For those unfortunate souls who'd forgotten what excellent and exciting baseball was like, the Baltimore Orioles gave a scintillating refresher course in Memorial Stadium tonight.
The Birds' 3-2 victory over Kansas City in the bottom of the 12th inning on this sweaty evening was, in the words of John Lowenstein, who got the game-sinnig hit, "the kinda game that makes gray hairs grow out of your nose."
In the game's final tableau, Coach Cal Ripkin Sr. was wildly waving his son, pinch-runner Cal Ripkin Jr., home from second base on Lowenstein's whistling, none-out, full-count liner into the right field corner off relief loser Rene Martin.
The 20-year-old Ripkin thus scored the winning run on his first day as a major leaguer, stomping home plate as the Birds mobbed Lowenstein, the journeyman flake with the extra-inning ice water in his veins.
From first to last, the Birds gave the marginally disappointing crowd of 19,850 the sort of memories that lure folk back to the ball yeard, even after an ugly 59-day labor-war haiatus.
In the first inning, the Oriole switch-hitting stars, Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray, hit back-to-back 400-home runs into the Royal bullpen offf starter Dennis Leonard.
How's that for a reintroduction after a 59-day disappearing act?
Then, to move the drama to the sticking point, the Birds went into a batting coma, going a staggering 10 1/3 innings without a hit against Leonard, rookie Mike Jones and Dan Quinsenberry.
While the Birds slept, the Royals rallied for a tie on a two-run fourth-inning homer by yamos Otis. Twice in extra innings, the Birds dodged bullets. With two on and two out in the 10th, Murray made a superbly fludi stab of a gound smash as he went in the hold to rob Wilie Aikens of an RBI hit. And, then with two out and two on in the 12th, Tippy Martinez was brought on to face George Brett. Martinez completely overpowered the man who hit .390 last year, striking him out on five pitches without allowing so much as a foul tip.
That, as it proved, earned Mzrtinez a one-batter victory, although it was Dennis Matinez (seven innings) and Sammy Stewart (five) who had toiled through 47 Royal hitters and 169 pitches in this 198-minute affair.
The final Oriole act, so reminiscent of their best months in '79 and '80, came in the 12th when Singleton ended the amazing streak of 31 Baltimore outs without a hit by slicing a hard double into the left field corner.
"When I hit it, I said, 'No way anybody catches that," said Singleton. "Then I realized Willie Wilson was out there with his jets and I thought, 'If anybody gets it, he does."'"
Though no other left fielder, except perhaps Rickey Henderson of Oakland, would have had a prayer of making a catch, Wilson, at least by his standard, probably should have had it. He sprinted, slowed for two strides, then exploded again, only to miss the ball by an inch ot two before crashing into the fence.
After Martin walked Murray intentionally, Lowenstein stepped up, went ahead in the count, 3-0, then fell back to 3-2.
"I didn't hit a ball of any kind for 50 days -- baseball, golf ball or any ball," said Lowenstein, the only Bird who never attempted returned to the clubhouse during the strike, leaving a four-foot high stack of mail in front of his locker.
"I went to Hollywood and tried to make it as an actoir," said Lowenstein, a resident of Las Vegas and sometime inhabitant of his own private planet. "At Universal Studios, they told me they'd make me a page. Then they offered me my big chance. They wanted me to dress up in a monster contume . . . as though I needed one," said the man with Brillo hair and permanently attached sunglasses. "I think it was Dracula. I told 'em what I thought of the idea, so I guess I blew my big chance."
Did he get any encouragement from anyone?
"Yeah," said Lowenstein. "My wife encoraged me to stop fooling around the get the hell back home."
Lowenstein is most at home in a screaming stadium when his adrenelin is pumping but his mind is clear. In the O's only other series rally of the game -- a two-walk extraveganza in the ninth -- Lowenstein followed a Murray pop out with a two-out liner to center that almost handcuffed Otis. Having been robbed on one clutch hit, Lowenstein simply hit another one, this time fair by a yard and off the wall for what was technically scored as a single.
The O's got nothing but encouragement from this victory. Although they may have sloppy games ahead, they could hardly have looked in sharper midseason form then they did this evening. After Dennis Martinez opened the game by throwing the first poststrike pitch of the second season over Rick Dempsey's head to the backstop on the fly, the Birds never blundered again.
Both Hal McRea and U. L. Washington were picked off base by Dennis Martinez. Murray did the honots on McRae, sneaking in behind him on a count play, with two out and none on in the first inning to help kill potential big Royal rally. In the same inning, left fielder Fgary Roenicke made a full-speed backhand, diving catch toward the foul line to ron Brett of a slicing RBI double. Later, Doug DeCinces, the Smuel Gompers of the hot corner, got a force play after a diving stop worthy of a highlights film.
The Royals were no slouches in this errorless game as Wilson made running thefts -- one in the gap and one toward the line -- off DeCinces and Rick Dempsey on consecutive plays to prevent doubles in the fifth.
Every Bird had his feathers preened.
Singleton, who had a homer on his first at bat of opening day and of Sunday's All-Star Game, had a first-trip round tripper tonight, too. "Yeah, and I want one in the World Series, too." laughed Singleton.
Weaver, who loates the sacrifice bunt, got to deliver his favorite sppech on the miserable ploy after he eschewed the tactic with two on and none out in the 12th and Lowenstein at bat. And came out smelling rosy.
"It's not every day that you can go 10 1/3 third innings without a hit and win," said General Manager Hank Peters. "It just shows what nine solid days of bP (batting practice) can do for you."
Off in a corner, however, one Oriole was happiest: young Ripken, who had 31 doubles, 23 homers and 75 RBI at Rochester before he was called up. As he stood on second, pinch-runing for Singleton, did he ever wonder what he would do if, with the game on the line, he had come barreling into third and gotten a sign from his dad with which he disagreed?
After all, its is an Oriole preogative to ignore sings, since Weaver believes that players can't be automatons.
"On, no," said Ripken, genuinely shocked. "I wouldn't dare do that."