The Baltimore Orioles perfectly combined bad pitching, bad hitting, bad managing and bad luck tonight and were routed, 12-4, by Minnesota as the powerful Twins unloaded five titanic home runs.
It's certainly not time yet to put in a call to the tiny genius who spends his days on the golf courses of Hialeah, Fla., but this fourth consecutive Orioles' defeat was the sort of homely effort that erodes any team's confidence.
"If you put their home runs back to back, you'd have enough yardage to start your own golf course," said Ray Miller, the stunned Baltimore pitching coach, after watching Tom Brunansky and Gary Ward hit two homers apiece and Dave Engle add another.
The Orioles offered no excuses after allowing southpaw Frank Viola to stagger through 151 pitches for the first complete game of the season by any of the Twins' starting pitchers. However, if the Orioles had wanted an excuse, they had a beauty.
This game had a fascinating axis. In the midst of a six-run, three-homer fifth inning by the Twins, with the score still just 3-1 Minnesota and two outs, home plate umpire Dave Phillips lost track of the ball-strike count to John Castino.
Phillips sent Castino to first base with a walk despite the fact that TV replay clearly showed that the count had only reached three balls and two strikes. No one will ever know if reliever Don Welchel would have retired Castino on that full-count pitch to end the inning, but all 16,985 fans here know what the next batter--Ward--accomplished.
After Baltimore Manager Joe Altobelli had protested in vain that Castino should come back and hit, Ward bashed a three-run homer into the Orioles' bullpen to give the Twins a 6-1 lead and blow open this game.
"I've lost counts before," said a contrite Phillips when he learned of the unequivocal evidence against him. "I feel bad about it. I apologize to the kid (Welchel). I hope it never happens again. And if it does, I hope it's in a 12-4 game."
But, as the Orioles noted, it was only 3-1, not 12-4, when Phillips turned this Three Buck Night into Three Ball Night.
The Orioles (23-17) fell to third place, percentage points behind Boston and Toronto, and had enough sins of their own to ponder without judging Phillips.
Four Orioles pitchers worked with equal ineffectiveness.
Storm Davis, heretofore superb, had his first shaky outing of the season, allowing back-to-back homers to Brunansky and Engle in the fifth inning after looking overpowering through four innings of one-hit shutout hurling.
Altobelli admitted afterward that, "I wish now that I might have left him (Davis) in there longer." However, at the time, a brief spell of postgopher ball wildness was enough to make Altobelli wave in Welchel for long relief for the third time in four days. He may not wave in that direction many more times; when Jim Palmer is ready to start a game--which may be as soon as Thursday in Kansas City--somebody has to go back to Rochester and Welchel (0-2, 5.06 ERA) is pitching his way back to AAA.
"I sat down and talked with Welchel (about the problems of being a reliever) in Toronto," said Altobelli, "but talkin' just does so much. Someone tells you their story by what they do between the white lines."
In 13 pitches, Welchel allowed his three-ball walk, a homer, a single and a double. His successor, Dan Morogiello allowed two sixth-inning runs on a bunt, a broken-bat 150-foot double off the chalk and a dribble single through a drawn-in infield. "Morogiello goes out there and gives you his best crank," said Altobelli, leaning toward keeping the mustachioed left-hander.
Tim Stoddard gave up the final four runs in the ninth as Ward and Brunansky did their encores, Brunansky's enormous 460-foot blast to left surpassing the 440-foot monster shot by Roenicke three innings before. "I didn't even look at Brunansky's," said a disgusted Stoddard. "After the inning, I just asked Eddie (Murray), 'Did it go out of the ballpark?' "
Only one ball has ever left Memorial Stadium on the fly, but, on this night when seven homers equaled the one-game record for this park, Brunansky's second blast had a chance before dying perhaps 10 rows from the top.
The Orioles, after being outscored 30-9 in four games, had little to be cheerful about, although a double by Dan Ford in the third broke their embarrassing string of 20 innings without scoring a run.
"I'm highly concerned about the bullpen," Altobelli said. "We need to get people back in their normal roles. It's obviously important to get Palmer back."
Unfortunately, Palmer has run afoul of a chiropractor. "I'd be back pitching right now," said Palmer, "but three weeks ago I went to a chiropractor and he twisted a muscle in my bicep the wrong way and it still hurts when I throw."
Until such night as Palmer returns, the Orioles must look for stopgap measures. As Altobelli said sarcastically to Miller this evening, "Maybe we ought to have a guy on the bench just keepin' the count."