Earl Weaver probably will have to carry today's 4-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals on his back for the rest of this season.
In fact, if his Baltimore Orioles come close, but fail to win the American League East flag this season, Weaver will have to drag this game--and his apparent stubbornness--into retirement with him.
The Orioles probably should have escaped from Royals Stadium today with a wildly successful four-game road trip. That is, they could have won a game, instead of getting swept. With Boston losing and Milwaukee splitting a doubleheader today, the Orioles--if they had won--actually could have emerged from a 1-3 series with little damage done.
Instead, they left--3 1/2 games out of first place--in a mood typified by Ken Singleton: "It's finally over. Let's go home . . . to the friendly confines (of Memorial Stadium)."
Worse than losing for the Orioles was the memory of how they lost--succumbing to a four-run Royals eighth that may not have been necessary.
Thanks to one of the most courageous, crafty and proud pitching performances of Jim Palmer's career, the Orioles led, 2-0, going into the eighth.
Cal Ripken Jr. had hit a titanic 440-foot home run in the fourth and Gary Roenicke, Ripken and Lenn Sakata had singled in the sixth for another run.
But they were incidental to Palmer's heroics. He pitched through seven innings of almost unbelievable trouble, like a man sprinting through a minefield with his eyes closed. While they were inducting four men into the Hall of Fame today in Cooperstown, Palmer was pitching like he'd just stepped down off a bronze plaque.
In all seven innings, the Royals had men on base. In five, they left men stranded in scoring position. Ten Royals had come to the plate with men in scoring position and Palmer got all 10 out, including George Brett three times.
Palmer wasn't so terribly sharp, he was just terribly brave. "Great spots," muttered catcher Rick Dempsey. "His stuff wasn't all that great, but he just put the ball in great spots in every clutch situation. He's so smart. He reads the hitters' minds."
Baseball probabilities say the Orioles should have been home free. Both of their best relievers--Tim Stoddard and Tippy Martinez--were well rested and warmed up. Between them, two innings of door-closing should have been routine.
But Weaver never let them do their job. Despite a half-dozen mound gestures by Palmer that looked like "get me out of here please", Weaver left Palmer in to face the heart of the Royals' order in the eighth on a humid 95-degree day.
Amos Otis scorched a single to center. But Weaver didn't move; perhaps his ego was his anchor. For three years he has been in a tug of war not only with Palmer but with Coach Ray Miller and relievers Stoddard and Martinez over exactly such situations. All of them wish Weaver would let the bullpen start innings fresh instead of waiting for terminal jams to develop; especially when the starter in question is the 36-year-old Palmer.
The next hitter was AL RBI leader Hal McRae. "The stats say McRae owns Jimmy," said Weaver. Yet he left him in. McRae's 415-foot drive hit at the foot of the center field fence for a double.
Palmer left, but the huge rally had started and the game's internal momentum had certainly shifted.
"You don't often take a guy out when he's pitching a shutout. And he looked great," said Weaver, who looked particularly blanched and upset minutes after the game. "If I had it to do over, I'd have left Palmer in one batter longer. I never considered taking him out."
"No comment," said Palmer, who would not even verify that the sky was blue and the afternoon a bit on the warm side.
Tippy Martinez entered after an amazing July in which he may have been the first pitcher in history ever to appear in games on more than half the days of a month (16) and not allow a run; no such record is kept, but the accomplishment has a unique sound to it.
"We should never have torn the date off the calendar," said Weaver. "We shoulda let Tippy think it was still July."
Lee May singled home Otis. Jerry Martin singled home McRae. Left fielder Jim Dwyer made a tentative play on Martin's hit, not only allowing pinch runner Greg Pryor to reach third on a fairly close play, but Martin to take second. The O's protested the call, but replays seemed to show the umpire correct.
Stoddard then entered to give up a game-winning sacrifice fly to right by Frank White--which made a loser of Martinez--and a game-icing RBI single by Steve Hammond.
Weaver, in expressing his envy of the Royals' team speed, dropped an offhand comment that is sure to arouse interest: "Maybe my next team will be rabbits. But I doubt it."
Had the Orioles won, it would not have been on their general merit, but simply because of Palmer. Sakata was an all-day circus at second base. Both Bumbry and Dwyer might have made difficult game-changing plays in the eighth, but didn't. Despite getting 12 men on base in the first eight innings against a trio of completely undistinguished, desperation Royals pitchers--Dave Frost, Don Hood and Bill Castro--the Orioles looked paralyzed in the clutch.
As a formality, reliever Dan Quisenberry, who never in his career has been scored upon by Baltimore (17 games), got a ninth-inning save.
In time, perhaps this weekend still will be looked upon as a miracle Baltimore escape. When their chances might have been totaled, they were merely dented. And, perhaps the ancient dugout wisdom to which Weaver subscribes--never relieve a pitcher who's working on a shutout until you have absolutely no choice--has some basis in sound folk psychology, even if it seems to have no statistical or common sense foundation. Perhaps The Little Weave simply works in ways too mysterious for the lay mind to comprehend.
Perhaps this whole weekend will just be a Royal-blue bad dream for the Orioles.
But it doesn't seem so now.