After a while, as the bad luck and the bad performances mount, as the defeats and the embarrassments pile up, a ballplayer gradually seems to develop an aura of defeat that surrounds and almost overpowers him.
He becomes a walking hex.
That's how it is now for Tim Stoddard. Look at him and you see defeat.
Once, not so long ago, the 6-foot-7, 250-pound Baltimore Oriole looked like he might be baseball's next great relief pitcher--a poor man's Goose Gossage.
After games such as the one he lost to New York and Gossage, 4-3, in the 11th inning in Yankee Stadium tonight, Stoddard just looks like the game's biggest lost soul. He's got a monkey on his back that could lick King Kong two out of three falls.
Stoddard's name is Big Foot. This evening, before 27,154 howling and delighted Yankees fans, Stoddard's big foot led him to yet another galling, inexplicable defeat as the Orioles and Yankees began a four-game series.
With one out in the 11th, Don Baylor hit a sharp grounder through the box. Many a pitcher would have known in a twinkling that, because of a defensive shift, the Orioles had Lenn Sakata behind second. "I had an easy play," Sakata said later. All Stoddard had to do was nothing. Instead, Stoddard couldn't get his big foot out of the way. The ball ricocheted off his right ankle and into foul territory behind third base for a scratch hit.
"Timmy's got big feet," said Sakata. "It's hard to miss 'em."
Then, with two outs, Stoddard found another way to beat himself. With Butch Wynegar at bat, Stoddard ran the count to 3-2, which allowed Baylor a running jump from first. Those extra steps helped win the game as Wynegar lined a double into the right-field corner. Baylor beat Sakata's off-line relay throw by a yard or two.
"Tim missing with that 2-2 pitch is what beat him," said Jim Palmer to rookie Dan Morogiello, turning the game into a teaching lesson. "That's why you never want to go to 3-2 when it lets the runner loose at first."
In 1979, Stoddard's ERA was 1.71 and he pitched in four World Series games. The next year, he saved 26 games and won five; no Orioles reliever ever had a better season. Now, his ERA is 5.14 and he has one save. Last time he was in New York, last September, Stoddard took a misstep in a New York restaurant, disabled himself for the rest of the season and may well have cost the Orioles a Series visit. You can't get any more snakebitten than that.
"It's not like he's green at his job," said Manager Joe Altobelli. "He's got some age on him (30 years). He's got to be able to get himself out of it."
Stoddard, who looked like a human furnace that was about to explode after the game, isn't talking to the press these days, but he's on record as thinking that Altobelli doesn't have confidence in him and doesn't use him enough. That, of course, is a two-way street. Stoddard hasn't earned much confidence.
"You're not going to win a pennant with just one guy in the bullpen," Palmer said. "It's easy to use Tippy in every big spot because he's going well. But in the long run, you need them both and if Stoddard doesn't get the work, he won't be effective."
Even with Stoddard's bad breaks and snafus, this game might still be in doubt if Sakata had made an on-target relay. "Any good throw gets Baylor," said catcher Rick Dempsey. "(Gary) Roenicke played it well off the wall, but Lenny just rushed himself and made a bad throw. We still almost had him."
The Yankees played a solid, tenacious game this evening, especially shortstop Andre Robertson, who made four excellent plays, but they did not win so much as the Orioles lost. Two barbarous outfielding mistakes, by a pair of notorious defensive felons, Al Bumbry and Benny (Death to Flying Things) Ayala, led directly to two unearned runs.
Where it not for those grievous mistakes, the Baltimores would have won this game, 3-1, in regulation time. And they would still be in first place instead of falling a half-game behind idle Toronto. Scott McGregor would have had a victory, Tippy Martinez a save because of Sakata's bases-empty homer and Eddie Murray's RBI bloop double. Ken Singleton would have talked about getting a walk, single, double and home run off Shane Rawley, all batting right-handed.
Instead, the Orioles were second-guessing themselves. In the sixth, Ayala ran in for a routine fly by Bert Campaneris; the ball beat Ayala about the upper extremities until it fell softly to the turf. Two-base error. Campaneris later scored. Why was Ayala allowed to play the outfield? And not only the outfield, but right-field?
"You can't hide Benny for nine innings," said Palmer.
Twice, Ayala also failed to advance a man from second to third with nobody out; once he grounding to third on a 3-0 pitch.
For years, Bumbry was a comic left fielder. Moving to center field, where he became a force for order, may have restored his defensive sanity. This evening, Bumbry was inserted in left for "defensive purposes." The Yankees found him.
With the Orioles leading in the ninth, 3-2, Lou Piniella singled to left off Martinez, who hadn't given the Yankees a run the last 10 times he'd faced them. The ball was barely moving when it reached Bumbry. Piniella had already put on the brakes. Then, somehow, the ball materialized behind Bumbry. Error, left field. Runner in scoring position.
After one out, Steve Kemp slashed a liner to left for an RBI single to tie the game. Aurelio Rodriguez' "dive" toward Kemp's hit resembled a statue toppling in slow motion. This man has lost more than one step.
The Yankees had Gossage on the mound and, sooner or later, Altobelli had to wave for Stoddard. Once, that might have meant a marvelous duel between two giant pitchers. Not anymore. Stoddard used to be a gorilla of a reliever. Now, he looks like the gorilla's got him.