You can't boogie with a pulled hamstring. You can't even start in the outfield. Maybe you can pinch-hit. Dan Ford, who is called "Disco" because his friends own one, pinch-hit a grand slam home run tonight in the seventh inning. He practically slam-danced around the bases. "That made it (running) a little easier," he said. "I had a little limp."
Three weeks ago, Ford was hitting .197 and the Orioles were limping along two games under .500. Tonight, they beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 9-4, for their eighth victory in nine games. Many of the 19,234 people at Memorial Stadium were dancing in their seats. "We're contagious," said Scott McGregor (8-4), the winning pitcher. "We're rolling."
The fans called Ford out of the dugout for an ovation, the second Oriole ovation in as many games (Cal Ripken Jr. got one Saturday night for his game-winning home run). The last one Ford got was on opening day. Things were not so sweet in between.
"The way the team was going, people were pointing fingers and one of them they were pointing at was me," Ford said, after hitting his first pinch home run. "Dan Ford, you have to wake up, sooner or later you have to wake up, I kept telling myself. I was gripping the bat tighter, I was gritting my teeth, I was digging in a little harder. I was trying but there was no result. All I knew was to play harder."
In his last 14 games, Ford has raised his average 40 points from .197 to .237. Tonight, he helped raise the Orioles' expectations and others' expectations of them. They are a tough bunch to figure, these Orioles. As losing pitcher Moose Haas (3-4) said, "As many runs as they score, they shouldn't score. They play well as a team. That's why they will be a contender. But individually, if you look down (their lineup), you can't see them scoring seven runs a ball game."
The Orioles have been prodigious at the plate of late (Joe Nolan hit his second home run of the year, and his second off Haas, in the second inning). But tonight, the game was tied, 4-4, going into the bottom of the seventh inning. McGregor, who is an impressionist pitcher--no bold strokes, no 95 mph fast ball--overpowers you with muted tones, soft touches, changed speeds. "You look back at the whole thing and it's a thing of beauty," said Paul Molitor, the Brewers' third baseman.
Tonight was not one of McGregor's masterpieces (seven hits in seven innings). "All paintings aren't great," he said.
He gave up two runs in the second on a walk to Ben Oglivie, a double to Charlie Moore and a single to Jim Gantner. He gave up two more in the seventh, when the Brewers tied the game on four hits, a wild pitch, and a dubious play by shortstop Lenn Sakata on what could have been a double play. "The first two innings I had nothing," McGregor said. "The seventh I had nothing. In between I had everything."
The Orioles have been nothing but resilient of late. In the bottom of the seventh, Sakata was safe on an error by Molitor. Al Bumbry, (two for four) deftly bunted the ball down the third base line and had a hit. Both runners advanced on Rich Dauer's fly out to center. Haas walked Singleton (two for three with three RBI) intentionally and, as he did, the crowd began to cheer, "Eddie, Eddie" in anticipation of Murray's at bat. He, too, walked, though not by design. The Orioles led, 5-4, a slim and brief margin.
Jamie Easterly replaced Haas and Ford batted for John Lowenstein. On May 29, Manager Earl Weaver sent Benny Ayala up to bat for Lowenstein and Ayala hit the Orioles' first pinch-hit grand slam of the year. Tonight, he chose Ford over Ayala because he wanted Ford in the outfield and Ford hit the second pinch-hit grand slam, his fifth home run and the Orioles' sixth pinch-hit home run of the year.
"I'm always itching to get back in," Ford said, "I'm not a fan yet."
Weaver had no intention of sending McGregor back in to face Molitor, leading off the eighth, who was four for four last week against McGregor. Tim Stoddard replaced McGregor "and pitched like it was a one-run ball game," Weaver said. "He did not give them a thing."
Ford has finally begun to give the Orioles what they expected when they traded Doug DeCinces for him last winter. "I never hit .197 in my life," he said. "I was saying, 'What's wrong, what's wrong?' . . . I was trying to be impressive. I wanted to be accepted right quickly."
But that, like the baseball season, takes time. "Come October, the leaves turn brown," he said, "and you count up your stats."