The Baltimore Orioles left Fenway Park tonight in stunned confusion and bickering disarray after losing their eighth straight game, 6-5, to the Boston Red Sox, completing the worst winless road trip (0-7) in the club's history.
This was a textbook evening of Oriole exasperation.
In each of the last three innings, the Orioles left men on first and second base, five Orioles in a row failing to deliver a single that would have tied the game against relief pitcher Mark Clear, who got the last eight outs.
"If we could have pulled this game out after being behind 6-2 to (Dennis) Eckersley, it would have been one of the greatest wins we ever had," said pitching coach Ray Miller.
Instead, precisely because they came so close, with a three-run seventh, then fizzled repeatedly at the last, this loss was doubly galling.
The Orioles, now 2-9, the worst record in baseball, succumbed to a six-run Red Sox third inning, in which pitchers Dennis Martinez and Sammy Stewart walked three men who eventually scored.
"I was so mad I couldn't see straight," said Manager Earl Weaver, referring to Martinez's walking Punch-and-Judy left-handers Rick Miller and Jerry Remy to start the inning when he had a 2-0 lead.
Of Stewart, who entered with the game tied, 2-2, and left four batters later with Boston ahead, 6-2, Weaver said, "I'm worried about Sammy . . . in Florida, he looks great; now, all of a sudden, he don't even look like he belongs in the big leagues.
"He's had three chances to close the door on this trip, and we've lost all three. Put those three in the win column and it wouldn't look too bad. . . You can't give him a starting job until he can show you he can close the door (on a rally). It would be different if this were just once."
"Well, that's Earl," retorted Stewart. "Second-guessing."
Just as angry was Orioles General Manager Hank Peters. "It's been humiliating. Not so much that we've lost, but how we've lost," said Peters. "The pitching staff has been horrible . . . The last three times Sammy's come in, the first man has gotten a hit . . ."
The one uniform characteristic of recent Orioles teams has been an unwillingness to backbite or shift blame, but, as with almost all slumping teams, that good will becomes harder and harder to maintain.
The game-winning hit was a bases-loaded, three-run, 3-2-pitch double by No. 8 hitter Rich Gedman. It landed at the base of the wall at the 379-foot sign as center fielder Al Bumbry decided not to try for a great, gambling catch.
"I let a catcher call the game for me and it cost us a ball game," said Stewart. "My best pitch on 3-2 is the slider, and that's what I should have thrown, even though (Joe) Nolan called for a fast ball."
As for Bumbry's nonattempt at the wall, Stewart said, "You got to go all the way to the wall on that. You've got nothing to lose 'cause three runs are going to score anyway if you don't catch it."
"That's what bad times are made of," said Ken Singleton, "And that's why you play 162."
Such moderate feelings, however, were impossible for Weaver.
"The damn walks don't make any sense," stormed the manager. "(Long reliever Ross) Grimsley (who worked 4 2/3 shutout innings) didn't walk a man, and he hasn't pitched an inning since Florida, so that knocks the hell out of that theory. A major league pitcher ought to be able to throw the ball over the plate. It's as simple as that."
Weaver was so mad at Martinez in the second inning, apparently over a bad pitch selection, that he stalked to the mound and screamed at length at both pitcher and catcher. Martinez was never sharp thereafter.
Ironically, before this game, Weaver was playing the psychologist, calling a team meeting and being in his best patient good humor.
Asked to assess the road trip to date, he said, "I don't think it was a good one. I don't care what anybody says, I'm not satisfied.
"Mr. (Edward Bennett) Williams called today," added Weaver. "He said, 'What do you think you can do?'
"I said, 'Jump off a bridge?'
"Then I gave him the only answer you can give him. You wait it out. . . These are the best 25 (players) we've got. If they can't do it, then we lose."
Asked whether his team meeting concerned the state of the Orioles, Weaver replied, "We know the state of the Orioles. We're last in baseball. . . 26th . . . what a way to bow out (as retiring manager), coming from 26th place (to win). If it could only be that way. (Pause) I didn't even know there were that many horses (26) in the race."
Why the meeting now?
"I feel like it's time," said Weaver, "while I'm still here . . ."
"If George Steinbrenner will take two Aggies and a Steelie for Rich Gossage, we'll make the trade . . .but, otherwise, we'll stay with what we've got."
Of the meeting, Stewart said, "Earl gets his point across, poking those little crooked fingers in your face . . . He didn't mention names, but he was lookin' guys right in the face when he was talking about 'em."
If a late-inning hit or two had fallen in, the Orioles might be talking now about how brilliant that meeting had been. Instead, one more last-ditch tactic has failed.
And the inevitable erosion of confidence and fellow-feeling that attacks all losing teams is working on the Orioles with a vengeance.