Baltimore's Storm Davis, the American League's youngest player, pitched a no-hitter for eight innings against the Detroit Tigers today.
But Davis' allies--namely 33,973 Memorial Stadium vocal cords, a team defense that gave support par excellence and a possible spot in baseball's no-hit history book--could only watch Tigers pinch hitter Rick Leach lead off the ninth inning with his first home run of the season, to left-center field.
The Orioles won, 3-1, but Davis, emotionally spent, did not retire another batter. After Davis walked the next hitter and then ran the count to 2-0 on Lou Whitaker, Tippy Martinez quelled the budding Detroit rally and saved the two-hitter.
"Everytime I see Leach, he hits a home run off me . . . He could be a millionaire if he faced me all of the time," said Davis, 21.
Before Leach's history-wrecking homer, Davis had allowed only one Detroit base runner. Enos Cabell walked on four pitches in the fourth. Davis struck out eight today and had thrown just 89 pitches entering the ninth.
Eating franks and beans in a quiet clubhouse, Leach--a .248-hitting antihero today, a star University of Michigan quarterback several years ago--said this wasn't exactly his bigggest thrill.
"I think throwing touchdown passes against Ohio State meant more," he said.
Davis' performance improved his season record to 5-3; it snapped the Orioles' three-game losing streak and it guaranteed the Orioles of another day with a piece of first place in the American League East. His effort also might be deciphered in several near-historical ways:
It was nearly Baltimore's first no-hitter in 14 years, since Jim Palmer did it to Oakland back on Aug. 13, 1969. Instead, Davis became the seventh Orioles' pitcher in 30 years to lose a no-hitter in the ninth inning.
It was nearly the American League's first no-hitter since Cleveland's Len Barker pitched a perfect game against Toronto on May 15, 1981.
And, Davis nearly became the second youngest pitcher to throw a no-hitter since 1900. Oakland's Vida Blue was 21 years 55 days old (more than five months younger than Davis) when he accomplished the feat against Minnesota on Sept. 21, 1970.
"I knew they hadn't gotten any hits through six innings. But I didn't look at the scoreboard until the eighth," said Davis, who said he retreated to the clubhouse after each inning, to watch the game on televsion, to sit alone.
With so much emotion swirling about him, why did Davis even bother to look at the zeroes in the eighth?
"I wanted to see what the scoreboard would look like," he said, smiling.
The Orioles constructed a 3-0 lead against starter Jack Morris (8-6). Morris, who gave up 37 home runs last season (second most in the league), yielded a solo homer to Al Bumbry (his third) leading off the first inning and a two-run homer to Cal Ripken Jr. (his team-high 12th) in the fifth.
But this was not so much a day for taking note of Orioles batting. It was a day for marveling at Orioles fielding.
Mixing up fast balls and sliders, Davis retired the first 10 Tigers before Cabell walked. Davis then retired the next 14 hitters. But he had assistance.
In the third, catcher Rick Dempsey barehanded Tom Brookens' bunt toward first, and, leaning inside the foul line, threw him out.
In the sixth, first baseman Eddie Murray stretched toward the line to glove a one-hop smash by Marty Castillo, for an unassisted putout.
But the defensive play of an afternoon made for sunbathing and nail biting came with one out in the eighth inning, just after Larry Herndon had been the second Tiger in three innings to drive the ball to the warning track.
That's when, with one out in the eighth, Glenn Wilson drove a Davis pitch to deepest center field where Bumbry, in rapid retreat, actually overran the ball, turned to face home plate, then reached back across his body, to make a marvelous catch. As Bumbry banged against the fence and fell to the track, the crowd gave him a standing ovation.
"I thought Wilson's hit was gone, or at least off the wall," said Davis.
Then came the ninth. Leach hit a 1-0 fast ball over the 387-foot sign in left center. Pitching Coach Ray Miller, who said Davis' fast ball had dipped from 90 miles per hour in the first inning to 87 in the eighth, went out to console Davis.
Davis then walked pinch hitter John Grubb. After he threw two balls to Whitaker, out came Manager Joe Altobelli.
Consequently, out came Davis, whose battle hymn on his walk to the dugout was loud cheers of "Storm! Storm! Storm!"
"When I went out there, I just said 'Nice going.' He was tired," Altobelli said. "It wasn't the 89 pitches that made him tired, but the mental aspect of a no-hitter."
Martinez then retired Whitaker and gave up a one-out ground single to Cabell, putting runners on first and second. With pinch hitter John Wockenfuss at the plate, the Tigers attempted a double steal. Alan Trammell, pinch running for Grubb, was thrown out at third. Martinez then struck out Wockenfuss, ending the game.