Some teams have Bat Day and Cap Day. This evening, the Baltimore Orioles had Divine Intervention Night.
These days, the Orioles are in such a dizzy swirl of good fortune and inspired play that they can hardly keep track of their their improbable lucky bounces, their clutch performances, their ridiculously improbable heroes.
Perhaps all that need be said about this evening's 8-5 Baltimore victory over the New York Yankees is that the losing pitcher was Ron Guidry, who has the best winning percentage in the history of the sport, while the winning pitcher for the Orioles was someone named Don Welchel who, until two days ago, was at Rochester and had never stepped on a big-league mound.
Just to get some of the preposterous rudiments of this Orioles soap opera out of the way, let it be promptly noted that Baltimore has won 23 of its last 27 games, including four in a row over the Yankees in a span of 51 hours.
In this saturated-with-magic series, the Orioles have come back against the Yankees from deficits of 3-6, 0-4, 0-2 and, this evening, 2-5 -- thanks to a tingling six-run sixth inning. More incredible, those four games have been won by almost unknown pitchers who began the year at Rochester in AAA: Mike Boddicker, John Flinn, Storm Davis and now Welchel.
The Orioles, forced to reach to the bottom of the pitching barrel, have found nothing but gold; this evening's winner, Welchel, doesn't even dress in the main Orioles locker room but has his cubbyhole back in a tiny room full of weightlifting equipment.
"I was scared to death," said Welchel, after working two shutout innings in relief of Mike Flanagan, who was bombarded by three homers, two by Roy Smalley (eight in 12 games, six off the Orioles) and one by Dave Winfield (15 in 29 games). "I'm not going to lie. I had serious butterflies," added Welchel. "When I walked off the mound, I could barely feel my feet on the ground."
In a fortnight, Baltimore has beaten the Yankees six of seven; thanks largely to their new New York cousins, whom they thumped in 10 of 12 games for the season, the Orioles still trail Milwaukee by only 1 1/2 games in the American League East.
The Orioles' confidence has reached such levels that the team paid not one iota of attention to word from Detroit of Milwaukee's 5-3 victory over the Tigers. Wisely or not, the Orioles now think their fate is in their own hands; if they keep playing as they are, they can't imagine any team, not even Harvey's Wallbangers, standing in their way.
"I haven't seen a team this hot in my whole career," said Winfield.
So, you say, what manner of baseball minimiracle transpired in Memorial Stadium this evening?
Guidry, despite leading by three runs entering the sixth inning, lost this game because the first four batted balls of the sixth inning escaped infield gloves by an inch or a tick. The snake-bitten Guidry left the mound with all of his lead lost, then watched as the shredded New York bullpen, still minus Goose Gossage, helped the Orioles complete a six-run sixth inning.
In the sixth, the Orioles got the kind of sequence of phenomenally lucky breaks that make teams believe they are destined to win pennants. As blessed as the Orioles often seemed in '79 and '80, the Orioles of the last month seem even more preternaturally touched by destiny.
Rich Dauer opened with a smash over third that Graig Nettles would probably have gobbled. But Nettles was in the dugout. Smalley was at third. The ball kicked off his glove for a hit.
Lenn Sakata hit a liner back through the box; it ticked off Guidry's glove for a single to center. Suddenly hot Dan Ford, who had three hits, yanked an ugly two-hopper that both Smalley and shortstop Andre Robertson missed by inches for an RBI hit.
Up stepped Cal Ripken, the grand slam hero of the night before. On a 3-2 fast ball on the fists, Ripken hit a hard grounder over the third base bag. Nettles might have had it; Smalley missed by an eyelash. Two-run, game-tying double. Ripken has eight RBI in four games and 17 against the Yankees in '82.
The cheers for Ripken did not rival those of the evening before when the heart of the order -- Singleton, Murray and John Lowenstein -- waited for the kid at the plate as his father shook his hand rounding third. But, the crowd of 22,861 did its best.
On came rookie reliever Curt Kaufman. With his arrival, the Orioles ceased to need luck. Eddie Murray doubled up the gap to the fence in right (37th RBI in 30 games, 17th game-winning RBI), scoring Ripken with the go-ahead run. Lowenstein's pinch single to right to score Murray was hit just as sharply. Before the inning ended, Dauer had batted again and scored Lowenstein with a sacrifice fly.
Naturally, the Orioles are aglow. "Other franchises spend a million bucks a shot on 35-year-old pitchers who are going downhill," said Ray Miller, the Orioles pitching coach, referring to how Milwaukee grabbed Don Sutton and Doc Medich, "and we get four wins from four rookies. Maybe, long run, we're the ones doin' it the right way."
"You ain't even seen the (Rochester) hitters yet," Earl Weaver said. "Mighty Mike Young and Leo Hernandez have been knockin' our eyes out with B.P. homers. These kids we got comin' up are unreal."
To be true Orioles, this wave of the future must be subjected to the Oriole tradition of nicknaming. Welchel is "Tron" for his video-game addiction. However, Storm Davis' new moniker perhaps captures the Orioles' blithe spirit these days.
Watching Davis -- who is often called a clone of Cy Young winner Jim Palmer -- win his fourth straight on Tuesday, Mike Flanagan announced to the bench, "That's not a Storm. That's a Cy-clone."
And the Orioles are no longer just a baseball team, but a cast of momentary heroes, riding a whirlwind they hardly even understand. While they can.