The Baltimore Orioles' capacity for avoiding significant accomplishment remained intact this evening.
The Orioles had the opportunity to:
Sweep a doubleheader from the sub-.400 Texas Rangers.
Extend their winning streak to eight games.
Pass the Boston Red Sox and move into second place in the American League East.
Gain at least a half-game on first-place Milwaukee.
Instead, the Orioles did what they have done best all year: they lost a one-run game when they needed most to win one.
Instead of an inspiring sweep, they got a bitter split, winning the opener, 3-1, but losing the second game, 4-3.
Instead of being on a winning streak, the Orioles are back to square one. Instead of passing Boston, they're still in third. And instead of gaining a half-game on Milwaukee, they lost a half-game and trail the Brewers by seven games.
After Jim Palmer (11-3) had beaten the Rangers in the opener, extending his winning streak to nine games and his team's to seven, the Orioles appeared to be in good shape.
When Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray hit back-to-back homers in the first inning of the second game off Steve Comer, who had given up 13 hits to the Orioles just five days ago, Baltimore's first sweep of a doubleheader this year seemed imminent.
That's when the Curse of '82 struck. Orioles starter Sammy Stewart, whose only career shutout came against Texas earlier this year, was knocked out in the third inning, giving up a tie-breaking two-run homer by Lamar Johnson that proved to be the game winner.
Comer, who was winless all year and who hadn't had a complete game since 1979, befuddled the Orioles throughout an eight-hit complete game with off-speed pitches that half the folks in the crowd of 20,368 must have thought they could crush.
All in all, for the Orioles, it was a long night that epitomized a season of infuriating frustration. The second-game defeat was twice as bitter when contrasted with the happy mood of the opener, when Palmer worked eight five-hit innings before Tim Stoddard got a save.
In defeat, the Orioles reacted almost as poorly as could be imagined: Stewart criticized Manager Earl Weaver and Weaver returned the compliment.
"I've only pitched three innings in two weeks," said Stewart by way of explaining his quick exit. "Just when I have my best stuff all year (two weeks ago), they sit on me. They just keep putting me in this limbo situation. Here Scotty (McGregor) is tired and hurting, but they don't use me (in the rotation) to give him time to get better.
"The only time they use me in short relief (another prestige job) is to light a fire under (Tim) Stoddard. You know, I need a confidence boost, too . . . I guess nothin's really hurt, except my pride."
Stewart even was upset his team wouldn't switch uniform colors between games from white to orange to suit his superstitious preference for orange.
"If Sammy's disappointed," retorted Weaver, "then he's not half as disappointed as I am in the way he pitched. We were rollin' along good and Sammy just didn't seem to be able to get the job done.
"It's always easy to blame somebody else," said Weaver. "but the people who have success in this game are the ones who tighten their belts and produce when the time comes."
Weaver then indulged himself in a bit of what he had accused Stewart of doing--blaming others. Weaver made a number of "off the record" comments to reporters, all pointing the finger at specific players who missed signs tonight or committed other transgressions.
"We get 20 hits in a game in Texas and most of them are off this guy (Comer)," Weaver said. "Then, tonight, with the same personnel, we leave men all over the bases. Gotta give it to Comer, he's a gutty son of a gun."
The Orioles' clubhouse was sepulchral after the second game, in which an almost eerie number of breaks appeared to go against Baltimore. Trainer Ralph Salvon walked through banging two tin pots together slowly; it might have been a bell tolling.
In the first inning, after the 415-foot home run by Singleton and Murray's 460-foot homer, John Lownestein hit a ball over the right field fence. But center fielder George Wright pulled it back to prevent a third consecutive homer.
"That's when the game changed," said Weaver, who was particularly upset that 6 2/3 innings of shutout relief by Mike Boddicker and Tippy Martinez were for naught. "That's what hurts most. We held it right there (at four runs), but couldn't come back."
Singleton, who homered in each game, giving him four homers in six games, said, "They're all painful now. We're at the point where you know you can't lose many more, so they hurt more."
Wistfully, he added, "Eight in row sure would have been nice. We were beginning to get that good feeling that we didn't know when we were going to lose again."
Unfortunately, in 1982, the timing of the next Oriole defeat has always been the same: just when it hurts the most.