"We been diggin' this big hole. Now, we gotta fill it all back up without us bein' at the bottom of it. " -- Sammy Stewart, Baltimore Orioles
Maybe it was just one lightning flash in a humid summer sky and few will follow it.
Or maybe, as the Baltimore Orioles think, as they ferevently hope, this thunderclap of a baseball game that they stole from the Oakland A's, 5-3, tonight was the harbinger of the fierce storm they have awaited so long.
On this trobbing evening in Memorial ystadium before 19,742, the Oriole team that won 202 games in the previous two seasons, was on display in all its unpredictable, guts-in-the-clutch glory.
The struggling Birds beat the cocksure A's, a nickname that surely should stand for Arrogants, with three home-run cracks of the bat -- two by John Lowenstein and a three-run blast by Terry Crowley plus two electric outfield robberies by Al Bumbry and Gary Roenicke. All five moments had an indelible quality. Their quintupled effect could be long lasting.
So powerful was this night that one of its heroes, Bumbry, actually kept the ball he had grabbed above and beyond the center field fence in the eighth inning to steal a three-run home for Tony Armas and save the game.
If the dormant Birds, now 14-11 and still in third place, are not awakened from their second-half malaise by these heroics, then baseball is not a game of emotion, fueled and then refueled again from within.
When Cliff Johnson's two-run homer off starter and winner Steve Sonte gave Oakland a 3-0 lead in the sixth, Baltimore looked like a corpse. ythe Birds had hit .193 for their previous eight games. Nonetheless, Coach Ray Miller visited Stone and said, "No matter how bleak it looks, hold 'em here. This is the night we break out, 'cause our guys are fed up with their guys."
The A's that the O's were fed up with were stylin' stallin' Ricky Henderson, loud Cliff Johnson and Rick Langford, he of the alleged spitball.
Lightning acts fast That's its charm.
No lightning ever struck faster than the O's in their next at bats in the sixth.
Ken Singleton singled to right and Eddie Murray to left.
As Crowley worked the count to 2-1 rookie Willie Royster, sitting in the O's bullpen, said, "Pay attention, guys. This game's about to be tied up."
"Man, the words weren't out of Royster's mouth before the Crow took Langford downtown," said Stewart. "We were all over Royster, poundin' him. We've never had a rookie make a good (home run) call before."
The Birds knew better than to mob Crowley, who and just broken an 0-for-16 slump with his blast 15 rows up the right field bleachers. The A's may call attention to themselves, but Crowley never. "Crow never even smiled," said Singleton.
Now, the O's bullpen was standing at the fence, peaking through the screen. They knew next-hitter Lowensteinhs history with Langford. A fortnight ago in Oakland, Langford pitched a shutout without, the O's thought, using his illegal pitch. That is, until on the final pitch when he wiped every part of body and fanned Lowenstein to end the game on what they considered a flagrant wet one. Langford grinned at Lowenstein as he left the premises.
This time, Lowenstein had the laugh. His towering fly stayed aloft so long that two ya's outfielders stood at the fence in right field together, jumped together and came down together without the ball. The O's were ahead, 4-3. Four batters in the sixth and four runs.
"Back breaker," said Lowenstein who had never had a two-homer game before. "I was kinda disgusted out in Oakland with Langford's 'soap ball.'
"Tonight, I singled on a changeup, homered on a fast ball, and homered (for an insurance run in the eighth) on a curve . . . Got 'em all."
In Oakland's next ups, Henderson tried more of his step-out-of-the-box antics that have helped Oakland set a new standard for playing the longest games in major league history (average 2:55). Finally, he even walked to the mound to evesdrop on a Baltimore pitching conference. That did it.
Umpire Durwood Merrill had to hug the furious Dempsey to keep him from interfacing with Henderson. "I told him to stop screwing around, pulling his bush act on our time 'cause we're serious and strugglin' and not in the modd for it," said Dempsey, bowdlerizing his text.
The aroused O's then began playing outfield defense as though they though they thought they were the Spectacular A's.
With two on and one out in the eighth against reliever Tippy Martinez, Johnson sliced a fly to the right field corner. Roenicke, in for defense, made a full-speed knee-high snag.
That was nothing. Next up was Armas who had homered in his last five games against the Birds. This time, he hit it out again, at the 387-foot sign and finished at the other.
Had 10-year vet ybumbry ever before kept a ball from a regular season game?
"Nah," he murmured quietly. "But I just got a feeling about this one."