Load up the bandwagon. Pick out a nice Sousa march. Start the parade. The baseball folk who, a month ago, thought the pennant chances of the Baltimore Orioles were marginal, are now climbing aboard while singing the praises of the hottest team in baseball.
"There's no tomorrow when you play these guys," said Minnesota Manager Billy Gardner after watching his Twins lose their sixth straight game in 10 days to Baltimore, this time 9-6 in the Metrodome.
"It's like the Last Supper," muttered Gardner, whose club has lost to the Orioles by a two-series score of 48-13.
"I've seen the Orioles the last four series and it's unbelievable," said New York Yankees scout Clyde King, whose presence coincides with a Baltimore streak of 11 victories in 12 games by a margin of 91-31. "Good hitting, good pitching, good managing, good morale and good luck.
"I'm supposed to go to Baltimore to see 'em play Boston the next three days," said King, who must debrief the Yankees Friday before four vital Yankees-Orioles games next weekend. "But after all this stuff I'm seeing, I might just go on home. I've seen enough."
Or, perhaps, too much. Baltimore now has won 18 of its last 22 games, has a 38-19 record since the All-Star break and is now above .600 for the season.
This afternoon, the Orioles won in doubly impressive fashion because, in a sense, they won twice. Baltimore built a 5-0 lead after three innings, only to see the Twins tie the game off winner Storm Davis, now 12-5. The Orioles answered with three runs in the eighth and one in the ninth off Minnesota's only distinguished pitcher--26-save reliever Ron Davis--who was smashed repeatedly.
Thanks to losses by Detroit and Milwaukee this afternoon on the West Coast, Baltimore has its biggest AL East lead of the season--4 1/2 games over the Tigers and Yankees and five over Milwaukee. The campaign in the East wasn't supposed to be decided until the big boys met head to head, but the Orioles aren't playing fair. Three weeks ago, they jumped the gun with a rolling start.
With their current blitz against injured or unmotivated teams like Kansas City, Toronto and Minnesota, Baltimore could have a decisive division lead before facing home-and-home series with the Yankees, Tigers and Brewers that begin on Friday. The team has four more days of grace to gain ground. They play battered Boston, while the Yankees and Brewers must face each other four times.
How well is Baltimore playing and how good is its luck ?
On Saturday evening, Ken Singleton, who had hit homers Friday and Saturday, celebrated by curling up with a good book on American political history. No kidding. These Orioles are a colorful bunch. Singleton finished the chapter on Indiana, went to sleep and woke up this morning unable to move his neck. "I must have been reading in an awkward position," he said.
Singleton was replaced by the newest Oriole, Tito Landrum. In his first at bat, Landrum hit a liner that Darrell Brown caught with a leap at the 408-foot sign in center. Brown then crashed into the fence and fell to earth barehanded.
A Twins outfielder crawled under the fence and retrieved Brown's glove, which had fallen on the other side. The ball was still in the glove.
"That's the way things have been going," said Gardner of Landrum's home run. "He catches the ball and the glove goes over the fence."
The Orioles quickly added three runs as Rich Dauer doubled, Rick Dempsey singled him home, John Shelby singled and Dan Ford drove them both home with a bloop to left center that a diving Mickey Hatcher trapped.
In the decisive eighth, the Orioles flaunted their new bench depth now that seven players are up from Rochester. Eddie Murray, who hit his 26th homer (404 feet to left) in the second off starter Pete Filson, hit a leadoff double off the right-field fence off Davis. Immediately, the wheels started spinning.
Al Bumbry and Jim Dwyer pinch hit, back to back, both wishing merely to sacrifice bunt. Davis, nibbling at the outside corner, walked both to load the bases. John Lowenstein, another lefty pinch hitter, hit a sacrifice fly to center for the game-winning RBI. After Todd Cruz beat out an infield hit and pinch-hitter Joe Nolan popped up, John Shelby got the game-icing two-RBI hit with a full-count grounder through the box.
For Storm Davis, this shaky victory was more than deserved. Three times this year, he's left games after working six, seven and eight shutout innings and gotten no victories from those jewels.
Those visiting scouts had other worries. As Ripken and Murray came up in the ninth, Orioles scout Bill Werle chirped, "Murderers' Row coming up."
"When Ripken's hitting, they ought to give the third baseman hockey goalie equipment," said King, who finished '82 as the Yankees' manager. "Ripken can rip you. Murray can murder you. And Roenicke will ruin you."
Slowly, King raised his scorecard so that his eyes were shielded from any view of the field.
"Do I have to watch?" he asked.