When the Cleveland Indians arrived here this week, the Baltimore Orioles, unwisely, almost felt sorry for them. Coming off six weeks of consistently sharp play (27-13), culminating in a 13-1 victory over Detroit on Sunday, the Orioles thought a visit to Memorial Stadium from the sub-.500, fifth-place Indians looked like icing on the cake.
"When we got into the locker room Tuesday, everybody was loose and joking, having a good time. It might have been our best clubhouse atmosphere all year. I figured, 'We're gonna smoke 'em,' " recalled left-hander Mike Flanagan of the Orioles after being shelled in less than three innings last night as Cleveland crushed Baltimore, 9-0, before a perplexed but amused crowd of 14,259.
That was two days ago. Then, the Orioles were fresh from winning 15 of 20 games, including impressive home-and-home series with the Milwaukee Brewers (4-2) and New York Yankees (3-1). Over their previous 57 games, they'd outscored their foes by 82 runs. If any team in baseball was flying, it was the Birds.
Now, after being thrashed, 9-2 and 9-0, by the mediocre-as-usual (36-35) Indians, the Orioles are a bit dazed and disoriented. "What a pair of 'smell-os,' " said Baltimore General Manager Hank Peters of the losses, which have left his team five games behind Boston and three behind still-hot Milwaukee. "Sometimes, the way this game turns on you, you hardly know how to feel."
Of course, Manager Earl Weaver thought he knew how to feel after watching Rick Sutcliffe (seven innings) and Ed Whitson hold his club to four singles. "Somebody said it 50 years ago and it's still the truest thing in baseball: You're never as good as you look when you win and you're never as bad as you look when you lose . . . And you ain't never gonna look good when you're not hittin', cause you don't have guys sliding into bases and trottin' around 'em."
It's good for Orioles fanciers that, by the Weaver formula, at least, the team isn't as bad as it has looked the past two nights. Because they've shown a heap of holes.
Flanagan, who had been the team's hottest pitcher--with a 5-1 record and 1.70 ERA in his previous 58 innings--took the mound with "perfectly decent stuff," yet gave up four runs in 2 2/3 innings. His exit was signaled by his own run-scoring wild pitch to the backstop on a 3-2 delivery. Usually, full-count pitches don't bounce in front of the plate.
But this wasn't a usual night.
With two out and two on, and the Orioles down only 4-0, Ken Singleton was picked off second base to end the fourth inning. He was not only picked off, he was nabbed by 20 feet. In fact, he never even saw the ball until, taking a stroll on this blissfully cool evening, he realized the shortstop had caught the throw.
"We got people running in the wrong direction," growled Weaver. "Notice I'm not sayin' who."
"Next time I got to second," said Singleton, "I stood right on the base when he was in his stretch."
Joe Nolan caught the perfect game--in reverse. He failed even to try to block the plate on what might have been a close play when the score was still 1-0. He never touched a run-scoring wild pitch. And runners were three-for-three stealing off him.
For four consecutive years, Nolan allowed more stolen bases per game than any catcher in the National League. He gets out of his crouch, cocks his arm and throws to second with the same swift gestures usually associated with the Thing smashing its way out of a block of ice after a million years of suspended animation.
"I'm not defending Nolan's arm," said Peters judiciously, "but it was the blasted pitcher's fault. (Don) Stanhouse never even looked over to first base."
Against the tandem of no-look, slow-windup Stanhouse and Nolan, Grandma Moses would have a fighting chance to steal second.
Gritty Lenn Sakata continued to look insecure at shortstop, breaking the wrong way on one routine grounder that went for a hit and showing little range as he failed to keep another RBI single in the infield.
Reliever Stanhouse, back from arm rehabilitation at Rochester, worked 3 1/3 shutout innings before being charged with four runs in the seventh. Three of those runs scored after Tippy Martinez arrived with the bases loaded; for the second straight night, Martinez walked home a run, a dubious feat also duplicated by Tim Stoddard on Tuesday.
Despite Sunday's bombardment, the Orioles have only six homers in their last 15 games and, although they were second in the majors in scoring just two days ago, their hitting has cooled considerably. "If things keep goin' in the wrong direction (on offense), we'll have to make some changes," said Weaver. "But there was no way we could have kept hitting the way we were hitting."
For the Orioles, these have been two unsettling days.