Some of the best, and perhaps a bit of the worst, in baseball was on display tonight in Memorial Stadium as the Baltimore Orioles beat the Boston Red Sox, 4-2, in a game that featured inside strategy and inside controversy.
The best was exemplified by Orioles iconoclast John Lowenstein, who ignored the sacrifice sign with two on and none out in the eighth inning of a 2-2 game. Lowenstein took it upon himself to choke up a foot on the bat, fake a bunt, then slap the game-winning hit through the second base side of the discombobulated Bosox infield.
The worst was the guerrilla warfare between home plate umpire Bill Haller and Orioles Manager Earl Weaver. Haller stated flatly that he had ejected Weaver (No. 88 in Weaver's career) despite the fact that Weaver had never said a word. "How many times can you get bleeped by that little guy?" Haller, the AL's senior umpire, asked. "He came out trying to show me up and that's enough. He was gone."
Weaver, who made the universal schoolboy shame-on-you gesture with his index fingers as he left the field, insinuated after the game that he felt tonight's umpiring crew, containing Haller and Ken Kaiser, had deliberately missed calls against the Orioles during this series.
Innocent bystander Lenn Sakata of the Birds summed up Baltimore feelings: "It seems pretty obvious they have a thing for Earl. It's just a pity they're taking it out on us."
Fortunately, this ugliness was counterbalanced by an excellent game and a crisp, unexpected game-winning play.
"That's called the old asterisk play," said Lowenstein, whose daring helped make a winner of Mike Flanagan, a loser of Bob Stanley and brought the Birds a split of this four-game series. "I'm free to do it anytime I want . . . If it works.
"If it doesn't work, then you've taken it upon yourself to be the manager. And, in that case, you're in trouble. That's where the asterisk comes in," said Lowenstein, a notoriously awful sacrificer who once said, when asked to evaluate his bad bunting: "Well, I'm better than a billion Chinese. Those guys can't bunt at all."
Weaver has a standard expression for Lowenstein whenever the 35-year-old free spirit has one of his periodic inspirations: "Great play . . . don't do it again."
"You can never be sure just what Lo-Lo'll do," said Weaver. "Once, in Oakland, he stole second base without a sign, stole third on the next pitch without a sign and on the third pitch, here comes the crazy SOB tryin' to steal home. He's out by 20 feet.
"When he came into the dugout, I didn't know what to expect. I said, 'Is all of that over with now? You ain't gonna take your uniform off, run up the tunnel naked and slide into your locker? You ain't got nothin' like that in mind?"
What Lowenstein had in mind this evening was, for him, close to ratio/nal. Flanagan and Boston's Dennis Eckersley had been tangled in a first-rate pitcher's duel for 7 1/2 innings. Flanagan had allowed homers to Dwight Evans in the first and Dave Stapleton in the sixth; the Orioles had countered with a lead-off homer in the first by Al Bumbry, and a two-out RBI single by that same Bumbry in the fifth after Jim Dwyer had singled and Rick Dempsey walked.
Then, in the eighth, Eckersley told Manager Ralph Houk he was exhausted after 103 sweat-soaked pitches. On came ace reliever Stanley; in fell the roof.
Ken Singleton singled and Eddie Murray slapped a place-hit single in the hole to left as Weaver eschewed the bunt. Up stepped Lowenstein. "I studied the strategic deployment (of the Red Sox)," said Lowenstein, "and decided on a swinging bunt."
The humble two-hopper sent Murray to third. Cal Ripken then roped a liner over shortstop for an insurance run.
What may be best remembered from this night was the wordless ejection. For three innings, the normally stoic Flanagan argued with Haller over balls and strikes, once even yelling loudly enough to be heard in the upper deck. "No, I've never done that before," Flanagan said later.
As hostilities increased, catcher Dempsey became "a messenger boy. I was carryin' messages back and forth from the dugout to the plate all night. Finally, Haller said, 'You tell Earl if he comes out on the field for any reason, he's out of the game."
Retorted Weaver: "I had to find out if I was the first manager in history who wasn't allowed to visit his pitcher."
So, Weaver walked to the mound after the first pitch of the fourth. "He never said anything," said Haller. "But he was laughing." Weaver then walked off, not even looking at Haller. Once he was past the umpire, Haller thumbed him. Weaver then pulled the night's surprise; Haller had tried to bait him, but the ump had fallen in the trap. Weaver turned calmly, smiled, made his shame-on-you gesture, then pointed at Haller and Kaiser, twice each, to make his point. Then, calmly, he left.
Afterward, Weaver asked Oriole catcher Joe Nolan: "Was it like this over in the National League?"
"I knew the first week over here that the umpires were different," said Nolan.
"I mean me," asked Weaver, "gettin' kicked out every night and all this damn circus?"
"No, Earl," said Nolan judiciously, "you're definitely one of a kind."