Baseball loves irony.
If the hottest hitting team in baseball comes home after scoring 82 runs on 120 hits in its previous 10 games and throws a Fireworks Night for 41,202 of its fans, you can bet the ranch the sluggers will be shut out.
And, somehow, baseball will make sure that the tiniest player on a field full of musclemen will drive in the game-winning run with a "line drive" hit that wouldn't break the icing on a baked Alaska.
That's what happened to the Baltimore Orioles tonight in Memorial Stadium.
Who couldn't guess it? The bodacious Birds, who've been detonating fireworks from Kansas City to Toronto to Minneapolis for the past riotous week, held Fireworks Night this evening and got shut out, 2-0, by the Boston Red Sox--the club with the next-to-worst team ERA in the major leagues, which had gone 42 games without a shutout. And who should get the decisive game-winning hit but 5-foot-7 Jerry Remy?
The reason the Red Sox started this evening 16 games behind the Orioles is that their young pitchers--including tonight's winner, Bobby Ojeda, as well as John Tudor and Bruce Hurst--have not lived up to advance billing.
Now, when the Orioles are cruising along four games in front in the Al East, trying to build a prohibitive lead against the Brewers, Tigers and Yankees, who comes along to play spoiler but two Boston pitchers?
Fenway fans, no doubt, appreciate all the agonizing irony of this perennial situation.
The Orioles, who'd batted .331 for a fortnight and won 18 of their previous 22 games, managed just five singles this muggy, 90-degree night as the less than legendary Ojeda mystified the Orioles with curves in the twilight for the first six innings.
Then, after the humidity drove him from the game--certainly the Orioles could not be credited with that honor--star reliever Bob Stanley worked the final three innings.
"We had it coming," said Manager Joe Altobelli, shrugging. "Let's give a little credit where credit is due. Ojeda and Stanley pitched well and their infield turned four double plays."
Baltimore's tough luck loser was Mike Boddicker (12-7), who pitched a five-hitter of such poise, control and authority that the Red Sox, from the great Carl Yastrzemski on down, pronounced him a rookie who'll be a winner for years. The Red Sox got a runner past first base in only one inning. But in a star-crossed two-run fifth, Boston did all the damage it needed.
In that inning, Rich Gedman led off with a line-drive triple off the base of the right field fence. Dan Ford did so badly on the play--poor jump, half-hearted pursuit, last-second sprint and leap, awkward crash into fence--that it tainted any attempt at evaulation. Had Ford made the tough catch, this game might still be scoreless. At the least, Ford elaborated a routine double into three bases.
Boddicker, who walked three and struck out seven, including cleanup man Tony Armas three times, showed his grit by switching from slop to heat, overpowering Dave Stapleton and Glenn Hoffman with heavy, sinking fast balls for meek chop ground outs to third.
Just as Boddicker seemed safe, with the infield back at normal depth, Remy arrived with a classy piece of hitting. The little second baseman slapped an almost ideal Boddicker pitch--a fork ball just off the low-outside corner--into center field for a soft but conclusive RBI single.
A momentarily rattled Boodicker then walked AL batting leader Wade Boggs (.366), then allowed a line-drive RBI single to center on the first pitch to AL home run and RBI leader Jim Rice.
As well as Ojeda pitched, tantalizing the Orioles with his slow southpaw curves then buzzing his fast ball up and away, it was Boddicker who drew raves.
"Boddicker drives you crazy. He's a helluva pitcher. He's smart, he's got good stuff and great control. He's uncomfortable to hit against," said Remy. "The only person he reminds me of is Mike Boddicker. He's going to be around a long time."
"Boddicker doesn't fluster and he doesn't give in. I sat on that slow curve and change up of his all night and I still couldn't hang in and hit them because his arm speed was so good," said Yastrzemski, who, drawing in 24 years of experience, added, "He's like (former Oriole) Stu Miller . . . Don't the Orioles ever stop coming up with these good young pitchers?"
"Boddicker has been sensational," said Altobelli of the right-hander who now has a 2.98 ERA (fourth in the AL), and an 8-3 record with a 2.32 ERA since the All-Star break. "You can't ask for more. He's gone out there 21 times and that should be a pretty good test. What he's done in the so-called pressure part of the season is even more interesting."
This was the Orioles' first of seven meetings with Boston in 11 days. How the contending Orioles and spoiler Red Sox fare will count for much.
This night, the Orioles only had one bona fide threat. Eddie Murray came up with two on and two out in the sixth and hit a Ruthian pop up in front of the plate. Catcher Gedman struggles on such plays, so third baseman Boggs raced in, staggered about, then, with a desperate backward-and-sideways leap, snagged what might have been a 15-foot long RBI double.
When a pop up is the core of your offense, you're in trouble. For a split second in the ninth, it seemed another Orioles miracle was possible. With a man on, Cal Ripken (hitting .422 for two weeks) lined to the track in left.
"He just missed that ball. You have to be lucky, too. When it left the bat, I said, 'Oh, hell,' " said Stanley. "We're a little looser than they are. We just want to go out with a little respect. They may be a little tired from scoring all those runs."
For the record, the Orioles' fireworks were great. After the game.