Dan Ford broke up a no-hitter and won a ball game with one home run swing in the bottom of the eighth inning tonight.
When Ford stepped to the plate for the Baltimore Orioles with one out and nobody on base in the eighth inning of a scoreless game, Rich Dotson of the Chicago White Sox was just five outs away from pitching the first no-hitter by a visiting pitcher in the 30 years of Memorial Stadium.
After Dotson's first pitch to Ford, a high hard one at the letters, the crowd of 12,582 was on its feet, cheering what would be a 1-0 victory.
For the Orioles, Ford's slicing liner, which tucked itself into the bleachers in the right-field corner, fair by 10 feet and perhaps six rows into the seats, was a thing of superb beauty.
The Orioles, winners of seven of their last eight games, needed just such an inspirational, heart-pounding, late-inning victory to counteract the grim news earlier in the day that pitcher Mike Flanagan will be on the disabled list eight to 10 weeks.
"It was a bigger surprise to me than anyone else. I didn't think I hit it that well," said Ford, now batting .346 and performing game-deciding heroics almost daily. "I just threw the bat at it. I thought it might be off the wall, so I was digging hard. There wasn't time for a home run trot. All of a sudden I just thought, 'That's a game winner.'
"I've never done anything like this. This has to be my most exciting home run," said Ford, who helped the Orioles to a three-game sweep of the White Sox with a game-winning hit Tuesday. "This is one of the highlight days. You wonder about all this. Is it going to stop, or last all year? I hope it keeps up a little longer . . . After the way I played last year, I just want to change a few minds."
For the White Sox, who have lost eight of nine and are 13-20 after preseason dreams of a pennant, the baseball world can't look more bleak. Dotson got the first one-hitter of his career, and a defeat. "He threw the ball past Ford," said disgusted catcher Carlton Fisk. "That ball's an out in Comiskey Park, and in most parks it's not even a deep fly. How far did it go, 315 feet? . . . Right now, we're not very competitive. The harder we try, the worse we get."
"I could care less if I give up 20 hits as long as we win the ball game," said Dotson, who walked seven. "I wanted the no-hitter and the win, but I wanted the win first."
Maybe, in the long run, the strain of trying to overcome injuries will wear down and exhaust the Orioles. Perhaps another week or two of trying to improvise without Jim Palmer, plus at least two months of doing without Flanagan, plus whatever other misfortunes lie ahead, will grind down the dreams of a World Series this year.
Nonetheless, at this moment, after winning 13 of their last 18 games to reach 22-13, the Orioles look more like a team in the midst of one of their trademark streaks than a struggling club.
Tippy Martinez, who worked out of a first-and-third, one-out jam in the top of the eighth--thanks to a brilliant, diving catch of a two-out liner by third baseman Leo Hernandez--got the victory for his five outs of work. Storm Davis worked the first 7 1/3 innings, allowing just three hits and one intentional walk, as the White Sox left Baltimore with a string of 24 scoreless innings. Davis, who has been consistently brilliant this season, lowered his ERA to 1.84.
This dramatic contest had as clearly marked a turning point as any baseball game ever will. It came not in the bottom of the eighth but two batters earlier, on the last out of the top of the eighth.
That's when the Orioles made a miraculous stand to prevent the White Sox from scoring.
Fisk opened the inning with a hard, but playable, grounder directly at Hernandez, who made every known mistake--backing up, then flinching--as the ball darted between his ankles for a two-base error.
After a sacrifice bunt and an intentional walk, Manager Joe Altobelli made a gutty, controversial move, relieving Davis with Martinez.
"Tippy saved me again," Altobelli said with a grin.
Chicago Manager Tony LaRussa pinch-hit Ron Kittle, second in the AL with 27 RBI, for rookie Greg Walker. Martinez fanned the young slugger on three fine curve balls. Next, Rusty Kuntz smashed a full-count, hanging curve ball between third and short for what seemed a certain hit. Suddenly, who materialized, diving left, but Hernandez? Fully extended, he snagged the ball to end the inning and atone for his error.
Some of the adrenaline supplied by that catch was in Dan Ford's bat a few minutes later.