In one of the most amazing, bizarre and spectacular games in this or any baseball season, the Baltimore Orioles defeated the Toronto Blue Jays, 7-4, in the 10th inning in Memorial Stadium this evening before 25,882 witnesses who will tell their grandchildren about the doings in this park on a heroic, comic and altogether unbelievable night.
This classic of improbability and true grit ended when catcher Lenn Sakata--yes, catcher, Sakata--lined a three-run homer into the first row of the bleachers in left, fair by six feet, off Randy Moffitt.
But first, the Orioles had scored two runs after two were out in the ninth to tie, 3-3. They had entered that inning with just two hits off Toronto starter Jim Clancy, but, suddenly, their grounders found eyes.
John Shelby's bunt, Sakata's two-out walk, Bennie Ayala's chop through the middle and, finally, a fluke grounder by Al Bumbry that ticked off the glove of third baseman Garth Iorg for a game-tying RBI single sent this affair into extra innings.
After all their pinch-hit wheeling and dealing, the Orioles were forced to take the field in the 10th with second baseman Sakata, who hadn't put on catching equipment since he was 9, behind the plate. Normal left fielder John Lowenstein was at second base, a position he played briefly for the Cleveland Indians in 1975. Outfielder Gary Roenicke was at third, a spot he never before had inhabited in the majors. Bennie Ayala was put in left field, a position some say he has never played.
All that desperate shuffling seemed moot when Tim Stoddard--relieving Scott McGregor, who'd worked nine innings--watched his first pitch sail over the left field fence, a homer off the bat of Cliff Johnson and a 4-3 Toronto lead.
Then, the divine madness really began.
Barry Bonnell singled and Tippy Martinez came in to pitch.
Martinez picked him off first.
Speedster Dave Collins walked.
Martinez picked him off first.
Willie Upshaw beat out an infield hit to Lowenstein.
With the whole park screaming for Martinez to pick him off, Martinez picked him off.
Martinez had picked off the side. And he'd done it without throwing a pitch to the plate with a runner on base. The Blue Jays were so anxious to steal off Sakata that all three leaned the wrong way and were trapped.
"I know why you threw to first more than you threw to the plate," Lowenstein told him later. "Eddie (Murray) was the only guy in the infield you recognized."
For the bottom of the 10th, the first Oriole batter was Cal Ripken.
The sign in right said, "Happy birthday, Cal. We're glad you drank your milk. Now hit a home run on your birthday."
Ripken hit a home run.
A long, smoking liner of a home run into the Orioles' bullpen on the second pitch from Joey McLaughlin, tying the game, 4-4.
A researcher in the press box announced: "The Toronto Blue Jays have won 12 consecutive extra-inning games. Their last extra-inning defeat was on this date, Aug. 24th, one year ago in the 10th inning. The losing pitcher was McLaughlin." And the game-winning hitter was the Orioles' cacther that night, Joe Nolan.
Murray walked and took second as Lowenstein grounded to first. Shelby was intentionally walked and Moffitt came in to pitch.
Moffitt, tough against right-handed hitters, overpowered Roenicke and struck him out. Up stepped Sakata, the least likely of heros.
Just one night ago, Sakata made his first two errors of the season. "I didn't even want to come to the ballpark tonight," he said later. "Guys say they don't hear the boos, but they do. I do. It's tougher when you don't play much. You carry it with you longer."
Sakata will long remember his last swing of this game. His rising liner hugged the foul line throughout its journey as Sakata stood at the plate giving his best body english to keep the ball fair. "When I was running around the bases," he said, "I was thinking, 'I don't have to catch any more.' "
On Aug. 5, the Orioles got five consecutive hits with two out in the ninth to beat Chicgao. Last Friday, they got four consecutive hits off super reliever Dan Quisenberry, also with two out in the ninth, to beat Kansas City.
"I'll remember all three of those games forever," said Manager Joe Altobelli. "If this isn't what the doctor ordered, I don't know what is. These damn guys never say die. That's okay with me . . . I finally found out how these guys want to play."
Out of position?
"Out of sight," said Altobelli.
"Unbelievable," said Mike Flanagan. "Probably the best game I've ever seen . . . hey, we definitely had 'em confused."
"When I came in to catch, I was tight," said Sakata, "After the first pitch, I was even tighter . . . I didn't want to throw. I didn't want to give away my secret weapon, the one-hop throw to second . . . If one of 'em had stolen, I was gonna call time out . . . The last time I caught was in 1961. I couldn't throw anybody out then, either."
Sakata, the smallest and most modest of all Orioles, beamed in his moment of glory.