The champagne was iced, ready for pouring over the heads of happy Milwaukee Brewers if they claimed their first American League East Division crown tonight.
But, following Murphy's law in this city of Irishmen, what could go wrong, did. First, the Brewers were routed by the Red Sox. Then they waited in astonished silence as the Baltimore Orioles scored four runs in the ninth inning to beat Detroit by a run.
What this combination means is that instead of slurping fine wine tonight, the Brewers were boarding a late plane to Baltimore, with the knowledge they must win one game in the next four to claim the feather that would cap their season.
The Red Sox feasted in their final home game of the year, getting 16 hits off six pitchers for a 9-4 victory before 21,268. The Orioles' 6-5 victory minutes later lifted them to three games behind the Brewers.
It's a far cry from what the Brewers had in mind. With a win by the Brewers and a loss by the Orioles, the title would have been in Milwaukee's pocket and the Baltimore series would have been meaningless.
Thus, if there is such a thing as momentum in the slow-paced game of baseball, it rests now with the Orioles on the strength of their stunning comeback. And if there is such a thing as gloom, it rests with the Brewers, who rallied late in the game tonight for four runs of their own on two homers to get within 7-4, then gave up a two-run homer to 40-year-old Tony Perez in the eighth.
The Baltimore game was still undecided as the Brewers dressed in their clubhouse. The final score was met with blank silence.
Second baseman Jim Gantner answered questions. "What we were hoping for before we came here was to to win one or two out of the three (in Boston) and go into Baltimore three games ahead," he said. "That's where we are.
"All we have to do is win one and we're in. If we can't do that, then we don't deserve it."
Said center fielder Gorman Thomas, "I don't know what the odds would be (on Baltimore's winning four straight), but I know which way I'd bet."
Only Charlie Moore was touchy. Asked if the Brewers preferred winning it outright from the Orioles, rather than "backing in," he grumped, "How can you call it backing in when we have the best record in baseball?"
If tonight's game will have any effect on the weekend games, which begin with a doubleheader Friday, it will result from the parade of pitchers Brewers Manager Harvey Kuenn sent to the mound.
He had left his options open for Saturday in Baltimore, after planning to use aces Pete Vuckovich and Mike Caldwell in the doubleheader. His options Saturday were Moose Haas, Bob McClure or Doc Medich. He used McClure and Haas tonight, so "it'll probably be Medich," Kuenn said. Don Sutton would go Sunday.
Of the other relievers used tonight after starter Jim Slaton was knocked out in the fourth, Kuenn said, "They'll all be ready to pitch tomorrow (Friday)." That includes, in addition to Haas and McClure, Jamie Easterly, Peter Ladd and Dwight Bernard. But ace reliever Rollie Fingers, who has a torn muscle in his arm and hasn't pitched since Sept. 16, probably will not be available. He has not thrown on the sidelines for two days, citing tightness in the arm.
Slaton had little to show the Red Sox tonight, yielding eight hits in 3 1/3 innings. By the end of the fourth it was 4-0, and after Haas gave up four more hits in the sixth it was 6-0. A homer by Dwight Evans off Ladd made it 7-0 in the seventh.
The Brewers rallied with two-run homers by Paul Molitor and Cecil Cooper in the eighth, finally getting to starter Dennis Eckersley after he checked them handily through the first seven innings.
But in the eighth, Perez pinch-hit the final two-run homer off McClure and the Brewers were too far back.
Kuenn said the Orioles' rally didn't mean much, once the Brewers' loss was official. "Even if they lost in Detroit, we'd still have to win one game in Baltimore to take it. So nothing's changed."
True enough. Except, perhaps, for the tide.