A week ago in Baltimore, right-handed pitcher Sammy Stewart tried to do something that never had been done. He switched his glove to the opposite hand, attempting to pitch left-handed to strike out an unsuspecting left-handed hitter to end a game.
The hitter in question was Dave Revering, newly of the New York Yankees, who spotted the ploy at the last instant and bailed out of the batter's box before Stewart could try his sweeping southpaw curve -- two years in the making. The element of surprise lost, Stewart went back to his proper hand to end a 5-3 Oriole victory.
The game ended, but the bitterness lingered. The Yanks remembered a three-game sweep in Baltimore and Revering remembered Stewart's disrespectful attempt at a practical joke.
This evening, in the 11th inning of one of those ball games so wonderfully rich in strategy, depth of complexity and emotion that fans have to ask themselves when they ever saw a better one, Revering and the Yankees had their first measure of revenge.
Revering demolished the first pitch he saw from Stewart for a two-run homer into the right field bleachers for a New York victory.
"Ain't pay back a bitch?" was Revering's only grinning comment.
The Orioles, who have lost three games in a row and seen their division lead cut to 1 1/2 games (two over the Yankees), could hardly claim ignorance of such emotion. Only Sunday they collectively vowed to pay back Detroit pitcher Kevin Saucier for his wild jubilant antics after two games he had won or saved. "He acts like he's just won the eighth game of the World Series," said one Oriole. "He'll get his."
Revering's drama was only the conlusion of a game so spectacularly excellent that Oriole Manager Earl Weaver declared it, "A helluva game . . . that's why all these people keep comin' out to the ballparks."
Only chronology does this affair justice or catches a hint of its building, draining drama.
The Yankees took a 2-0 lead as Dave Winfield cracked an RBI double off the 387-foot sign in the first inning, then lined an amazing, seldom-to-be-equaled 500-foot solo homer in the fourth. Both were off starter Mike Flanagan and were all the damage he allowed in seven innings.
New York lefty Ron Guidry entered the seventh inning with a perfect game. Yes, on a night like this a pitcher retiring the first 18 men he faces is small pototoes, just like a tiny 500-foot homer. Guidry had gobs of luck as 11 Oriole outs were sharply hit.
But, in that seventh, Ken Singleton beat out a rare cheap infield dribbler for a hit, then rode home on a two-run homer by Eddie Murray that almost scraped the left field upper deck before it alighted deep int he bleachers.
That was just the beginning of the evolving drama. In the last two years, the Yankees have entered the seventh inning with the lead 102 times, and have won 99 times -- a testimony toi their marvelous bullpen. But tonight they almost blew that late-inning lead.
With two out in the O's eighth, Guidry went berserk, walking three straight men before George Gossage could get loose and into the game. Even then Gossage wasn't really ready, walking the first Bird he saw -- Terry Crowley -- to break the tie and give the O's a chance for victory.
Of course, the Yankees waited until the ninth to gain their tie and maximize the body-blow effect to the Orioles. Winfield, who was at the center of every act, walked against Tippy Martinez, took third on Reggie Jackson's single to right, then scored as Graig Nettles dumped a one-out single to center off Stewart on a soft, end-of-the-bat liner.
Extra innings were continual madness. In the top of the 10th, with two on and two outs, Baltimore's Lenn Sakata cracked a hooking drive toward the 387-foot sign in left. "If it stayed in the park, I was going to get it," vowed Winfield, who made a running, leaping, backhanded catch before banging the wall. "That was my old basketball rebounding form," said the laughing 6-foot-6 Winfield, who was drafted by both the NBA and ABA. Perhaps no other left fielder could have achieved the altitude to make that graceful two-run-saving grab.
As an answer, the Bird's shortstop, Mark Belanger, went 10 feet to the opposite side of second base with two outs in the bottom of the 10th to rob Jackson of what might have been a game-winning single up the middle. That gazellelike play psyched the O's, who had made many another inspirational play this evening. For instance, Murray twice had charged the plate to field sacrifice bunt attempts and force out Yankee runners at second.
That adrenaline carried over into the top of the 11th when a Baltimore win seemed almost certain after Singleton walked and Murray scorched a double into the right field corner off the tiring and none-too-sharp Gossage.
But that is when this game's strategic element reached the surreal. "You can't play this game with 24 men," said Weaver, referring to Al Bumbry who has a bad leg and could neither run nor play defense this evening and was available only for direst pinch-hitting duty.
So, in the 11th, with Singleton on first base, the Genius of Baltimore was out of spare outfielders; the situation called for a pinch runner for Singleton, but he couldn't afford to use one since it would have meant switching Rick Dempsey to left field, putting designated hitter Dan Graham at catcher and (as a consequence) having to let the pitcher hit for himself in any future at bats.
Singleton had to plod around the sacks for himself. He could not score from first on Murray's double; somebody else might have. Then, after Graham walked to load the base with none out, the dilemma worsened because The Goose got extremely serious.
"I was backed into a corner. I didn't have much left and I hadn't had much to start with. I wasn't throwin' it past nobody tonight," said Gossage. m"I said to myself, "Well, it's time to air out this slider.'"
So, sliders it was to get ahead of the shocked Doug DeCinces and Dempsey. And sliders it was that they popped up to Winfield in left. Nobody could have scored on the first, but a fast pinch runner, say John Lowenstein, might have gotten home on the second. But, because there was no Bumbry in the starting lineup, there was no Lowenstein left.
When Gary Roenicke hit a first-pitch can of corn to end that 11th with the bases loaded, it didn't take Sigmund Freud to know that the Yankees were extremely excited and would be difficult gentlemen to contain.
Rick Cerone singled, Nettles sacrificed him to second (finally) and Revering stepped up.
It took him one pitch to gain revenge. He hit it 420 feet and 25,057 people went home knowing exactly what is meant by the game of baseball.