The crisp, quick, strategy-packed 1-0 game, full of tension and great defense, is one of the jewels in baseball's crown. When that game is also a showdown between a 44-year-old 309-game winner and a former Cy Young Award winner who is off to his best start in the major leagues, then that game has a special classic quality.
Tonight in Memorial Stadium, two gentlemen of the old school--the Baltimore Orioles' Mike Flanagan and the Seattle Mariners' Gaylord Perry--gave a crowd of 10,208 a glimpse of the art of courageous, savvy pitching as the Orioles moved back into first place, a half-game ahead of Boston.
Perry and Flanagan each allowed seven hits but, in the end, it was Flanagan who had youth and fortune and the glove of his road roommate Rich Dauer on his side. In the final two innings, as the left-hander nursed his slender lead, he needed one scary escape after another to prevail in the first 1-0 game, win or lose, of his major league career.
Now 6-0, he got the victory in his column because of back-to-back, two-out doubles by Dan Ford and Cal Ripken in the fifth inning. The first liner skipped off the fence in left, the other smacked off the barrier in deep right.
"A hit to win a game off Gaylord Perry," said the grinning Ripken, who was born two years after Perry threw his first pitch as a pro, "that's one not to forget."
The triumph made Flanagan, who's won 13 of his 14 decisions since last August, the majors' only undefeated six-game winner. Fluid and efficient, he needed just 92 pitches, walked no one and faced only five men over the minimum as he picked off a runner and got vital double plays in both the eighth and ninth.
Despite all this, the final two Mariner at bats were, in Flanagan's word, "Hairy."
Flanagan, normally a horrible spring pitcher, had his first great moment of crisis in the eighth. Jim Maler singled and was sacrificed to second. Julio Cruz slapped what looked like a game-tying single through the box toward center field, but Flanagan's best friend, Dauer, dove behind second to knock down the ball and keep it in the infield.
"I should have thrown him out," said the delighted Dauer, deadpanned. "I moved a step more toward second just before that pitch because I saw Joe (Manager Altobelli) move Ripken that way at short. I figured I'd take a step, too."
That step saved a lead. Flanagan, who now has won his last 11 decisions in Memorial Stadium, then got leadoff batter Steve Henderson to hit a perfect double-play ball to short to end the inning.
"Sometimes you scare yourself," said Flanagan. "You try to visualize what you want to happen. You say, 'Fast ball on the low outside corner, double-play grounder to short.' And then it actually happens . . . Of course, when you're going bad, you can visualize everything, but it ends up 'fast ball down the middle, double off the wall.' "
In the ninth, Flanagan got lucky twice. Jamie Allen led off with the sickest-looking and most ominous of fluke hits dribbled down the third base line. Seattle Manager Rene Lachemann gambled, as is his style, and let Al Cowens swing away. Cowens' hopper up the middle was another double play ball to Ripken.
"We got the sacrifice down in the eighth, but then we hit into a double play," said Lachemann, whose Mariners have only two successful sacrifice bunts in 32 games. "Then, in the ninth, I went to the Earl Weaver school of two-run dingers, and that got us a double play, too. (If) you guys got any more books for me to read, I'll read 'em."
Lachemann's decision looked doubly bad when Dave Henderson, six for 11 career off Flanagan, hit a double to left-center that would have tied the game.
Flanagan had one more peril to evade. He tried to jam Todd Cruz, a man with 37 strikeouts in 32 games, with a fast ball and almost saw himself fall behind, 2-1. Cruz's long fly landed in the second deck in left, above the Oriole Magic sign--and foul by a yard or two.
"After all these years, I know by the sound whether those'll be a foot foul, hit the foul pole or whatever. You just know," Flanagan said with a shrug. "I knew it would curve foul."
Cruz then grounded out to Dauer.
As a final twist, the Mariners still doubt that the Orioles, who are 17-12 and finished this homestand 5-3, ever should have scored. Ford, on his double, stumbled and fell as he rounded first base and limped-jogged into second, barely beating the throw with a horrid, late slide that could have broken his left leg. He left the game, for a pinch runner, with a bruised right knee not thought to be serious. And the Mariners seriously think Ford never touched first base.
"The umpire said his knee brushed the bag as he fell," said Lachemann, disgusted.
"I ain't got nothin' to say," said the disappointed Perry, who retired the last 10 batters he faced after battling through the first five innings when 11 Orioles reached base but only one scored.
Let it be noted that, after eschewing his mystery pitches since a 10-day suspension last September for doctoring the ball, Perry--his ERA up to 5.77 and his job in jeopardy--seems to be back salivating.
"He was dry when we knocked him out in Seattle 10 days ago, but, my first time up tonight, he loaded up five spitters in a row," said Ken Singleton. "I was impressed. It was pretty flagrant, even for Gaylord."
This week, Flanagan was rummaging through his spectacularly disorderly locker and found a package of pencils, sent by a fan in his Cy Young year of 1979, with the inscription: "Mike Flanagan: Superstar."
Flanagan just laughed, but Ripken started passing out the pencils. Now, they're all over the clubhouse. Tonight, thanks to Ripken's game-winning hit, Flanagan is one victory closer to making those pencils prophetic.