Baseball, at its best, conveys a sense of inevitability, that what did happen ought to have happened.
Today, it did, as the Baltimore Orioles beat the Kansas City Royals, 6-1.
It was the Orioles' seventh victory in their last eight games and it left their fans with that sweet, sure feeling that it could not have been improved on if it had been choreographed instead of played.
When George Brett stepped to the plate to face Tippy Martinez with two out in the eighth inning and men on second and third and the Orioles leading, 3-1, it seemed that the whole afternoon had been pointing to this moment.
"I knew it would come down to him and Brett," said Ray Miller, the Orioles' pitching coach. "You can't walk him. After the first out, everyone's yelling and and cheering and after the second out, everyone's yelling and cheering. I knew it would boil down to that. And then it boils down to one pitch. A real classic, a nail-biter."
Mike Boddicker, the rookie who was not expected to be in the rotation, or to be 8-1 at Memorial Stadium or 10-6 overall, had given up only two hits when Martinez relieved him in the eighth. An anguishing leadoff walk to Leon Roberts brought Manager Joe Altobelli to the mound. But he left Boddicker in to face John Wathan.
On the first pitch, Wathan poked a double over Eddie Murray's head at first. You couldn't call it a double to right because it never got that far. Surely, if Murray had not been holding the runner on, he would have had it. "(Catcher Rick) Dempsey was yelling at him saying, 'How can you hit a ball like that?' " Boddicker said. "He hit it like a pool cue."
It was the cue for Martinez, who has allowed only one earned run in his last 13 appearances. U.L. Washington, the first batter he faced, flied to right. Pinch hitter Don Slaught bounced to third and Brett stepped to the plate.
Dempsey looked over to Altobelli as if to ask, first base is open, what do you want to do? No one wants to pitch to the man who leads the league with a .605 slugging percentage. But no one wants to put the winning run on base, either.
Brett saw one, two, three, four, five, six breaking balls, fouling off the best of them. The count went from 0-2 to 2-2. "He was going to hit a breaking ball if he was going to get a hit," Martinez said.
A fast ball low and outside made it 3-2 and set Brett up for Martinez's next pitch, his best breaking ball. "I thought, 'If he goes for it, fine,' " Martinez said.
The runners took their leads. Everyone else held his breath. And Brett swung through a curve ball that broke at his shoelaces. "All the times I've faced him, I've done pretty well," Martinez said. "But I wouldn't like to earn my living for a career that way."
It was in a sense the complete baseball game. It had a little of everything.
Power: Gary Roenicke's 15th home run of the year, his 12th lifetime against Kansas City. He hit it off losing pitcher Larry Gura in the second inning (using Lenn Sakata's bat) and gave the Orioles an early one-run lead. Ken Singleton's 15th home run, an opposite-field shot 400 feet into the wind, in the eighth relieved whatever anxiety was left about the outcome.
Comedy: The Orioles scored what proved to be the winning run in the fourth, thanks in large measure to Willie Aikens, the Royals first baseman, who made the play (or nonplay) of the game. Dan Ford led off with a single to left, and was apparently picked off first base but Aikens refused to throw to second. Ford was given credit for a stolen base. Ford scored on Roenicke's single to center, his second RBI of the day.
Aikens fared no better at the plate. With one out in the fourth, and runners at first and third, he lunged for a big, slow curve ball from Boddicker and bounced meekly to Murray charging at first. Murray threw out Brett, who was meekly trying to score. That was bad enough, but then, McRae was picked off second.
The Royals, who not only lost two games Friday but also lost their center fielder, Willie Wilson, who suffered a hand injury, "seem run down," Martinez said. "They're not the Kansas City Royals I know."