Some would call tonight's game in Yankee Stadium a laugher, but it made the Baltimore Orioles want to cry.
Two remarkable Oriole streaks were dismantled this evening: Jim Palmer's 11 consecutive victories and the club's 10. Both were abruptly ended as the defending American League champion Yankees played the spoiler with relish, building a 10-0 lead on the way to a 10-5 victory.
As Ken Singleton put it whimsically, "When you get behind early by 10-0, it's hard to mount those sustained drives down the field."
Two perspectives are possible on Palmer's 40-pitch effort. An optimist might say he was taken out by Manager Earl Weaver in the third inning while working on a three-hitter. A pessimist would say those hits traveled 1,300 feet and scored five runs.
Palmer's classy skein, equaling the longest of his 261-victory career, was obliterated as the Yankees greeted him with three towering homers into the right field stands in the first three innings. In contrast to Palmer's lack of success, the Orioles were held to one hit through six innings by rookie Jay Howell, who won his first American League game, allowing just four hits in eight innings.
Bad news came in chunks of three this evening as the Orioles also lost 1) a game in the standings to Milwaukee and 2) a relief pitcher for the rest of the season.
The Brewers beat Detroit to push their lead in the AL East to four games. "It's the 'Creeping green slime theory,' " said John Lowenstein, referring to watching the Brewers' victory on the scoreboard. "You're looking up there and it's creeping up on you and there's nothing you can do about it until it's upon you."
Worse, perhaps, than one night's loss was the word that reliever Tim Stoddard, who slipped and fell in a New York restaurant Monday night, will need knee surgery is done for the season.
"I'm really looking forward to pitching short relief," said Sammy Stewart, inheritor of the pressure job that has confounded Stoddard all season. "I have to be meaner, hold a grudge. But I've always felt I was a natural short man."
Since streaks must come to an end, the operative cliche in major league dugouts is that when you finally lose, you might as well get plastered since then, at least, you aren't haunted by memories of how you might have won.
"This beats losing a squeaker," said pitching coach Ray Miller after watching Yankee homers by Jerry Mumphrey, Roy Smalley, Ken Griffey (a three-run job finishing out Palmer) and Dave Winfield (No. 30). "Everybody's laughing by the sixth inning. The Brewers are coming in here next (to play the Yankees four times). I'm leaving my whammy right on this clubhouse," said Miller, pounding the dirt off his spikes against the wall.
Weaver was in a similar mood, saying, "We might be in first place in four days. The Yankees look like they're getting hot to me."
The manager, always most placid after defeats, was in a good enough mood to play a guessing game as to which of his players had said, "They shouldn't move in the left field fence here and change those monuments, 'cause it would be a shame to move the graves."
Of 25 players, Weaver guessed the graveyard genius on his first try, saying, "Does he play in foul territory?"
If anything, the Orioles seemed to feel that, after going 17-1 since Aug. 20, they were entitled to a loss. Target of most jibes was Eddie Murray, who hit the cheapest three-run homer in memory, a 315-foot, wind-aided fly to the opposite field off a half-swing in the ninth. "Flush," said Murray of the pop fly off reliever Dave LaRoche. "Crushed."
The first hint came quickly that Palmer wasn't the same fellow who had gone unbeaten since May 30. The second Yankee of the evening, Mumphrey, hit a 3-1 pitch over the right field fence to end Palmer's string of scoreless inning at 20 1/3. "Jimmy didn't have much, curve or fast ball," said catcher Joe Nolan.
After watching Mumphrey's poke in the first inning, shortstop Smalley thought he had the idea analyzed well enough for a repeat performance in the second. His loud noise landed three rows behind the 353-foot sign in right.
After Butch Wynegar and Willie Randolph walked in the third, Griffey unloaded a genuinely titanic upper-deck homer to allow Palmer, whose back hurts, a night of minimal strain.
The first replacement for Palmer was lefty Ross Grimsley, whose first pitch -- in loving memory of the Yankees' three homers -- knocked Winfield on his posterior. Winfield rose slowly, battled Grimsley through seven pitches, then homered into the lower deck seats.
In gilt-edged showboat fashion, Winfield stood at the plate until the ball had settled amongst the customers, pointed at Grimsley as he meandered to first, then styled his way around the bases in slightly less time than it takes to complete an Indy 500.
Winfield thus became the fifth Yankee right-handed batter to overcome the disadvantage of left field's Death Valley and hit 30 home runs; Winfield also became the ninth man to hit 30 homers in both leagues.
The Orioles' five runs in the last three, meaningless innings were a matter of pride. In the face of Lownstein's theory, they will need that pride in abundance in their 25 remaining games. That and, perhaps, a few choice spells left in the visitors' locker room for the arriving Brewers.