To win a pennant, miracles are necessary, not optional. In baseball, magic is neither a luxury item nor a frill. It's basic.
If a team intends to go to a World Series, or win one, somewhere along the way it must acquire the illogical and marvelous notion that it possesses a sword of power, a ring that kills dragons, an incantation that slays monsters.
That's why the Baltimore Orioles are so dangerous now.
For the second night in a row, they beat the Toronto Blue Jays--this time 2-1 on Dan Ford's two-run double--with a comeback in the 10th inning of a game that, if it were played in a World Series, would stand the nation on its sporting ear.
For the second night in a row, the Blue Jays took the lead in the 10th on a home run into the Orioles' bullpen. This time it was Barry Bonnell who punctured a scoreless tie with a two-out solo liner that hit the top of the eight-foot high fence and skipped amongst the Orioles relievers, who threw gloves at the ball in disgust. Surely some malicious Orioles elf must reside beyond that fence, a sprite whose ire is raised by a home run from the visitors' bats.
Again this evening, with 40,273 souls bellowing (28,615 paid), the Orioles roared back when they seemed painfully beaten. After Bonnell's homer off Tippy Martinez, the Blue Jays removed their tired hurling star, right-hander Dave Stieb, who'd needed 126 blistering pitches to work nine shutout innings of four-hit ball.
Stieb had needed every iota of his All-Star greatness to match the AL's youngest player, Storm Davis, who allowed two hits in his eight innings. Surely, thought Manager Bob Cox as he phoned his bullpen, these dastardly Orioles had no more dirty tricks left. Oh, sure, they'd scored two in the ninth with two out to tie Wednesday's game at 3-3, then they'd won in the 10th, 7-4. But they couldn't do such a thing again.
Seeing the last of Stieb was like brandy to the frozen. Reliever Roy Lee Jackson, despite his 8-1 record, threw like a little girl by comparison. Leadoff man Jim Dwyer, after missing a home run foul, popped out, but Joe Nolan singled to right and Al Bumbry singled to center. The crowd went into its Concorde imitation.
That's when this evening's masterpiece joined Wednesday night's jewel in many a private gallery of special memories. Any devoted fan sees a half-dozen games a season that powerfully reinforce his conviction that baseball is one of the bad old world's basic pleasures. But two in a row?
Ford arched a solid, but hardly powerful fly ball to right-center field. Had the Blue Jays been shading him properly--toward right--center fielder Lloyd Moseby would have made a cruising catch. But Moseby was a couple of steps toward left.
Moseby, a .323 hitter and one of the game's coming stars, fled across the greensward. A great catch, a catch to make all Ontario cheer, was on his fingertips. Even if he missed, Bonnell had the play backed up. Nolan might score the tying run, but Bumbry, waiting between bases, would probably have to hold up at second.
Game of inches?
Try game of fractions of inches.
Just as Bonnell's homer wouldn't have cleared the fence had it been a half-inch lower, so Ford's hanging-forever fly was the perfect distance--for disaster. The ball clung, ice cream-cone style, on the tip of Moseby's glove for an instant, then rolled away. That tiny deflection decided the game. Instead of rolling to Bonnell, the ball trickled behind him.
Bumbry flew. It's what he does best. Moseby, overanxious, plucked at the rolling ball and dropped it, losing any hope of a play. When Nolan scored, Bumbry was just a stride or three behind.
On Wednesday, with two out in the ninth, Bumbry had hit what could have been a game-ending grounder, but the ball ticked off Garth Iorg's glove, changed direction, and rolled behind Alfredo Griffin, who was backing up the play. That deflection let the tying run score.
"What excitement; what a great win. I can't stop thinkin' about it," said Martinez who, like many players, is reduced to complete giddy banality by the best of games. "We're loose, but we're also alive."
"The first game I ever saw in this park was in 1974 when I was a minor league pitching coach," said Coach Ray Miller. "It was Gaylord Perry against Jim Palmer, both of 'em in their prime. I got goose bumps. Neither one would make one bad pitch. If somebody got on base, they got so mean looking you felt like the hitters were the ones in trouble.
"That's how Davis and Stieb looked tonight. Two great pitchers who just aren't gonna get beat. You admire them so much you're almost glad that neither one gave up a run and neither one lost."
When a team begins to win games in a fashion so exciting, so far in excess of the normal parameters of the sport, that thousands leave the ballpark with stunned smiles on their faces, then a club begins to believe that it can't be beaten. That's the point the Orioles are approaching. Within 21 days they have: gotten five straight hits with two out in the ninth to win; gotten four straight hits with two out in the ninth to win; and now these two rascals.
Baltimore has 29 come-from-behind victories and a 27-10 record in games decided after the seventh inning. And the team the Orioles trail by half a game--defending champ Milwaukee--is doing the same stuff. On Wednesday, the Brewers won, 1-0, in 14 innings.
Manager Joe Altobelli has a blue-collar explanation for victories like these. Back in his factory days, he was asked many times to do impossible jobs. For such tasks, you obviously need a magic tool that lets you get 10 pounds into a five-pound bag. Such a heaven-sent, makeshift magic part is called a "blivit."
Asked tonight how his team was managing such incomprehensible victories, Altobelli leaned back, puffed on his cigar and said, "Blivits."