There is something so familiar about a Jim Palmer shutout that it came as a shock today, after the lanky Baltimore right-hander blanked Toronto on four hits, to discover it was his first such performance in more than four years.
Palmer threw 100 crisp pitches as the Orioles beat the Blue Jays, 1-0, for their 11th victory in their last 12 games, and continued their late-blooming run for the division championship. The victory left the Orioles five games behind AL East-leading Milwaukee, which beat Seattle, 8-2, and a half-game back of Boston, which beat Oakland, 4-0.
The Orioles' victory took less than two hours, a baseball rarity, as Palmer faced only 30 batters and was ahead in the count to all except eight of them.
The 36-year-old Palmer avoided the press after the game, as he has since the All-Star break. Asked why, he smiled and said, "10 straight," alluding to his intention to do nothing to end his streak of 10 victories since falling to Toronto May 30. His 12-3 record gives him the best winning percentage (.800) in the league.
But today's performance was so evocative of the Palmer of old that mere numbers don't do it justice. His control and confidence in this, his 52d career shutout, was epitomized in the eighth inning, when with two out he yielded a line double to Lloyd Moseby, only the second Jay to reach scoring position.
Toronto Manager Bobby Cox sent Barry Bonnell to pinch hit for Alfredo Griffin. Palmer paused a moment, then turned and repositioned left fielder John Lowenstein four steps to his right.
On the next pitch, Bonnell flied to left. Lowenstein took one step, waited and the inning was over.
"I told Jimmy when he came in the dugout, 'You moved him one step too far,' " said Pitching Coach Ray Miller with a chuckle.
Miller said Palmer threw 66 fast balls in earning his first complete-game shutout since Aug. 23, 1978. "He had something on it," said Miller, "because they were swinging late all afternoon."
The Orioles scored their run in the first inning off Luis Leal (9-12), who went all the way in defeat. With one out, Glenn Gulliver hit a hard grounder over first base. The ball scooted down the foul line and bounced off the bullpen rubber into the seats for a ground-rule double. Gulliver took third on designated hitter Terry Crowley's single and scored easily on Eddie Murray's sacrifice fly. It was Murray's 23d run batted in over the last 15 games, in which span he is hitting .360, and marked the 14th time this year he had the game-winning RBI.
Manager Earl Weaver also noted that the victory ran the team's record to 19-8 with Gulliver in the lineup, "and today he did it with a hit." Gulliver also picked up his 21st walk in 27 games.
Palmer walked one and struck out three in his 260th victory. His performance was marked by a Palmeresque relentlessness whenever a Blue Jay reached base and the slender lead was in jeopardy. It was then that he went into familiar antics of stretching, nervously hitching up his sleeves, rolling his shoulders, demanding new balls and reorganizing fielders.
"He's the master at guarding a one-run lead," said Miller.