The Baltimore Orioles ended their summer vacation today with a 5-4 victory over the Minnesota Twins, their eighth consecutive victory and 15th in their last 16 dazzlingly efficient games.
As befits a team in the midst of a streak of marvelous luck, the Orioles won for three fortuitous reasons.
First, Ken Singleton's two-out, two-run, pinch-hit triple in the seventh, tying the game at 4, eluded the glove of left fielder Gary Ward by an inch. A right-to-left wind blew the slicing liner away from the surprised Ward.
Second, the winning run scored later in that inning when Eddie Murray's absolutely routine two-out grounder to third was butchered by rookie Gary Gaetti for one of the bumbling Twins' five errors.
And, third, 20-year-old Storm Davis -- the youngest player in the majors and certainly one of the most stellar prospects -- got the victory with four innings of one-hit, no-walk shutout relief. The poised Davis, who has won in his last three appearances, pitched as though he had a 10-run -- rather than a one-run -- lead.
Now, after nearly three relaxing weeks of playing the Twins, Rangers and Blue Jays -- a tonic for any team's nerves -- the Orioles will have to go back to school. On Monday, they begin a 14-game stretch against two solid, if unspectacular clubs -- New York and Cleveland -- by heading to Yankee Stadium for a 2 p.m. game.
If the Orioles play half so well in the next two weeks as they have in their past 16 games -- in which they've outscored their opponents, 85-39 -- then Baltimore's pennant pretensions can be considered valid.
For the moment, it's safe to say the Orioles have saved their dignity and their season, rejoining the pennant race with plenty of time remaining to overtake the four-game lead of the Milwaukee Brewers in the American League East (Related story, Page C4). That is, if they're team enough.
"We've been outstanding," said General Manager Hank Peters. "But just think where we'd be if we hadn't been 15-1. Heck, if we'd just gone 10-6, we'd be dead now."
"This feels like 1979, when we went out every day expecting to win," said pitcher Mike Flanagan. "Even when we're behind, like we were today (4-2), we feel certain that we'll come back.
"Winning is contagious, and on this team, good pitching seems to be contagious. Right now, 3-0 or 4-2 feels like a landslide because you just know the other team won't score. It takes all the pressure off everybody."
The Orioles overcame a first-class slap in the face this crystal afternoon when the first two hitters in the Minnesota sixth -- Ward and Gaetti -- hit back-to-back homers, their 23rd and 22nd, to knock out starter Dennis Martinez. Martinez looked fatigued after working 38 innings in his last four (victorious) starts.
Those long shots to left might have stalled the Orioles a month ago. Now, they scored three runs to win in their next at bat. With two out and none on, No. 9 hitter Rick Dempsey walked off Pete Redfern and Al Bumbry singled to left.
Up stepped pinch hitter Singleton, who had been benched against left-handed starter Frank Viola. On a 3-1 fast ball away, Singleton hit his game-changer to the warning track, fair by eight yards.
"When you're going badly, they catch it," said Singleton of Ward's close miss. "But when you're going good, like we are now, they miss it by an inch."
After a walk to Cal Ripken Jr., Murray, facing reliever Jeff Little, followed with the Twins' worst enemy -- a grounder to the infield.
Earlier in this game, the 48-87 Twins had thrown a grounder to short into the dugout, misplayed a grounder to short and thrown a pickoff to first base against the tarp. This time, Gaetti, who never had to move, put down his glove for the easy shin-high hop, then watched in amazement as the ball hit his wrist and plopped behind him for the game-losing error.
Just to polish his comedy act, on the next pitch, Gaetti raced 80 feet so that he could drop a foul pop fly that was no more than 30 feet from home plate. In the process, Gaetti knocked his catcher, who'd called the ball all the way, into a somersault.
Perhaps the best news for the Orioles after this beat-up-the-bums period is that, since 1979, they're always been a streak team. In '79 and '80, Baltimore swept a total of 32 series. In fact, all series of two-or-more games that were swept -- either winning or losing all games -- the Orioles' record was 91-9; they swept everybody, yet, for some reason, were swept themselves only three times in two years. In all other games, they were 111-110. That knack for sweeps is returning.
On the other side of the coin, they must watch nervously as tendinitis victim Scott McGregor, loser of five in a row and a pitcher who has not gotten out any of the last 10 batters he has faced, must start in Yankee Stadium Monday against a club that scored 18 runs today in Kansas City.
"If Scotty is okay, they (Milwaukee) better look out," said Davis. And if he isn't, then maybe somebody else will have to look out.
"You aren't going to see many swan dives from teams as good as Milwaukee," said outfielder John Lowenstein. "No matter how well you play, you can't make a great comeback unless you have a consenting team in front of you."