Earl Weaver got his birthday present today: a bad hop.
The desperately worried Baltimore Orioles got the spark they needed: an inspirational pregame pep talk from distraught team owner Edward Bennett Williams.
A national TV audience got what it deserved: a genuinely excellent game, full of home runs, stylish pitching, strategy and shifting crises.
Only the Boston Red Sox and their crowd of 31,343 got the short end of the stick as the Orioles snapped their four-game losing streak in the 10th inning with a 5-2 victory that had catcher Rick Dempsey crowing for all to hear in the locker room: "The road back! We may never lose again. Big game today."
In the 10th inning of a 2-2 tie in Fenway Park, Coach Cal Ripken Sr. -- the third base signalman who's been accused of holding up more men than Jessie James -- made his most daring gamble in years: with the bases loaded and one out, he sent Eddie Murray home on a 225-foot fly ball Joe Nolan hit to right off reliever Mark Clear.
Murray should have been out at the plate by 10 feet, ending the inning.
In fact, when the almost perfect throw from Gold Glove right fielder Dwight Evans hit the dirt a few feet from home, the Orioles, who had lost 12 of their last 17 to fall seven games out of first place, seemed to have found another goofy way of undoing themselves.
That's when the bad hop happened.
Evans' typically superb peg bounced higher than expected, hit catcher Gary Allenson on the shoulder and bounced straight up. Murray, blocked and flipped by the squat Allenson, missed the plate, but Allenson couldn't find the ball. At his leisure, Murray tagged the plate for the most ridiculously improper of game-winning runs.
Of course, the next batter, as often seems to happen in such emotional big-break moments, came through, too. Rich Dauer hit a two-run double off the wall in left to ice the game for the Orioles.
"That's the shortest sacrifice fly in history, 186 feet," said Terry Crowley, teasing Nolan.
"No," protested Nolan, "it couldn't have gone more than 120."
This was a day for the Orioles to rediscover a more cheerful tune. The tone was set by the eloquent Williams, a lawyer who has gotten off clients of far darker reputation than his slumping team.
"I love to hear him talk," said pitcher Jim Palmer who, properly inspired, allowed only bases-empty homers by Evans (of perhaps 500 feet) and Jim Rice in his eight excellent innings. "After he finished, I asked him how he ever lost a case."
Williams had the good grace not to mention that, with the exception of Bobby Baker, he almost never has.
Williams swore the team to silence about the exact nature of his magic words, but reliever Tippy Martinez, who got the victory with two perfect innings, said, "He lifted the whole club. That man can talk."
Weaver also spoke but, modestly, concluded that he was not Williams' equal. "I learned a long time ago not to be smarter than your boss," he said.
What Weaver wanted for his 52nd birthday was just a little luck, a taste of the kind of breaks he feels have gone against his team for three weeks; he got it by the gross.
Cal Ripken Jr. hit a fly down the line that Evans caught up to just as he got to the foul pole 304 feet from home. As he was making the catch, Evans stubbed his toe, lost his balance and the ball ticked off his glove and across the fence, a home run.
Ripken, in disbelief, stood on second for nearly 20 seconds. "That's the first break we'd had in a looong time," said Ken Singleton. "We all kinda looked at each other."
With a man on first and one out in the fifth, Jerry Remy singled to center and Glenn Hoffmann, no one knows why, tried to go to third. Al Bumbry, who had a single, double and an RBI triple today, threw him out cleanly; there is no more glaring Oriole weakness than Bumbry's arm, or rarer occurance than Bumbry throwing out anybody.
"Other teams have been reveling in just such strange and extraordinary occurances at our expense," said John Lowenstein, at his drollest. "Now, perhaps, the surprising incidents will go our way."
This game had no more surprising incident than Lowenstein's own sacrifice bunt in the 10th. After Murray's leadoff single, Lowenstein, who had not sacrificed successfully since 1980, laid down his usual awful bunt to the mound. "Murray should have been forced out at second, but Allenson yelled, 'Second base' too late," said Orioles Coach Ray Miller.
Clear's wild-high and outside throw went into center as the runners went to second and third. An intentional walk and an overpowering strikeout of Ripken brought up Nolan.
One humble pop fly later, the Orioles could get ready for a we're-still-breathing celebration.
Asked Singleton, "When is tommorrow's meeting?"
Actually, the Orioles do have scheduled an "inspirational" chapel speaker before Sunday's game. Somehow, this gentleman, who was handing out copies of his book in the clubhouse, seemed emblamatic of the Orioles' up and down season.
Today, Edward Bennett Williams.
Tommorrow, Charles Colson.