The chalk players, the smart money, the cynics who think they know every odd, have the Baltimore Orioles deep-sixed now.
And they may well be right.
But don't bring that nagging negativism near Earl Weaver. Not when he's retiring and wants to go out in glory.
"I'm as happy as a pig in slop," Weaver snarled after his Orioles made five ludicrous errors tonight and suffered the self-inflicted wound of a 10-5 defeat to the Detroit Tigers.
"I think we're doin' good," he said moments after his club had fallen three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers, whom they meet Friday in Milwaukee in the first of seven showdown contests in the season's final 10 games.
"We're right in the race. If we win eight of our last 10, we clinch a tie, no matter what they do. And if we win nine of 10, it's ours, no matter what they do," said Weaver. "Our magic number is nine. I don't know what theirs is . . . And I don't care.
"I'm gonna call a 'State of the Team' meeting tomorrow (in Milwaukee) 'cause a lot of guys out there might not know what good shape we're in."
The reason the Orioles might not know how high they're flying is because they had the misfortune of watching themselves play this evening. Certainly, if they had wanted to undermine their confidence entering Milwaukee, they couldn't have done a more total job than in this second straight hideous loss to the Tigers. After losing their previous game to Detroit, 11-1, on Tuesday--Baltimore's biggest margin of defeat of the season, the Orioles came back this evening with their most buffoonish performance since April.
From Aug. 20 through Sept. 20, the Orioles went 27-5 and did wonders to restore their sense of themselves as the classy club with the second-best record in all of baseball. In just two games since, they have done yeoman work to diminish themselves in their own eyes. What a time to blow four tires.
"We have to go to Milwaukee and play as good as we played bad tonight," said Joe Nolan, who said of himself, "I can't ever remember playing that bad a game."
"We played 32 flawless games," said Mike Flanagan who starts Friday against Don Sutton. "I guess we saved it all up for this one."
Ken Singleton summed up the night's work by saying, "No mas, no mas. Maybe we just took a step backward to get a running start."
From the point of view of the 8,633 paying witnesses, it was a giant step.
Want a dropped pop-up, a wild throw into the dugout, a kicked ball in the outfield, a fly ball played into three bases, and a basket catch turned into a two-base error? You got 'em. Nolan, Cal Ripken, Al Bumbry, (encore) Al Bumbry and Dan Ford doing the honors.
Until this game, the Orioles had a shot at the all-time record for fewest errors in a season. This night, they had a shot at the team record for errors in a game -- six.
Want to see a manager show the first signs of panic as he makes his pitching changes? Weaver, who gave quicker than usual hooks to his first three pitchers -- Scott McGregor, Storm Davis and Sammy Stewart -- certainly fit the prototype of a nervous manager getting antsy and waving to the bullpen instead of sitting tight.
"I didn't want to come out. I was throwing pretty well," said McGregor, who had trouble recalling the last time when, in good health, he was taken out of a game with a two-run lead (5-3) as early as the fifth inning.
McGregor gave up eight hits in 4 1/3 innings, including long homers to left by Larry Herndon and Mike Ivie. Thanks to a five-run Oriole third inning, built around a two-run homer by Eddie Murray, McGregor had a 5-2 lead but couldn't hold it.
McGregor's successor, Davis, was hammered for the second consecutive game, rookie Howard Johnson knocking him out with a two-run homer that tied the game, 5-5, in the sixth. Stewart was wild, his fielders wilder. And, finally, the first pitch Tippy Martinez offered, with Detroit ahead just 6-5 in the seventh, was smashed off the left field wall by John Wockenfuss for an RBI hit.
As a coup de grace, Johnson hit a high fly that landed untouched on the track in center for an eighth run as Bumbry botched the play several different ways--breaking in, turning his back on the ball in a 360-degree spin and, finally, missing the ball completely as it barely avoided his ear.
"All night, everywhere I played, they hit it somewhere else," said Bumbry. "One thing, we won't have any pressure on us in Milwaukee, 'cause we can't look worse than we did tonight."
As a curtain call, Martinez gave up a two-run homer to center to Herndon in the eighth. The preceding batter had hit a fly to Ford, the outfielder who has been quoted as saying, "One of the things that I think held me back (this season) was that they never really explained what they wanted me to do here."
Apparently, in this instance, Ford was uncertain whether the Orioles wanted him to catch fly balls, because he was nonchalant with this one and dropped it.
Many a team would look at this night as the logical juncture to fold their tent for the season. After all, any objective statistical comparison between Milwaukee and Baltimore indicates that the Orioles should be flattered to be within three games of a crew with the numbers Harvey's Wallbangers can boast.
With 836 runs this year, to the Orioles' mere 714, the Brewers will almost certainly score the most runs of any team in baseball since the 1953 Brooklyn Dodger Boys of Summer. Paul Molitor, Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper, Ted Simmons, Gorman Thomas, Ben Oglivie and Paul Gantner versus Jackie Robinson, Pee Wee Reese, Gil Hodges, Roy Campanella, Duke Snider, Carl Furillo and Junior Gilliam: even position by position it's a comparison in which the Brewers suffer very little.
Even Milwaukee's team ERA is now better than Baltimore's by a few percentage points. With the acquisition of Don Sutton, the Brewers' weekend rotation of Sutton on Friday (15-9, 255 career wins), Pete Vuckovich on Saturday (18-4 and eight wins an a row) and Mike Caldwell on Sunday (17-11 and seven wins in a row) is as good on paper as what Baltimore offers with Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Dennis Martinez. Even the Brewers fourth and fifth starters, Doc Medich and Bob McClure, are now decent.
If it weren't for Rollie Fingers' forearm injury -- and he is now out until the final weekend of the regular season, at the earliest -- the comparison of the Orioles' and Brewers' tangible assets would be an outright embarrassment to Baltimore.
However, late-season baseball isn't a world of chalk bets and short odds. Sometimes it's bench depth or past experience or organizational tradition or, particularly in the Orioles' case, a manager's touch under pressure.
This evening, the least loved Oriole was the much-afflicted Ford. The crowd sought every opportunity to boo him, both for his play and his comments in the press.
After this defeat, Weaver walked through his clubhouse muttering, "I gotta go give Danny a pat on the back 'cause he's gonna win the game Sunday when their left-hander pitches (Caldwell). And that game's gonna be important."