There are times to argue with an umpire and there are times to shut up.
Tonight in Memorial Stadium, Rick Dempsey couldn't make that distinction and, in a four-hour, 16 minute game of enormous confusion, controversy and complexity, it may well have cost the Baltimore Orioles a victory.
The simple tale of this 5-4 Oakland victory in 11 innings -- one that contained the ejection of both Dempsey and Earl Weaver, as well as a hit-batsman rhubarb and a near fight -- will go thus:
The Orioles scored four runs in the first inning, the last three of them on a 400-foot homer by Doug DeCinces off Brian Kingman.
The A's knocked out Scott McGregor with three runs after two were out and none on in the fifth. Rickey Henderson doubled, Dwayne Murphy singled him home, Cliff Johnson hit a ground rule double and Tony Armas hit the chalk in left with a two-run two-base hit that knocked out McGregor -- all the damage coming within six pitches.
The A's tied the game when Armas homered to lead off the ninth against Tim Stoddard. Armas thus homered in his fifth consecutive game against Baltimore, that streak containing six home runs.
The Orioles left the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth as Jose Morales took three called strikes.
The A's escaped in the 10th when DeCinces' long blast was caught at the top of the center field fence by Murphy.
Cliff Johnson opened the 11th inning with a game-winning home run several rows into the left-field bleachers off Stoddard.
Stoddard then threw four straight pitches at the next batter -- Armas -- finally hitting him in the wallet with a fourth fast ball.
All this, however, was just the barebones of a game that dropped Baltimore's second-half record to 13-11, still 2 1/2 games behind Detroit.
As is often the case, there was a game within the game tonight, one that transpired around the plate with volatile, some would say emotional, umpire Nick Bremigan.
So, with two out and two men on base in the bottom of the Baltimore eighth and the Orioles ahead, 4-3, one might assume that Dempsey, batting .220, would not choose such a juncture to start a hot debate with an umpire who, minutes later, would hold the fate of that one-run lead in his hands.
DeCinces, also for no known reason, had gotten in a jawing match with Bremigan in that eighth, then, he admitted, continued to chew from the dugout.
"That's gutless," said Bremigan afterward. "Argue man-to-man. Don't go back to the dugout then start yelling from the middle of your friends."
"I was surprised when Demspey griped," Bremigan said. "He hadn't said a word all night. Kind of an odd time, I'd say."
Weaver, who had already been out to keep Bremigan from ejecting DeCinces now came out to cool off Dempsey.
"He said, 'I'll quiet 'em down, just leave 'em in the game,' " recalled Bremigan.
"But," continued Bremigan, "Dempsey is a hot head. I knew he'd blame me because he went on a strikeout on a pitch a mile outside. He'd just be waiting for the first pitch around the knees in the next inning and he'd go nuts about it."
So, by his own account, the idea was in Bremigan's mind that a new beef, a new showdown would be on his hands on the first close pitch of the ninth."
As it proved, the first close pitch of the ninth was a 1-2 fast ball to leadoff man Armas, who is merely the AL's leading home run hitter.
"The ball split the heart of the plate," Stoddard said. "Armas was out and he knew it. Guys watching the replay in the clubhouse couldn't do anything but laugh."
Naturally, Dempsey, still facing the mound, screamed and made subdued gestures of furry,
"It's a cardinal rule that you don't turn around and face the umpire to argue," Bremigan said, still in the unwritten word. "But that doesn't mean that a catcher can do anything he wants as long as he's facing the mound."
So, Dempsey, without ever turning around, was thumbed.
The air cleared. A rookie catcher -- Willie Royster of Spingarn High -- came in. He called a slider on the first pitch.
Armas hit it 400 feet into the night.
A victory had escaped, flown on the wings of discord and dubious judgment in battle.
Two innings later, defeat arrived to take its place.