On a miserable, soggy night for baseball, the Baltimore Orioles gave away 40,393 beach towels.
For nine miserable, soggy innings, the Orioles and the Blue Jays played a remarkably taut and tidy game, both teams refusing to throw in the towel, despite ample opportunities to do so. The Orioles won, 3-2, after tying the game at 2 in the eighth.
As the Orioles came to bat in the ninth, the rain and the crowd and the towel waving became more intense. Fans hadn't waited through a 34-minute rain delay for nothing.
The Orioles loaded the bases on singles by Rick Dempsey and Aurelio Rodriguez, which placed runners on first and third, and an intentional walk to Al Bumbry. When relief pitcher Joey McLaughlin went to a full count on pinch hitter John Shelby, 40,393 miserable, soggy towels filled the air.
Shelby fouled back one pitch and waited for the next. The towels waved. McLaughlin wound and threw: ball four. Dempsey crossed the plate with the winning run, McLaughlin stomped off the mound making obscene gestures at home-plate umpire Marty Springstead. It was a miserable way to lose.
"I'm at a loss for words," McLaughlin said. "It may be for the first time in my life but I'm speechless."
"It was real close," Shelby said. "If I took the ones I swung at, I would have walked a long time before."
The Orioles, Blue Jays and Red Sox are now tied for first place in the American League East. "It was a September sort of game," said Ken Singleton, and he didn't just mean the weather. "There was a big crowd, all the ingredients--going for the top spot over the weekend. It's exciting and it's just the beginning."
Dennis Martinez, who has struggled in the absence of Jim Palmer and Mike Flanagan to provide stability to the Orioles' starting rotation, pitched seven innings. He gave up nine hits and two runs before being relieved by winner Tippy Martinez (3-1).
Martinez came into the game with a 3-9 record, a 4.95 ERA and some self-destructive tendencies: making bad pitches at the worst times. He had lost four straight games and eight of his last 10. Several times tonight, when he could have waved the white flag, he didn't: in the first inning, when he walked two and gave up an infield hit; in the fourth, when he gave up consecutive singles with two outs, and again in the seventh, when he stranded two more runners.
The Orioles were leading, 1-0, going into the eighth, thanks to Singleton's double and Gary Roenicke's single in Roenicke's first start of the year against a right-handed pitcher.
It was the first run the Orioles had scored against Blue Jay pitching in 20 innings.
In the eighth, Martinez weakened a bit, walking the leadoff batter, Willie Upshaw. The count went to 2-2 on Jorge Orta and Upshaw went to second with his fifth stolen base of the year, putting catcher Dempsey went into a funk because he was sure Upshaw was out. Orta lined a single to center, scoring Upshaw and tying the game.
Tippy Martinez came on and pitched to pinch hitter Buck Martinez, who struck out trying to bunt. But pinch hitter Barry Bonnell singled and Garth Iorg's double-play ball to short became less than perfect, thanks to the soggy field. The Orioles got only the force at second as Orta went to third.
Martinez went ahead of Jesse Barfield (1-2). Trying to keep the ball low, he bounced a breaking ball off home plate for a wild pitch and the tying run. "It just jumped up," said Orioles Manager Joe Altobelli. "It was a terrible feeling."
But it didn't last. The Orioles tied the game again, at 2-2, on a single by Jim Dwyer, a walk to Cal Ripken Jr. and a single by Eddie Murray, who now resembles Eddie Murray again (after hitting .375 on the road trip).
So they went to the bottom of the ninth tied. Dempsey singled to center, as did Rodriguez. Altobelli said he never considered pinch-hitting for Rodriguez, who was hitting .130. After all, Altobelli said, "He probably won it for us on the first hitter," making a backhanded grab down the third base line of a bid for a double by Damasco Garcia.
McLaughlin walked Bumbry intentionally to load the bases. Shelby was sent up to pinch-hit and swung at a couple of bad pitches. "I don't think he threw a strike," said Ray Miller, the Orioles' pitching coach. "2-0, 3-1 were up here. You can't miss bad two or three times and expect to get the borderline pitch."
So at 3-2, Shelby waited until the last possible second. "I wanted to make sure the last one was close enough to swing at."
It wasn't, at least not in the opinion of Springstead and the Orioles. McLaughlin and Springstead discussed the matter all the way off the mound and up the tunnel. "It's just part of the game," McLaughlin said, dripping sarcasm, the way the fans dripped rain. "It's one of the things that makes baseball the wonderful game it is."