The Baltimore Orioles beat the Oakland A's, 6-2, today in a game that had controversy, anger, heroic slugging, classy pitching, legalistic hair-splitting, two ejections, a formal protest, a beanball and enough overburden of the symbolic to send 23,490 Memorial Stadium fans to the parking lots buzzing like so many excited July flies.
At the bare bones level, the Birds won their fourth straight, moving within three games of first-place Milwaukee, because John Lowenstein conked two home runs, good for four runs, and the Martinezes--winner Dennis with seven strong innings and torrid Tippy--combined for a six-hitter.
For the Orioles, only two games behind in the lost column and owners of the best record in baseball since May 13 (40-23, .635), this game was a direct continuation of what has been, by far, their most inspiring week of the season.
As Lowenstein, who loves mock profundity, put it, "This is a team with historical propensities . . . Traditionally, we move briskly through the second half."
When his team needed an early lead, Lowenstein launched a three-run, jet-stream-aided drive off Brian Kingman (1-8) into the bleachers in the right field corner in the fourth inning.
"I thought it would behoove me to hit the ball somewhere that their (great) outfield wasn't allowed to be. Anywhere the ball can come down on grass, it's not safe," said Lowenstein, five of whose career-high 16 homers this season have come off Oakland.
When the collapsing A's, losers of nine of their last 11, started a comeback, the O's got a minor baseball miracle: Rickey Henderson, who began the play on first base, was called out at second on an appeal after Dwayne Murphy hit a ground-rule double into the left field seats. Yes, an out on a ground-rule double.
Oakland Manager Billy Martin doesn't believe it's possible either, and quickly played the game under protest.
"If the umpires can get around this one, then they can burn the damn book, 'cause the rules aren't worth anything," fumed Martin.
When the next Oakland batter, Dan Meyer, hit a two-run homer, Henderson's esoteric gaffe--of which more anon--gained considerable importance.
Just as Dennis Martinez (10-8), who threw 115 pitches and worked out of three jams with men in scoring position, began to tire, the Orioles conveniently scored three runs in the eighth to ice this sweaty game.
Lowenstein, part of the incredible Oriole left field platoon that now has 27 homers and 82 RBI in 93 games, sliced a leadoff liner into the first row of bleachers in the left field corner.
On the next pitch, Kingman threw what home plate ump Durwood Merrill called "a clear knockdown pitch" at Cal Ripken Jr. Merrill warned Kingman. The pitcher began screaming and, according to Merrill, yelled, "I'll deck every damn one of them!"
"That's when I heaved him," Merrill related. "He wanted to go and he went." Just like Charlie Metro, A's coach whom Merrill had thumbed earlier. Said Merrill, "I sent him down the chute and out the tunnel . . . Some days the old office is pretty exciting."
Ripken reacted to getting flipped by doubling on the next pitch. Later, Rich Dauer and Rick Dempsey slapped hit-'em-where-they-ain't RBI ground singles to right--Billy Ball style. Dauer's single, on a hit-and-run, marked his first RBI in 19 games.
In effect, that ended hostilities. To start the eighth, in came Tippy Martinez, who in his last 13 appearances, covering 15 1/3 innings, has allowed no runs and only five hits while striking out 20 and walking two.
"Tippy's on a roll," said Ray Miller, the pitching coach, neglecting to mention that the way Oakland has been playing a square wheel would roll against the A's.
For the fourth straight day, the O's broke symbolic ground.
On Wednesday, they came from behind to win, after trailing entering the eighth, for the first time all year; until then, they'd been 0-29 in such straits. On Thursday, the Orioles got their first eight-strikeout game from mystery man Jim Palmer since 1978. On Friday, they got their first sudden-death victory of 1982 on Floyd Rayford's 13th inning homer; even in the partial season of '81, the O's had seven such wins. And, finally, today, they swept a series of more than two games for the first time all season.
Some mischievous Orioles even joke that their loose play and the absence of acerbic Manager Earl Weaver, on suspension, is no coincidence. "It's nice to play a few games with everybody cheering for you," one veteran Oriole said today, perhaps wisely preferring anonymity.
According to Oriole sources, Weaver's cackling walkie-talkie sits in the dugout tunnel, with Ralph Rowe of the coaching staff in reverent attendance. However, not all the Genius' commands have held sway. Acting manager Cal Ripken Sr. actually is doing some of the managing; and the pitchers, in particular, like it.
All this leaves only the Henderson brain twister--and Martin's protest--as a loose end. Henderson, running on the first pitch to Murphy, dove into second base head first while Murphy's sliced fly to left was in the air. Henderson then retreated a bit toward first base. When the ball landed fair, then bounced into the stands, Henderson jogged directly to third base without retouching second base.
"As soon as I saw him cut in front of the bag, I wanted to go berserk, but I let him get to third," said catcher Rick Dempsey. "Then, I started screaming my lungs out. I knew we had him."
Dauer appealed at second and Nick Bremigan threw up his thumb. "Once he willingly gives up second base by making a move back to first, he has to retouch it," explained Bremigan, referring to rule 7.08 (e) and rule 7.10 (b), not to mention the footnote to rule 7.05.
Martin, however, preferred rules "7.02 and 7.05 (f). Henderson can go back in the clubhouse and get a drink of water if he wants to. When the ball is dead (on a ground rule) he's entitled to two bases. Period."
Martin has little, if any chance for his appeal. As crew chief George Maloney said, "It's simple. You can't 'cut across.' Henderson gave up his base by heading back toward first, then he cut across, without retouching second, to get to third base. And you can't do that."
Merrill was even more elementary.
"I'd say this was a case of 'When in doubt, Rule 9.01 (c),' " said Merrill.
Which rule is that?
"Use common sense."
Words to live by.