These are the nights out of which the tapestry of pennant race lore is woven.
Perhaps no baseball score sents out ripples of significance in September like "1-0." When those numbers clatter across the tickertape wires to cities all over America, they send a shudder of joy, or disgust, down the spines of all the teams that are affected by tht narrow outcome.
Of all games, the 1-0 test of nerves is the best to win, the worst to lose.
For the Baltimore Orioles, this was an evening of narrow escape and deep satisfaction. By the margin of Ken Singleton's opposite-field, ninth-inning home run off Frank Viola, the Orioles managed one of those minimal-art 1-0 triumphs, beating the Minnesota Twins in the Metrodome.
"Wait 'til they read that: 1-0," Singleton said, beaming, after his modest 342-foot fly ball had landed in the short right-field porch to make a winner of Mike Flanagan, the gimpy, gutty southpaw who worked 8-1/3 innings before needing a strong save by Tim Stoddard.
The Orioles now lead Detroit by 3-1/2 games, Milwaukee by 4 and New York by 4-1/2 in the loss column, they lead the Tigers, Brewers and Yankees by five.
"That's just so disheartening to the other teams because they know you had a dozen chances to lose, spots where one pitch could turn the game," said Singleton, after only his fourth right-handed homer and second game-winning RBI of the season, "It feels as bad to them as it feels good to us."
"Seven runs in the first, then one in the ninth to win, 1-0," said Scott. McGregor, referring to the Orioles' last two methods of victory in a streak that has reached 16 victories in 20 games. "We're sending out some tough messages."
Everything about this victory conspired to reinforce the Orioles' sense of blessed fortune. All the customary baseball omens seemed aligned against them this evening.
First, in the seventh, with the bases loaded, John Shelby missed a grandslam homer by a few feet as his inning-ending drive was caught at the wall by stumbling Mickey Hatcher.
Then, in the eighth, Coach Cal Ripken Sr. tried to send Dan Ford home from first base on Gary Roenicke's long single to right-center. Ford was out by five yards on John Castino's merely mediocre, take-my-time peg to the plate.
Finally, with one out in the Twins' ninth, Flanagan, who had retired 11 men in a row, suddenly became overly cautious and walked Kent Hrbek and Dave Engle. The crowd of 7,396 began buzzing, knowing that this Metrodome is a haven for hitters.Until tonight, there hadn't been a 1-0 game in this park's two seasons.
Stoddard, who had thrown only four pitches in 15 days, and has been in disfavor with Manager Joe Altobelli much of the season, got 21-homer man Gary Gaetti to hit a one-hopper right back at the pitcher's more than ample stomach for what might have been an easy double play.
Stoddard got a force at second, but threw up his hands in disgust as he saw Gaetti beat the relay to first.
"Brunansky hits me," Stoddard said he thought as Tom Brunansky, who has 22 homers and had six RBI the day before, stepped to the plate.With runners at the corners, Stoddard fell behind, 2-0, and seemed to be digging his own grave. However, his fast ball low and away resulted on a lazy, game-ending fly to left.
For the Orioles, who have won nine out of 10, it was easy to take sustenance from this evening. After winning six games in the previous week by the combined score of 57-15, they also could win with one run. Despite entering the night leading the major leagues in runs scored per game, they could win despite being mystified by Viola, a 6-foot-4 lefty whose major distinctions are a 5.34 ERA, a 7-12 record and the infamy of allowing more homers this year than any other pitcher in the majors: 31.
For Flangan, who now has beaten Minnesota an incredible 14 consecutive times since 1977, this was his third excellent outing in six since his return from the disabled list. After throwing 99 pitches, 59 fast balls, his record is 9-3, and his ERA 3.10.
"I've had to change styles. Tonight, I changed speeds, kept the ball down and kept the ball in the park," he said after establishing his slow curve for strikes early, then painting the edges of the plate with fast balls from the sixth inning onward. He struck out no one and only two Twins swung and missed all game.
When a veteran pitcher in a knee brace and a fat reliever fresh from the doghouse combine for a shutout, when an aging slugger who is supposed to have lost his right-handed punch hits a game-winning homer in the ninth, then a team has a right to think the tides of war are running its way.
"This restores faith in the Flanagan-Singleton connection," said Singleton, who, for years, hit a hugely disproportionate number of homers in support of Flanagan.
When your grand slam is caught at the wall, when your winning run is thrown out at the plate, when you strand the team's tying run at third with two out in the ninth, you're making your point the hard way.
Only one worrisome note was heard this night. Jim Palmer is unhappy about contract talks that are going nowhere because the Orioles aren't talking back.
"The contract is a lot of pressure," said Palmer, who'll be a free agent after the season. "They're taking a wait-and-see attitude.It hurts after all these years . . . I'm only asking for one year at the same salary."
But, he said, "I'm throwing fine. I'm getting there."
And, after games like this, so are all the Orioles.