a prone Dwyer to Bumbry to Dauer to Rick Dempsy was a seeming several days late.
For the Sox, now 7-5, this win was one more tiny bit of evidence that they may yet be as credible a team in 1981 with hustle and make-do as they were in '80 with grumpy, malingering talent and let's-don't.
For the 4-7 Orioles, who should by now have learned the hard way the desperate necessity of not dawdling below .500 for too long in the spring, this was a nasty reminder of now hard it is to reverse a habit of shabby play.
"Getting beaten 18-5 (Thursday in Chicago) doesn't really hurt that much," said Weaver. "This is the kind of game that gets under your skin. Even the same-clothes-two-days-in-a row trick didn't work."