Finally, the Crow's long wait ended.
With a grand-slam home run in the bottom of the ninth.
With the bases loaded and one out, pinch hitter Terry Crowley hit a fast ball from Mike Armstrong into the right field bleachers to bring the Baltimore Orioles a 10-6 victory over the Kansas Royals before 26,099 in Memorial Stadium today.
That homer kept the Orioles four games behind the Milwaukee Brewers and gave them a three-games-to-two edge in this series with the Royals. It made a victor of Tim Stoddard, who, moments before, looked like the goat. It made the Royals and their ejected manager, Dick Howser, who already were in a rage at home plate umpire Bill Kunkel over a bottom-of-the-ninth balk call, even more furious.
However, to know why this heroism, dramatic as it was, moved the Orioles so deeply--made them almost glad they'd squandered a two-run lead in the top of the ninth--you have to know about the Crow's wait.
Usually, waiting is what the Crow does best. He perches on the Orioles' bench and watches the pennant race unfold before him. He cheers. He tells his wry little veteran stories. And he waits for those moments of crisis when he must transform himself, in an instant, from the humble, cheerful part-time Crow into the King of Swing, perhaps the best pinch hitter in baseball.
The Crow worries, too. That's what the Crow does second-best.
He worried that for six entire weeks--from June 25 to Aug. 6--he did not have one measly base hit. When his infrequent clutch moments came, they slid past him deviously, leaving his self-esteem raveled. "Only six weeks?" he said this evening with an exhausted smile. "It felt so much longer."
Crowley was down in the dumps so deep you needed a flashlight to find him.
So, Manager Earl Weaver did what he never thought would be necessary; he gave one of the sweetest natural hitters in baseball an old-fashioned pep talk. "With the game on the line, you're still my man," Weaver said. "Think you can do it, and you can."
As Crowley crossed the plate this afternoon, Weaver was waiting for him. "Think you can and you can," screamed the hoarse manager.
Today, Crowley had a long wait: 3 hours 17 minutes of tense play and 37 minutes of rain delay with one out in the top of the ninth.
Crowley had waited as the Royals took a 2-0 lead after three pitches in the first inning: a single by Willie Wilson and U.L. Washington's third homer of this series.
He watched as Al Bumbry reawakened the Orioles with his third leadoff homer in the first inning this week.
He watched as John Lowenstein broke a 2-2 tie with a three-run, wind-blown third-inning homer over the 387-foot sign for a 5-2 lead.
He watched as Eddie Murray increased the lead to 6-2 with a line-drive homer over the 405-foot sign in the fifth.
And then he watched as the Royals fought back for a 6-6 tie. First, it was Jerry Martin knocking out shaky starter Mike Flanagan with a 450-foot, two-run homer in the sixth. Then it was the rain knocking out sharp reliever Sammy Stewart with one out and one on in the ninth; after the storm delay, Weaver called for Tippy Martinez. Finally, with two out and two on in that ninth, it was the left-right percentages knocking out Martinez in favor of Stoddard to face Amos Otis.
As Otis sent a two-run double on one bounce off the bullpen fence in right-- Wilson and Washington chugging through the slop to score--the Orioles seemed demoralized.
That's when they started getting very lucky, the Royals got very angry and Crowley could stop his wait.
By the ninth, the field was a quagmire. When Kunkel first called for the tarp in the top of the frame, the rain was modest. For two minutes, the umpire, looking skyward and holding up his hand in a posture of weather-forecasting deliberation, delayed the grounds crew, thinking the rain was stopping; instead, it suddenly turned into a deluge. Nice judgment call, ump. The field became twice as miserable when a member of the grounds crew slipped and disappeared under the tarp, causing an extra minute's delay in covering up.
In that ninth, the lousy field saved the Orioles. First, with one out and none on, Murray hit a routine one-hopper to short. Washington threw 10 feet in front of Willie Aikens in the mud; E6. After a walk on two borderline two-strike pitches to Lowenstein, Armstrong went into a stretch, then tried to step off the rubber to drive Murray back to second.
Instead, his spikes caught in the muck and, in Kunkel's words, "He messed up his delivery. Hell, he almost fell off the mound . . . that's a balk."
"Kunkel's just too bleeping anxious to get on the turnpike and get home (to New Jersey)," accused Howser afterward. It was the first time in his managerial career he'd been ejected.
Cal Ripken Jr. was walked intentionally and Weaver faced a tough decision. Should he gamble and pinch-hit for Rick Dempsey, risking leaving himself with only ridiculously inexperienced Floyd Rayford for a 10th-inning catcher?
Weaver looked at Crowley and nodded to the man who last Friday got his 100th career pinch hit.
With the count 2-2, Armstrong came with his best twice--nasty fast balls tailing just off the outside corner. "Tough pitches," said Crowley, who ticked them both foul.
Armstrong decided Crowley couldn't possibly guard both the outside and the inside corner, so he would jam the old-timer with heat.
Crowley thought the same.
The long wait was about to end.