When he was warming up today, said Sammy Stewart, "I was thinking about the seventh game of the World Series."
The Baltimore Orioles, who came into this weekend's series against Milwaukee thinking they had to play four "seventh" games, demolished and demoralized the Brewers, 11-3, today to gain a tie for the lead in the American League East.
On a sparkling autumn afternoon in front of 47,235 roaring fans at Memorial Stadium, they whipped the Brewers for the third straight time this weekend and the fifth straight time since last Saturday night.
Since Thursday night, when they scored four runs in the ninth inning to defeat the Tigers, 6-5, while Boston was beating Milwaukee, the Orioles have come from four games behind the Brewers.
On Friday night, the Orioles swept a doubleheader, 8-3 and 7-1, to cut the Brewers' lead to one game. Baltimore's 18 hits today give the team 46 for the three-game series and a run spread of 26-7.
The victory today came on the wings of Stewart's 5 2/3 innings of shutout relief pitching, and kept Baltimore alive in an astonishing rise-from-the-near-dead finish to the American League East race.
With one game left in the regular season the two teams have identical records, 94-67, the best in the major leagues. "Now it's a tossup," said Jim Dwyer, the Baltimore utility outfielder who today stretched his run of successive times on base to 13, only three short of the major league record.
The season now hinges on Sunday's 3:05 p.m. finale (WJLA-TV-7), pitting 36-year-old pitching ace Jim Palmer (15-4 with 13 wins in his last 14 decisions) against Don Sutton (3-1), who arrived in Milwaukee on Aug. 30 after an illustrious National League career.
Is Sutton, at age 37, the Brewers' best pitcher? "He has to be," said Milwaukee Manager Harvey Kuenn. "They've kicked the hell out of every one of my other pitchers."
Today, the Orioles kicked around George (Doc) Medich, Moose Haas and Dwight Bernard for 18 hits, but it wasn't until Stewart (10-9) came in from the bullpen with the score tied, 3-3, and one out in the fourth inning that Milwaukee was in check.
Starter Scott McGregor was unable to hold an early three-run lead achieved in the first inning. Al Bumbry singled and stole second. Ken Singleton blooped a single just behind second base, Bumbry going to third, and Eddie Murray made it 1-0 with a ground-rule double.
John Lowenstein singled Singleton home and Murray to third, then stole second himself. Trailing, 2-0, before he broke a sweat, the bewildered Medich started his windup for the next batter and simply stopped in middelivery, balking the third run home.
The crowd roared and Milwaukee had its back to the Baltimore wall, a familiar place.
But McGregor gave back two runs in the second inning on two walks and two singles and the Brewers tied it when Ben Oglivie sailed a drive into the right-field seats to lead off the fourth. When McGregor walked Charlie Moore on four pitches one out later, Manager Earl Weaver called for the beefy right-hander from Swannanoa, N.C.
"When I came in I was thinking about total concentration, being aggressive and making everything just right," said Stewart. Throwing fast balls almost exclusively, he came very close to just right. Stewart retired the side in the fourth and gave up just two hits and no walks the rest of the way.
Stewart said he relied on two pitches, his sinking fast ball to left-handers and his rising fast ball to right-handers. "I was throwing from the gut," he said. "I just said, 'One hitter at a time, and don't let it get away from you.' "
The Orioles quickly gave him a comfortable edge as they batted all nine men, knocked out Medich and picked up four runs on four singles and a two-run Milwaukee error in the bottom of the fourth. Rich Dauer and Bumbry had RBI singles, and when Glenn Gulliver executed a sacrifice bunt with men on first and second, Brewer third baseman Paul Molitor booted it and then threw it past first base to the box seats where a fan grabbed it, two more runs scoring.
It was all the Orioles needed, though they batted around again, got six hits and scored four more times in the eighth off reliever Dwight Bernard.
Stewart "closed the door long enough for us to get our feet on the ground," said Weaver, for whom this amazing Oriole resurgence has special meaning, since the end of this season also marks the end of his 14 years of managing here. He is retiring.
"Stewart's the guy that makes Sunday's game mean anything," said Weaver. "I didn't know how long he'd be able to go and I was amazed, because once he was four runs ahead he went right after them. No messin' around."
Now it all rests with Palmer, with whom Weaver has feuded for his entire big-league managing career, and with Sutton, who has never pitched in Baltimore in his life.
"It's the two best teams in baseball going at it," said Oriole catcher Joe Nolan, "with their two best pitchers. Jim's been our most consistent pitcher all year and Sutton's been there many times before (with the Los Angeles Dodgers). It ought to be a low-scoring game."
That's not what Palmer's hoping for. His teammates ribbed him in the clubhouse tonight, telling him they might get three runs for him.
Palmer took umbrage, citing a familiar litany of sorenesses and self-doubt.
"After all the tough games we've had, who knows how you're going to do?" said Palmer when asked how he felt. "My arm doesn't feel well now. With the back injury (chronic soreness), it puts pressure on the arm. I really hope the club plays well and I can just keep them in the game.
"That's really all you can hope to do with a club like Milwaukee."
Palmer said the Brewers have no reason to be nervous after their three-game fold-up. "They came in with one game to win. It's no different if they win it yesterday or tomorrow. Unless we get 7 or 8 or 11 runs, like we have the last two days, it's going to be a tough game."
"The Orioles are an aggressive, good-hitting ballclub," Sutton said, understating the last three games, "but when you play a game like this (Sunday's), you throw out the other 161. It's Palmer's complaining that worries me. The last time he did that he pitched a one-hitter."
Sutton said he'll prepare for the showdown by mixing up a witches' brew of orange juice and raw eggs in a blender for breakfast. "When you drink that it either makes you so strong you're unbeatable or so sick you don't care," he said.
As he spoke, Ned Yost, the reserve catcher who provided the last bit of Brewer good news with a ninth-inning game-winning homer Wednesday in Boston, sat in front of his locker singing a pop song.
"Ain't no stopping us now," sang Yost.