Sparky Anderson's Detroit Tigers had just beaten Baltimore, 9-6, savaging the visitors' pitching staff for the third time in a week, knocking the gasping Orioles three games behind the Milwaukee Brewers with just six left to play.
The ol' white haired manager knew what the baseball fraternity would be saying in the morning, maybe all winter: Anderson and his going-nowhere, fourth-place Tigers were the club that kept the Orioles from catching Milwaukee and completing a story-book comeback.
With their 11-1 and 10-5 victories last week in Baltimore, and their three homers tonight, the Tigers have thrown 30 runs worth of wrenches into the Orioles' gears. Despite this, Anderson can't enjoy any of the victories; not the way he'd like to, anyway.
"I don't like the taste," Anderson said. "I remember what I used to think about those 'spoilers' when I was managin' the (Cincinnati) Reds. And I know Earl (Orioles Manager Earl Weaver) and his team must be thinkin' those things about us now. They ain't nice things. I hope none of my players says they're enjoyin' this, 'cause I'm not."
Anderson was happy that his catcher, Lance Parrish, had hit a record-setting homer in the seventh off Sammy Stewart that turned a 6-5 Baltimore lead into a 7-6 Detroit edge. That poke, Parrish's 31st, set an American League record for homers by a catcher, putting him past Yogi Berra and Gus Triandos.
Anderson also was pleased that Mike Ivie and John Wockenfuss had hit bases-empty homers off ineffective Orioles starter Scott McGregor. He was satisfied that Tom Brookens had iced the Tigers' victory with a two-run, two-out double in the eighth off loser Stewart.
The Tigers' manager even was grateful for a lucky break and a couple of gifts. After all, didn't Rick Dempsey drop a two-strike foul tip just before Chet Lemon singled home two runs in the fourth inning. Didn't a grounder from Detroit's first batter of the game go through Lenn Sakata's legs, and didn't that fellow score. Didn't Stewart, on a bad night for the Throwin' Swannanoan, make a throwing error that led to yet another Tiger run.
Despite all that, Anderson knew what the winners of the baseball world think about the spoilers. And it eats at him.
"Back with the Reds, lousy teams would beat us in September and say, 'We blocked 'em (from clinching).' Man, that made me hot," said Anderson. "Where were those jerks in April-May-June-July when it was on the line and we were sweepin' 'em six in a row. Then, when the pressure is off 'em, they start talkin' about 'blocking' and 'spoiling.'
"The Orioles know we're tryin' to beat 'em, 'cause you always try to win. But I don't want 'em to think we're gettin' no fun out of it. I hope none of my players are out there sayin' how great it is to be a spoiler, 'cause then you'll always be just a spoiler. You'll never win nothin,' " continued Anderson, deep into the double-negative baseballese of which he remains the game's master. "No spoilers don't collect no checks.
"I walk slow, 'cause I don't want them sayin', 'Look at Sparky. He thinks he's doin' something.'
"At least the Orioles are there. They're in the pressure, where you want to be. They still got a chance. They got plenty to be proud about."
Usually, players have a much truer sense of the state of a pennant race than fans. The view of this loss will be that it was tantamount to a death knell. To the Orioles, however, it's not the first loss here that disturbs them but the second--if it comes.
Terry Crowley captured the Baltimore perspective, saying, "It's still in front of us, believe it or not. It doesn't feel that way, but it is. We win the next couple here, then beat 'em (Milwaukee) ourselves."
"Now, we have to win," said Weaver. "If we do that six times (in a row), it's ours. We can still do it without help."
Then Weaver stopped, gave a weary smile, and acknowledged reality: "But I sure would appreciate it . . . We want some help (from Boston). You just wonder if you're ever going to get any."
"We just need to pick up one game in the next two days so we can get it back to two games (behind) and go home with it feasible," said Coach Ray Miller. "This is nothing traumatic. We played a good game tonight, came back twice (from 0-2 to lead 4-2, and from 5-4 to lead 6-5). We just have to win the next two."
If the Orioles had two men to thank for their defeat this night before 7,755 mildly interested spectators, they were Parrish and winning southpaw Dave Rucker, the rookie who beat them in long relief in their last meeting, too.
"Earl's been good to me, said nice things about me," said Parrish. "I respect his opinion. I kinda feel bad about hittin' it against Earl."
Oddly, Parrish's 430-foot blast on a first-pitch slider from Stewart came on a hit-and-run. "The last two times I've hit-and-run, I've hit home runs," said Parrish. "Maybe I should wake up to something. Relax at the plate and not swing so hard."
As for Rucker, who worked 3 1/3 shutout innings this evening after shuting out the Orioles for 6 2/3 frames last Thursday in a very similar game, the whole business was a surprise.
"I'm just trying to earn a job," Rucker said. "I just seem to have their number. I'm sure they'll get me someday, but they'll also remember me, because of when I beat them."
In a general discussion of the Orioles' remaining chances, Rucker laughed and said, "Well, I'm not going to pitch for the next two days."
Said like a true spoiler.