They're all big games. Only some are bigger than others. A victory in April is worth the same as a victory in October. But in April, it's a lark. In April, all is promise. The sun is rising and no worries about the twilight of October, so far away. Comes October with precious time fleeing, April's children are autumn's men and they know how big a game is.
"I don't know about that," said rookie Cal Ripken Jr. when someone suggested the Orioles were a shoo-in after tonight's powerfully convincing doubleheader sweep of the Brewers, who came to town needing one victory in four games and now seem underdogs to win even one of two. "We're halfway there, but it'll still be tough. If we win one more, Milwaukee will feel the pressure."
"There's no celebrating," right fielder Jim Dwyer said after tonight's first game. "Not like we'd won a pennant."
Maybe not. But cool beer danced with the joy of champagne tonight in the Orioles' locker room, while the Brewers' traveling champagne sat in sullen loneliness against the wall. The Orioles won tonight, 8-3 and 7-1. So Milwaukee's celebratory champagne is now three games stale with two games to go.
Two big games, one Saturday, one Sunday.
Someone asked the Orioles' first-game winning pitcher, Dennis Martinez, if he thought Milwaukee might be frightened. "It's like in the (1979) World Series when we were ahead (of Pittsburgh), 3 games to 1. We thought, 'Well, we can win just one more.' That one never came."
In October, a single game speaks in a voice a thousand strong.
"If you win one here," someone said to Robin Yount, the Brewers' shortstop, "who do you expect to play from the West?" This was before the first game. One victory in four seems so easy. But Yount is a pro, a nine -- year veteran hitting .333 on his way to the AL's most valuable player award.
No what-ifs for Yount.
"I'm not thinking about that," Yount said. "I'm concentrating on the game tonight."
No team game is more enthralling than baseball when something is on the line. All those leisurely moments of April -- when a kid pitcher can lose a game and no one cares -- can be moments fraught with suspense in October. Brewers Manager Harvey Kuenn, chose to use a kid pitcher, Chuck Porter, in a game-turning situation. Terry Crowley's sixth-inning pinch hit turned the first game Baltimore's way for good.
In the second game, Baltimore's kid pitcher, Storm Davis, stopped the mighty Brewers on six hits.
"Before the game, I went to my locker, got my Bible out and prayed a lot," said Davis, who won't be 21 until the day after Christmas.
Earl Weaver in 14 years has shepherded the Orioles through 500 games as important as tonight's. Every decision tonight worked. In the first game, two pinch-hitters delivered and reliever Tippy Martinez was invulnerable. A lesser manager might have yanked Davis after three straight walks in his second inning. Weaver said, "Relax and throw your fast ball."
An hour before the first game, Weaver tilted back in his office swivel chair. It might have been April, he was so serene. October showed only in the lines of his face.
"You lie there and you get a million thoughts," Weaver said when someone asked him how he slept the short night after Baltimore won at Detroit 17 hours earlier. "I didn't get any sleep."
Well, maybe a little. "But if I woke up, the thought's right there and I can't go back to sleep."
A big game was coming. Four of them. He thought about baseball.
Somene began a question, "If you sweep both games tonight, that'd put you one game back and you'd have momentum . . . "
October arrived in Weaver's voice, which rose in volume and pitch as he said (not verbatim), "Golly-gee for momentum. There's only one game that means anything, and it's the first one tonight."
Truth is a house pet Weaver keeps on an elastic leash, letting the leash play out for fun. It's one game at a time, the manager said. But suddenly he said, "We win four here and then we're off to California or Kansas City."
Now he bubbled. "Kansas City -- we're going to bounce balls off that AstroTurf. And maybe for once the golly-gee wind will be blowing out instead of in."
The Orioles needed no such help tonight.
In the second inning, catcher Joe Nolan accounted for two Baltimore runs with a little thing. He popped up at second base on a force play instead of staying in the dirt on a slide, forcing a bad throw that let two runs score for a 3-1 lead. "I knew it would be close," Nolan said of the second baseman's throw coming at him. How close? "I was waiting for the ball to hit me."
In April, they duck. In October, they wait for the ball to hit them in the face.
Kuenn came to a press conference after the second game. He stepped behind a lectern bathed in TV lights.
"Damn," he said, putting his hands on the lectern. "The trial begins."
He said he told his team to relax and have a good time Saturday, and so someone asked if that were possible now. "Why not?" Kuenn snapped. "We're still one game up."
This October trial resumes Saturday afternoon.