The Baltimore Orioles didn't have to search for the proper analogy as they gazed across the Memorial Stadium field tonight at a Milwaukee Brewers team that seemed to grow tighter by the inning.
The Orioles needed only to think of themselves in the final three disastrous games of the 1979 World Series to understand what the Brewers endured. They lost a doubleheader of potentially enormous importance to Baltimore, 8-3 and 7-1, this evening before the second-largest crowd in Oriole history -- 51,883.
Perhaps nothing in baseball is so fascinating, so morbidly riveting as watching an excellent team caught in the riptide of events. After this evening, during which Baltimore finished with 28 hits, the Brewers find themselves being pulled further from the safety of shore. For 5 1/2 hours, the Brewers had to endure a public pillorying as the crowd began its roar early and never once had reason to stop.
On Thursday, Milwaukee led the Orioles by four games in the American League East with five to play. Now, in a span of just over 24 hours, they have seen three games of that lead disappear. Hard as it is to believe, the Orioles trail Milwaukee by just one game with two to play. If the Orioles win Saturday and Sunday, they will be the AL East champions.
The Brewers won't soon forget this demoralizing night when they seemed more like spectators than participants. But for back-to-back homers by Ted Simmons and Ben Oglivie in the opener, the Brew Crew was absent all night. The Brewers arrived to sip champagne and, before midnight, left the park with a severe Oriole extra-base hangover: seven doubles, a triple, five homers and a total of 52 Baltimore bases.
"Every break went our way, every close call, every ball in a gap," said Baltimore's Mike Flanagan, being honest.
Wherever the Brewers looked, there was an Oriole -- especially Rich Dauer and Cal Ripken -- making marvelous defensive plays on ground balls marked "RBI hit." If the Orioles weren't leaping in front of liners or running down drives in the outfield, then some rookie was doing something utterly outlandish. Storm Davis, all of 20, pitched the first complete game of his big league career, a six-hitter, and John (T-Bone) Shelby hit his first major league homer in the second game. The marvelous Ripken, who seems determined to show that he is already almost as good a player as Robin Yount, iced the second game with a two-run homer.
While the Orioles were demolishing the Brewers' two biggest winners -- Pete Vuckovich (18-6) and Mike Caldwell (17-13) -- the Orioles were getting gritty victories from their starters -- Dennis Martinez (16-12) and Davis. Each had a different form of adversity.
Martinez allowed 11 hits in 6 1/3 innings, but didn't walk anyone. He gave a secure 7-3 lead to Tippy Martinez, who retired eight of the nine men he faced, including a game-ending strikeout.
Davis, who had stunning raw stuff and allowed only one hit beyond the infield in the first six innings, battled the final six innings after reinjuring a groin muscle pull from midseason.
After a between-innings leg taping, Davis went almost exclusively to his fast ball. Except for the second inning, when he walked the bases full after two were out before striking out Jim Gantner, Davis pitched that rarest of games -- an almost trouble-free effort against the Brewers.
Anyone watching this doubleheader might have been under the severe misimpression that the Orioles were, by a wide margin, the superior club.
In the opener, Ken Singleton homered into the right field bleachers off Vuckovich, and the Orioles had six extra-base hits among their 15 hits. In the second game, four Orioles went deep against Caldwell: Eddie Murray (No. 32, one on in the first), Lenn Sakata, Shelby and Ripken. On the night, Dauer had five hits and Jim Dwyer ran his streak to nine consecutive times on base with three singles in the opener.
At this juncture, the Orioles have won eight of 11 games from the Brewers with one tie. In those games, Baltimore has hit .313 against the Milwaukee staff while outscoring Harvey's Wallbangers, 72-51, with a 21-11 edge in homers.
Equally bad news for the Brewers was the way the Orioles reacted to their inspirational wins: they didn't react at all. "We have to guard against overcheering," said Flanagan. "We're a low-key ballclub and that's how we're playing."
"We're just concentrating on one pitch, one play, one inning at a time," said Dwyer.
That, of course, is exactly how baseball is supposed to be played. And it's exactly how the game isn't played by worried teams that try to do too much at once, as the Brewers may be in danger of doing after losing four consecutive games to Baltimore in the last week.
No club could understand that almost helpless feeling better than the Orioles, who turned to stone after leading the Pittsburgh Pirates, three games to one, in that '79 Series.
"Everybody goes around saying, 'We only need to win one out of three,' or 'One out of two,' instead of saying, 'Let's win this one today,' " said Oriole coach Ray Miller. "Suddenly, you're down to that last day. Your chances are only 50-50, and it can jump up at you real fast."
"It may be a valid comparison," said Flanagan. "Can't tell yet."
"I feel like I'm on a life-support system," said Baltimore owner Edward Bennett Williams. "You know the odds on us winning four in a row? 16-to-1."
After this evening's work, those odds are down to 4-1. Fittingly, the Brewers' starters on Saturday and Sunday will be their two late-season, million-dollar-plus acquisitions -- Doc Medich, then Don Sutton. The Orioles will counter with Scott McGregor, whose arm is healthy but whose control is missing, and, on Sunday, Jim Palmer, perhaps the hottest pitcher in baseball.
"I smoked a lot of cigarettes," said Manager Earl Weaver, who shouldn't have, since his team took quick four-run leads in both games.
"Just a day ago," said Weaver, "it looked like all those people who bought tickets for Saturday might be stuck with somethin' worthless.
"Now maybe those tickets look like a bargain."