Mariners, schmariners, right?
One out, top of the ninth, 2-0 lead, the Baltimore Orioles' most reliable pitcher on the mound against the Seattle Mariners, the worst team in baseball.
This game was practically sealed with a kiss. Except for one thing: the Mariners scored two in the ninth and one in the 10th and defeated the Orioles, 3-2, before 20,791.
Perhaps it wasn't too surprising. In 1982, Seattle was the best late-inning team in the American League, winning 15 games in which it was behind after seven innings. It also led the league in one-run victories with 31. The Mariners were behind 80 times after eight innings in 1982 and still won 74 games.
Tonight, it was with a 10th-inning single by Rick Sweet that sliced under first baseman Eddie Murray's glove and scored Jamie Allen from second.
It was Seattle's second straight win in Baltimore and its second extra-inning victory in 1983. For the Orioles, it was their third straight loss and sixth in eight games. The Orioles, who had been in first place in the AL East until recently, are three games behind the division-leading Toronto Blue Jays.
A solemn Joe Altobelli puffed on a cigar and then sipped from a soft drink. "I was very upset (before)," the Orioles' manager said. "This was not an easy loss.
"I saw a home stand that could have gotten us healthy." Altobelli puffed softly. "Dang it. Two outs, 2-0 lead . . . "
Altobelli began to describe the scenario. Starter Scott McGregor, the Orioles' most reliable pitcher this year, looking down at Al Cowens, a .183 hitter, with two outs and Spike Owens on first.
Cowens blooped a double down the right field line, the ball caroming wildly off the curl, away from rookie Mike Young. Owens scored to cut the lead to 2-1. Still, a victory seemed inevitable.
"I was tired at that point," said McGregor. "I told him that after the eighth."
Altobelli, in any other situation, would have brought in All-Star reliever Tippy Martinez. But Martinez underwent an emergency appendectomy at 7:30 this morning. Another brick in the Orioles' pitching wall.
Tim Stoddard, with a 6.10 ERA, was the choice of Altobelli. Stoddard pitched creditably. It took a checked-swing single by Steve Henderson to score Cowens.
"To be fair, Stoddard's 2-2 pitch was close. Can't fault a guy who gives up a checked-swing single," said Altobelli.
But the Mariners pulled out another one because Chuck Cottier, the interim manager, used a guy who hadn't had a hit since June 14--a lucky, plucky move.
Allen opened the 10th with a wicked hopper that glanced off shortstop Cal Ripken Jr.'s shoulder and into center. Altobelli had Sammy Stewart (2-3) on the mound now.
Allen looked at two pitches go by Dave Henderson and then he stole. Yes, a 6-foot, 205-pounder stole second. It seems that no one was ready.
Cottier had flashed him the steal sign. "I have to get a good jump to steal second," Allen said. "I felt I did. Who's expecting me to steal? Everybody looks at my size and says, 'He can't run.' "
Cottier's wasn't quite finished yet. He brought up Sweet, who had been zero for 21, to pinch-hit for catcher Orlando Mercado.
"I was pumped," said Sweet, who had called his pregnant wife Molly earlier today and said, "I'm going to get one for the baby."
He laughed. "Of course I say that all the time. Oh man, it had been a dry spell."
Cottier called in Sweet from the bullpen. Sweet thought about the situation and sent a single just under Murray's glove on the first pitch, a ball that was low and over the plate.
Sweet added something extra in the bottom of the inning for Mariners' reliever Bill Caudill (2-5). "Sweet pumped me up so much back there, that I had to step off the mound and take a deep breath," Caudill said.
Caudill gave up a bunt single to pinch hitter John Shelby to open the 10th. "It was a perfect bunt," Caudill said. "We had our infield cut a certain way. You couldn't have rolled the ball any better."
But Caudill struck out pinch hitter Jim Dwyer. Shelby stole second. The crowd rose to its feet.
Caudill got Al Bumbry to punch a looper into left that was caught. "I just didn't want him to pull the ball," Caudill said. "I wanted to give (left fielder) Ricky Nelson a chance to the ball."
Caudill then struck out Young, and Sweet raced out to the mound and gave high-fives everywhere.
The Orioles had taken a 2-0 lead in the seventh on Ken Singleton's 10th home run of the year. In the sixth, Bumbry singled off starter Glenn Abbott, was sacrificed to second and scored on Ripken's single.
McGregor, who threw 115 pitches, was sanguine about the loss. "Yogi Berra. It ain't over . . . "
The Mariners could only agree.