When it was over, the fans stood silently, milling about in the stands, peering into the Oriole dugout, waiting for something else to happen.
That was the inescapable feeling as the "irregular season" came to an end: there should have been something more. It took a while to realize that the season had become a still life.
"It doesn't feel like the end of the season, except for all the autographed balls," said Mike Flanagan, who beat the Yankees, 5-2, a meaningless victory in a meaningless season. "It feels like the season should end around Dec. 15. It feels like we should come back tomorrow."
Sammy Stewart, who won the American League ERA championship with a 2.32 record, said, "They're used to that 1979 feeling. Everyone loved each other. They loved us, and we loved each other. It was a magic year. This year was obviously not magic. Everyone was saying in the back of their head, 'We need 162 (games).' Maybe this'll humble us."
Nostalgia and endings were in the autumn air: at the top of the eighth, the loudspeaker blared Auld Lang Syne. It seemed the cue for Mark Belanger, the classy Oriole shortstop, who was undoubtedly making his last appearance in an Oriole uniform. But Belanger did not appear until the top of the ninth. "I'm not that auld," he said.
Belanger, who has graced the Oriole infield for 15 years, refused an offer to play the last inning. He exited with a tip of his cap and a wave instead. "Just the way, I wanted it," he said. "Quick, to the point. See ya later. I don't like fanfare or flair. In quietly, out quietly."
As Ray Miller, the pitching coach, said, as he shook Belanger's hand, "I can't say enough, guy."
The Orioles went out not so quietly, beating the Yankees two out of three, and finishing the irregular season, 59-46, one game behind Milwaukee, the second-season champions in the American League East. The Orioles also had one loss fewer than Milwaukee. That, said Manager Earl Weaver, feisty as ever, means the Orioles "were the best because we lost less."
The Orioles won today with ease. In the third inning, Rich Dauer lined a doubled to left, Ken Singleton blooped a double to left and Eddie Murray kissed the season goodbye with his 22nd home run of the year, which ties him with three other players for the league title. The Orioles were ahead for good, 3-0.
The RBI were Murray's 77th and 78th of the year, making him the American League RBI champion for 1981. He also led the club in hitting with .293 and was voted most valuable Oriole for the second consecutive year, an award that was announced as the Orioles took the field in the fourth inning.
Murray stood at first as 29,169 die-hards (putting Oriole attendance over a million for the year) cheered.
The Yankees, who cruised through the second season (they were 59-48 overall), got a scare when Larry Milbourne, the shortshop who has replaced the injured Bucky Dent, fouled a ball off his left instep and had to leave the game. Milbourne said he would be fine when the miniseries begins Wednesday in Milwaukee.
The Orioles, purists that they are, almost seemed not to want to be part of the shabby second-season proceedings. "We were trying but we weren't intensifying (sic) enough,." Stewart said.
So, instead, they exchanged phone numbers and said goodbye.