One of baseball's wonderful, weird and somehow profoundly fair moments occurs when a truly terrible team, playing at its worst, steals a stunningly improbable game from a powerhouse in its own deathly silent ball park.
That's what happened tonight in Memorial Stadium as 10-year journeyman Lenny Randle of the Seattle Mariners hit the 27th home run of an extremely modest career to break a ninth-inning tie and defeat the Baltimore Orioles and hard-luck loser Sammy Stewart, 4-3.
The Orioles loaded the bases with two outs in the ninth only to watch in disbelief as Rich Dauer, their best clutch hitter with men in scoring position, flied out to left field for the fifth time in the game to make a winner of Larry Andersen, the dubious ace of the worst bullpen in baseball.
At that final out, the Mariners rejoiced as though they'd won the World Series as their 10-game losing streak ended.
"I didn't know what to do . . . drop on my knees in prayer or throw my glove in the stands," said Andersen, who knows that the Mariners' bullpen, which had allowed 44 runs in its previous 45 innings, had been the cornerstone of the Seattle losing streak.
The Mariners arrived here like souls in torment. The worst blow had befallen them just the day before -- a 17-11 loss to Cleveland in which Seattle had squandered two seven-run leads and watched as the Indians scored 10 runs in the eighth inning.
"The most embarrassing day of my professional career," said rookie Seattle Manager Rene Lachemann of that game in which his team got 20 hits and lost.
"Everything went wrong on Sunday," recalled Randle. "We couldn't even block a field goal."
When the Mariners landed in the afternoon at Washington's National Airport, pitcher Bob Galasso said, "Where are our limousines? Aren't the Orioles sending cars to make sure we get to the park?"
The only use the Orioles, now 11-9, might make of cars after this game would be to drive over a cliff. As Randle said, "When I rounded the bases and got to third, I thought Doug DeCinces was in a coma."
Randle epitomized the Mariners' night of fleeting joy in a game that begrudges them everything.
He averages a homer every 143 at-bats. He entered the game with no game winning hits in 220 at bats. Before this season, he figured he'd end up playing playing in Japan since nobody in the majors seemed interested in him as a bargain basement free agent -- that is, until the Mariners called.
A greater overmatch than Stewart against Randle in the ninth could hardly have been imagined. Stewart, who leads the American League in ERA (1.83) had worked seven shutout innings in relief of Scott McGregor when the 5-foot-9, 160-pound switch-hitting Randle stepped up. Stewart simply threw his best fast ball, oblivious to any danger.
"The little son of a gun swung like a helicopter and just hit it out," said Stewart.
Did Randle have any doubts about the tantalizing 365-foot fly that barely cleared the fence in right?
"Whenever I hit 'em, they're in doubt," said Randle. "I closed my eyes. When I hit a home run, I don't believe it. I always figure it'll get rained out, or they'll call a balk."
So unaccustomed were the Mariners to Randle homers that third base coach Cananea Reyes put up his hand for a high five without realizing that Randle couldn't come close to reaching his hand.
"I slapped him on the elbow," said Randle.
"Well, Lenny Randle," intoned Lachemann, walking through the clubhouse, "that makes you our star of the month."
On the Mariners, one good swing can do that for you.
"Now I can finally buy a newspaper again," said Lachemann. "It's bad enough living through it at night without reading about it all over the next morning.
"This is the first time I've gotten to shake anybody's hand in two weeks. I've forgotten what some of these guys look like.
"We've been executing well and losing," said Lachemann. "Tonight, we did everything wrong -- couldn't sacrifice bunt, couldn't move a runner, got picked off. And we win. Hell, if you put together all seven hits we got off McGregor (in 1 2/3 innings) they wouldn't stretch to the warning track."
In fact, in the Mariners' three-run second inning, McGregor had Joe Simpson picked off first base with two outs, but he reached second, and four straight singles followed to knock out the left-hander, whose record is now 9-4.
The Orioles, who have lost three of five in what was to be a make-hay 15-game homestand, were in deepest depression. Everything had the smell of a typical "Oriole Magic" victory, especially after John Lowenstein's home run with Eddie Murray (double) on base had tied the game, 3-3, in the bottom of the sixth. Gary Roenicke's double in the second inning scored DeCinces for the first run.
Then came the big stink in both halves of the ninth. Every omen had gone the Orioles' way:
A bizarre 5-4-3-2 fielder's choice in which the Orioles missed outs at both second and first bases, only to see the inning end with an out at the plate.
An excellent catcher-to-second-to-first double play started by Rick Dempsey on a bunt.
A breathtaking double play started by a leaping catch of a line drive by DeCinces at third.
Perhaps the Orioles should have known, however, that a day that began with Manager Earl Weaver being arrested on a drunk driving charge could not end well. Was it likely that his team would get bailed out on the same night?