Kids, kids, kids, everywhere you look the Baltimore Orioles are trying to steal a pennant from the Milwaukee Brewers with a bunch of children.
Tonight, in Memorial Stadium, the Orioles, proud victors in 22 of their last 26 games, swept a doubleheader from the stunned and dazzled New York Yankees, 5-4 and 5-3, because one infant after another performed as though the caldron of September were their natural, relaxed habitat.
The sweep moved the Orioles within 1 1/2 games of Milwaukee. The Brewers beat the Tigers, 6-3, in Detroit.
The height of heroism this evening was reached by Cal Ripken Jr., the leader and symbol of the kiddie corps. The 22-year-old with the temperament and poise of a 10-year veteran came to bat in the sixth inning of the second game with the bases loaded, one out and the Yanks leading, 2-1.
"I was in the stands in the World Series in '79 when Mike Flanagan got called out for an ovation after he beat the Pirates. I got goose bumps," said Ripken, whose slam was the first of his career, but the eighth in this team's slam-bang season. "I got the same goose bumps when they called me out tonight. I'd have to say it's my biggest thrill . . . for right now. I'm savin' something for the playoffs."
Ripken had watched fellow rookie Mike Morgan start both Eddie Murray and John Lowenstein with nasty first-pitch curve balls. So, when Morgan tried the breaking ball ploy again, Ripken hit the ball like it had been put on a tee.
The line-drive, game-winning grand slam homer landed 15 rows in the left field bleachers, speeding past the foul pole at upper-deck level to give the Orioles a 5-2 lead they never thought of relinquishing.
Ripken was hardly alone. The winning pitcher in the first game was John Flinn, 28, who after seven years with the Orioles farm system, finally got to win a game for Baltimore in a pennant race.
The winning pitcher in the nightcap was rookie Storm Davis who allowed two runs in the first inning, then settled down, holding the Yankees scoreless until his mates could solve Morgan, who took a one-hit shutout into the sixth.
The Orioles' five-run sixth in the nightcap was fast and numbing. Rookie Glenn Gulliver walked, of course. Ken Singleton doubled to left. Murray, down 0-2, was hit by a pitch and Lowenstein, after also falling behind 0-2, drew a run-scoring walk.
Then came Ripken.
In both games, Tippy Martinez got the save.
The Orioles opened the twinighter the same way they finished their inspirational work of the previous night; that is, with a come-from-behind victory that was so efficient and confident that it seemed all the more exciting for its apparent inevitability.
This time, the blitzing club scored single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings, then broke through for two more in the eighth to overcome a four-run deficit and beat the Bronx bystanders, 5-4.
Murray and Benny Ayala then hit ground smashes off reliever Rudy May.
The Orioles had heroes aplenty. After starter Scott McGregor was knocked out in the third inning, Flinn, making his second Oriole appearance of the year, worked six shutout innings of relief for the victory, allowing six hits and striking out seven.
Flinn was a heartwarming story. In seven seasons in the Orioles farm system, the right-hander couldn't get past AAA because the Orioles had too many Cy Youngs. So Baltimore traded him to Milwaukee for Lenn Sakata before '80. This spring, the Brewers released Flinn and the Orioles picked him up. He was 9-3 in Rochester.
"My 10th year in pro ball and nothing to show for it," said Flinn. "My wife and I talked a long time and I decided to give it one last year."
To Flinn's delight, Jim Palmer walked past and said, mischievously, "Heck, Milwaukee doesn't need pitching anyway."
While Flinn held the fort, the Orioles crept back into the game. In the fifth, Dan Ford doubled to the right field corner and Sakata singled off the wall in the opposite corner for a run. In the sixth, Ayala, who has had game-winning RBI two nights in a row on grounders through the left side, homered to straight left. And, in the seventh, with none on, Ford was further puncturing Rawley's mystique with a long solo homer six rows up in the right field bleachers above the 360-foot sign.
"There's no doubt about it. When you're going' like this, it's a special feelin'," said Weaver after his team had won with just three hits in game two.
There's also a special luck. On the last hitter of both games, Weaver went against percentages and let southpaw Martinez pitch to all-star quality right-handed hitters with the game on the line, instead of calling for right-hander Sammy Stewart. Willie Randolph struck out to end the opener with the tying run at second and, with a man at first, Dave Winfield lined out hard to third to end the whole evening.
In the locker room, scout Jim Russo asked what pitch Martinez had used to get Winfield. A nasty fast ball down-and-in, perhaps?
"A bad hanging curve ball down the middle," Martinez said.
When you're hot, you're also lucky.
And you can't get any hotter than these Orioles