The Baltimore Orioles called off the shelling and came home quietly tonight, finishing one of the most important and successful road trips in the team's recent history with a flat, 7-1 defeat at the hands of the Boston Red Sox and their sharp left-hander, Bruce Hurst.
In this eight-game-in-seven-day road trip, which included two doubleheaders and a rainout, the Orioles won three out of four games in both Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park. When the Orioles left Baltimore, they had a five-game lead in the American League East; as they return for a four-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers, they still have a five-game lead.
The difference is that one more week has been erased from the schedule and two contenders who looked serious a week ago--Milwaukee and New York--are down to their last gasps. Only second-place Detroit has realistic hopes.
"We're in good shape. Great road trip," appraised Scott McGregor. "We'll look back on this week as being one of the most important of the year.
This evening's loser was Storm Davis (12-6), who was rocked for nine hits and five runs in 4 1/3 innings before the depleted Oriole bullpen of Bill Swaggerty and Dan Morogiello finished the dank autumnal night's work with a semblance of dignity. Hurst worked strongly for seven innings for the win, allowing seven hits and one run, on Cal Ripken's 24th home run of the year, before turning the finishing touches over to Bob Stanley.
Baltimore, which had a six-game winning streak ended by Boston's 15 hits, came out of it with only one worry--Davis' left shoulder blade.
"Yes, it bothers me," said Davis, who entered this game with nine wins in his last 11 decisions. "But there's nothing I can do about it. It's been there for a month. There's a pain when you try to open up and reach back for some velocity.
"I have no idea how did it. It just crept up one day. It's a nagging thing like a million guys (pitchers) have. You go out and take your chances. I'll be ready for next Tuesday in Detroit," said Davis who, along with Dennis Martinez, will start the series-opening doubleheader against the Tigers that day.
Jim Palmer came to the defense of his pitch-alike teammate, pointing out that the first three Boston runs were built around the flukiest of doubles. Jim Rice hit a pop to right that a late-arriving Dan Ford helped become a ground-rule double in the first; Rice hit a Green Monster cheapy in the third--a towering fly that scraped the paint but would have been an out in any other park. And Gary Allenson contributed another RBI wall double in the fourth.
"Three routine fly balls, three doubles," said Palmer. "That's Fenway."
"This time of year is bite the bullet time for pitchers," said McGregor. "Almost everybody on the staff has something bothering them. But we're lookin' good compared to lots of teams."
Compared, for instance, to the Brewers, who come to Baltimore with a six-game losing streak and one of the most bizarre pitching rotations any defending champion ever had to throw on the field against its potential successor.
The Orioles will not see Pete Vuckovich, Don Sutton, Moose Haas or Mike Caldwell this weekend. Instead, Milwaukee will send to the mound Tom Candiotti, Bob Gibson, Jamie Cocanower and Chuck Porter, who have a dozen career major league wins among them. In rebuttal, Baltimore has its four healthiest pitchers of the moment--Mike Boddicker, Mike Flanagan, Palmer and McGregor.
"Who are those guys?" said Tippy Martinez of the Brewer starters. "That looks good, unless they know something we don't. Maybe they're all flame throwers."
"Those little-known pitchers can work two ways," said Ken Singleton. "It can take you a while to feel 'em out and by then, they get into the game and give you trouble. On the other hand, if you get to them early and get into their bullpen . . . well, you know it's not going to be Don Sutton coming in in long relief."
"Actually, I prefer to face pitchers I know," said Ripken, who had eight hits in this series but took a called strike on an 0-2 pitch to end the fifth inning with the bases loaded and the Orioles behind only 3-1. After Ripken failed, the Orioles faded.
This evening in Fenway represented the Orioles' last game of '83 against a losing team. The final 18 are against the Tigers (7), Brewers (7) and Yankees (4). It's Baltimore's great luck to have built a significant lead before the closing crunch.
The next four days are of special importance to the Orioles because, if they play well against the Brewers, they can arrive in Detroit with an almost prohibitive lead. If not, a division flag could be in jeopardy.
"The Orioles are very versatile. They've got the depth, the good health and the lead. They should win it," said Boston Manager Ralph Houk, whose team has lost five of seven to Baltimore in a fortnight and now must face Detroit six times in 10 days. "Six games in the loss column is an awful lot . . .
"Their pitching is good, but it's not the overpowering pitching that Chicago has with (LaMarr) Hoyt, (Floyd) Bannister and (Richard) Dotson," said Houk, obviously planning his playoff-picks speech.
For the Orioles, especially after this lackluster night in Fenway, those tempting playoff prospects are still very much an issue for the future.