The Baltimore Orioles' outfield, suspect at best and high-camp comedy at worst, was reduced to the absurd tonight in Fenway Park.
Led by gifted vaudevillian Dan Ford and comic-for-a-night Gary Roenicke, Baltimore lost its seventh consecutive game, 8-3, to the grateful Boston Red Sox, giving the Orioles their worst season's start since 1955.
In a moment of inspiration this evening, a fan in Fenway's bleachers took pity on the suffering Orioles before him and, snatching the batting helmet off his head, hurled the protective chapeau to Ford, so that the right fielder could protect himself from any future fly balls that might endanger him.
Carlos Lopez and Andres Mora in their heyday couldn't have surpassed the work done by Ford and Roenicke this evening as the pair's misplays led to five Red Sox runs as Baltimore's annual April swoon reached 2-8.
Even the Orioles, accustomed as they are to being unspeakably ugly in the spring, seemed numbed by this performance.
"Panic set in," said Rich Dauer. " . . . We're just plain playin' bad."
"No excuses," said reliever Don Stanhouse.
"We gotta get outs on those plays some way or other," fumed Manager Earl Weaver. "We figure Mike Flanagan shouldn't have given up any runs tonight."
Instead, on a night when pitching coach Ray Miller said, "We finally saw Flanagan at his best again," the veteran left-hander gave up five "earned" runs and a loss to Boston's second-year lefty Bobby Ojeda.
Center fielder Roenicke, usually a smooth pro, began the shenanigans in the fourth inning with two outs and Jim Rice on first, when he thought he'd made a sliding, inning-ending shoe-top catch of a line drive by Tony Perez.
Umpire Ken Kaiser thought differently, signaling a trapped ball. Normally in such circumstances, it's thought wise to throw to the proper base, then argue with the umpire. Instead, Roenicke, plus assorted Orioles in the area, screamed first, then, too late, looked around for Rice, who, heads up, scored from first on the short single.
Compounding his mistake, Roenicke incorrectly threw to Dauer, who, with his back to the plate, had no idea what was going on. "I thought, 'What do I do with it now?' " Dauer said. With Rice dead to rights at the plate, Dauer's 150-foot peg missed home by 20 feet. That buffoonery set the stage.
Flanagan, although he still had a 2-1 lead, was flustered. His next pitch was a fast ball down the pipe to Glenn Hoffman, who averages a home run every 110 at bats. Hoffman, helped by a 20-mile-an-hour wind to left, hit a two-run homer just into the screen for a 3-2 Boston lead.
"The umpire's call cost us three runs," said Weaver, uncharacteristically making excuses.
Then, the dam broke.
Before the fourth was over, Lenn Sakata had skipped a low throw into the Red Sox dugout. In the sixth, Ford turned an absolutely routine fly to right into a two-base error as he neglected to account for the crosswind and almost got conked. In the seventh, Ford topped that. With a man on second and one out, Rice hit a high, long, but simple fly to right center.
"I got under it three times," Ford said. "It looked like a tiny white speck up there, or a bird kind of flying around."
Roenicke, who admitted "it was blowing toward me. . . I should have called him off," watched in horror as the stumbling Ford misjudged the ball's final landing spot by an almost unbelievable 10 yards. Even with a final dive, Ford still was two yards shy of a catch.
That's when the bleacherite, sensing he'd seen history--the largest margin of misjudgment on record, perhaps--compassionately offered his helmet.
Roenicke threw it back.
More mistakes followed in a four-run Red Sox eighth that clinched what had been a 4-3 game. After Flanagan walked Perez, Stanhouse fell behind the two hitters he faced before allowing a single and a bases-loading walk. On came Tippy Martinez. Carl Yastrzemski grounded an RBI dribbler to first, and Jerry Remy, with the Orioles' infield looking comatose, laid down a perfect two-out squeeze bunt for a hit.
Then came the final indignity. Evans hit a double off the wall in left-center which, under no circumstances, should have allowed Remy to score from first. But Roenicke threw to the wrong cutoff man (Sakata), and Sakata booted the short-hop throw as Remy scored standing.
"I say this is a good-hitting team with good pitching, too," said Weaver, in the teeth of his club's 5.63 team ERA, the worst in the league. "And if I'm wrong, then we lose. But I'm not even close to thinkin' that . . . The season ain't even really started yet. It don't start till we hit a stretch where we play 19 games in 20 days in warm weather. Then we'll see what we've got."
Those warm days are coming, but, for the floundering Orioles, can they come soon enough?