The Baltimore Orioles have reached a strange, uncharted baseball world where none of them, not the oldest veteran, has ever been.
For a month and a day, they have seen their hopes, their fantasies and even their most preposterous whims become reality. After winning 27 of their last 32 games, six within the last eight days with dramatic rallies -- the latest tonight when John Lowenstein's two-run homer in the ninth beat the Detroit Tigers, 3-1 -- the Orioles have reached a point where they hardly know what to say. Even outlandish good fortune is now accepted as though it were almost their inevitable due.
No Orioles team ever has had a streak so good; less than a dozen teams in history have reached such a plateau in a pennant chase. Who plays .844 baseball for weeks on end?
For a perfect illustration, take this evening's stunning victory negotiated when Lowenstein hit the game-ender off razor-sharp right-hander Jack Morris, the ace of the Tigers' staff.
When a team wins a desperately needed pennant-race game with a tying run in the eight and a winning homer in the ninth, it's customary for that club to go slightly berserk. Not Baltimore. When you're chasing a team like Milwaukee that refuses to lose, you can't afford normal emotions. Even after their eighth victory in nine games, the Orioles still remain two games behind the Brewers who, while the Orioles have gone 27-5, have played their own best ball of the season, 21-10.
For the Orioles, for the time being, such fairy tale shenanigans must be, and are, business as usual. After all, didn't Rich Dauer win the game just the afternoon before with a homer in the 10th on "Thanks Earl Day"?
For that matter, since the All-Star break, haven't Floyd Rayford, Cal Ripken Jr., Terry Crowley and Joe Nolan hit game-ending homers in this suddenly pixilated park?
How good is the Orioles' luck these days and nights?
Well, Lowenstein's 23rd homer, after Eddie Murray opened the inning with a single, landed on top of the wall and, according to umpire Dale Ford, bounced into the stands for a split second before plopping back onto the field.
Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson protested, "That ball hit the stripe at the top of wall. At no time did that ball leave the park."
To which Orioles Manager Earl Weaver, as he headed to his car, responded, "I don't know if that ball left the park or not, but I'm goin' to."
"This was the kind of game, and Morris is the kind of pitcher, that will put gray hairs on your head, in your mustache and up your nose," said Lowenstein. "I was fortunate to hit that last fork ball. He struck me out twice and I must have missed 'em both by a foot."
"Lookin' at Morris, I just said, 'Aw, no. How we gonna beat a guy making these kinda pitches?' " said Sammy Stewart, who got the victory with one inning of relief after Jim Palmer had labored through eight brave innings.
If the Orioles ever seemed destined to lose, it was this cool, misty evening before a tiny gathering of 8,246. The first batter of the game, Lou Whitaker, blooped an accidental double to the opposite field off Palmer and scored moments later on Larry Herndon's double.
Morris (16-16) made that run looked sufficient. In all, he struck out 10 and entered the eighth with a two-hit shutout. Twice, he struck out four Orioles in a row.
However, many blessings attended the Orioles. Ripken caught a liner behind second in the first inning to rob the Tigers of a run. In the third, right fielder Gary Roenicke made one of the best Oriole outfield plays in years; he raced into foul territory to grab Herndon's hit-and-run, opposite-field pop-fly double, then throw on the run across his body toward the plate. His 250-foot peg -- knee-high on the money to catcher Rick Dempsey -- nailed fleet rookie Glenn Wilson by 10 feet.
The Orioles got another break in the bottom of the eighth when Dauer, leading off, hit a towering pop to left. Herndon, playing too deep, broke back, then raced in. Seeing shortstop Trammell retreating, Herndon hesitated, then dived at the last moment, barely missing a grass-high catch.
With pinch runner John Shelby on first, Al Bumbry fouled off a bunt, then, as Weaver switched strategies, swung away, grounding a single to right a foot past a lunging Whitaker. Shelby almost stopped at second, then easily made third.
Pinch hitter Terry Crowley hit into a double play, killing the rally but scoring Shelby to tie the game.
Entering the ninth, the cunning Palmer, getting respectably hard-hit outs on one or two pitches, had thrown only 88 pitches; the more impressive Morris had 135. Hitters like Ken Singleton and Dempsey had battled him through 13- and 10-pitch at bats before striking out. By the ninth, Morris was drooping, much of his best stuff simply fouled off into the empty seats.
Weaver has a bullpen and went to it in the ninth; Anderson doesn't and didn't.
After Murray and Lowenstein hit back-to-back ringing liners to end the evening -- Lowenstein after trying to bunt on the first pitch -- the Orioles retired to their quarters to listen to the Brewers and Red Sox on the radio. Appropriate cheers, or oaths, greeted every play.
"Sure, I don't mind 'em listenin' to it," said Weaver. "That's what this thing's all about."