Now, anything is possible.
The tightly wrapped fabric of baseball, the commonly held assumptions about what's reasonable and even what's possible, are no longer operative as far as the Baltimore Orioles are concerned. Now, they're playing by their own rules.
The Orioles unraveled and reshaped baseball reality in a way that had never happened before today in the 30-season history of Memorial Stadium.
This is a pitcher's park, a haven of sanity, a stadium where a one-run lead means something and a two-run lead means a lot. Since the gates opened in 1954--a period of almost 2,500 games--no team, whether home or visitor, had ever trailed by seven runs and come back to win.
Now, that's all changed. Now, no lead, no pitcher, no team is safe from the ambitions of the Orioles. Not after they came from seven runs behind to beat the defending American League champion Milwaukee Brewers, 10-9, today.
After Milwaukee sent 13 men to the plate in the second inning, scoring seven runs off Jim Palmer and leaving the bases loaded, few in the Fan Appreciation Day crowd of 35,804 would have guessed that, two hours later, they'd be on their feet bellowing deliriously when Eddie Murray's eighth-inning grand slam home run made the scoreboard read: Baltimore 9, Milwaukee 7.
On the goose-bump scale, that searing slam will rank near the top of the 1983 list. "I'm trying to think of a greater comeback in the history of sports," said Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams, getting seriously carried away. Then, returning to earth, he mused, "And it was just an ordinary game."
Even fewer would have dreamed that, after the Brewers tied the game, 9-9, on Mark Brouhard's two-out home run in the ninth off Tippy Martinez, that the Orioles would come back to win in the bottom of the inning.
And no one--not one soul in the house--could have picked the final heroes.
Line up and take your bows.
Dan Morogiello pitched 6 2/3 innings of shutout long relief to keep the Orioles in the game until they could score two in the seventh, six in the eighth--with two out--and one in the ninth. "I just try to stay ready and today I was very ready," said Morogiello, whose ERA is 2.65. "Molitor, Yount, Cooper, Simmons . . . they had a couple of good boys in there today."
Glenn Gulliver reached base four times, started the six-run rally in the eighth with a walk and, finally, scored the game-winning run after singling with one out in the ninth. "He's impressed me," said Manager Joe Altobelli.
Third-string catcher John Stefero, in the game as a mopup measure when defeat seemed certain, also reached base four times and singled in the eighth inning. Finally, with one out in the ninth, Stefero, who was raised in Baltimore and had most of his family in the stands, drove a single into right field to win the game off the Brewers' relief ace, Pete Ladd.
"I wish we knew when we were going to play these," said Altobelli. "We'd charge double."
This was the Orioles' ninth victory in 10 games, and 22nd in 26; with Detroit winning, their AL East lead remains at seven games. "But the Tigers had to watch our score go up," said Ken Singleton, "and you better believe it hurt 'em."
The Brewers have lost nine in a row, equaling their longest streak. After today, somebody better check their vital signs. The Orioles, who also came back from a 7-0 deficit to beat the Brewers, 10-8, in June, have now defeated Milwaukee eight of nine this year as retribution for 1982's last-day miseries.
It's hard to say precisely when this crowd (which increased the season attendance to to a team record 1,811,520) lost its collective mind and turned its senses over to the lovely caprice built into baseball events.
Certainly, the crowd waited hours for its dessert. When Palmer was battered, it booed him lustily. "It seemed like Palmer stopped trying after he threw the bunt away," said General Manager Hank Peters of Palmer's listless, gaze-to-the-bullpen effort after his own error opened up the inning. "The crowd seemed to sense it and they gave it to him pretty good."
By the seventh-inning stretch, the Brewers still led, 7-1, and only one of the Orioles' 11 base runners had scored. Five potential big innings had died, three of them on double-play grounders, as rookie pitcher Jaime Cocanower walked a tightrope.
"There was something special about the whole day," said Mike Flanagan, wearing an "It ain't over 'til it's over" T-shirt. "We did things that ought to give a team tremendous bad vibes. But you could tell we were going to win."
Gradually, the roof started caving.
With two on in the seventh, Cal Ripken hit a grounder off Cocanower. The rookie recovered, then threw wildly into the dugout; timid first baseman Cecil Cooper shied from the sliding Ripken and let the throw go.
Jim Slaton entered. Murray's fly ball made it 7-3, but Mike Young's drive was caught at the fence by center fielder Rick Manning.
But with two out and one on in the eighth, the Orioles began knocking again. Tap-tap, Stefero singled. KNOCK-KNOCK, Al Bumbry singled home Gulliver.
On came the 240-pound Ladd with his 20 saves and 2.23 ERA; in his previous 19 games, his ERA was 0.82 with seven hits allowed in 22 innings. He's a moose.
Must be moose season. Dwyer, filthy as usual from his dives and slides, started his swing in the on-deck circle. He greeted Ladd's introductory fast ball with a 400-foot line drive that hooked just foul. "That might have intimidated Pete," said Brewers Coach Larry Haney.
Ladd never trusted his fast ball again. Nibbling, he walked Dwyer. Ripken gave Ladd a second palpitation, crushing a line RBI single to left. A fraction higher on the bat and that might have been a grand slam.
Up stepped Murray who, hacking for the horizon, swung and missed. "Couldn't help thinkin' grand slam," he admitted. After a ball, Murray fouled Ladd's money pitch--the low, inside slider--down the line for a near-miss double.
"After that pitch," said Ray Miller, the Orioles' pitching coach, "guys all over the dugout were putting in their calls for a slam. When Eddie raked that slider, you could see Ladd was lost. He'd lost some confidence in his fast ball, then his slider gets killed."
Ladd tried the slider once more. This time Murray didn't foul it. The crowd's roar seemed to be a wind bearing the line drive over the fence in straight right. Even the throng's residual murmur, minutes later, was louder than some crowds' cheers.
"Coming from behind is usually the sign of a champion," said Murray, whose five RBI give him 101. Asked how this thrill ranked with others, Murray gave a real insight into his makeup. "I just forget 'em, 'cause all that's gone, anyway," he said, before smiling and adding, "but I guess that was a big hit."
Looking at Murray and Ripken standing side by side, Flanagan said, "Jeez, it's gonna be a lot of work, cutting that MVP trophy down the middle."
After such an electric moment, the Brewers' rally in the ninth seemed a dignified, but pointless stand against a rising tide.
The final delicate slash of the Brewers' wrists was self-administered. With Gulliver on first, one out and Lenn Sakata at the plate with a 2-1 count in the ninth, a pitchout was called. Nobody budged. Count 3-1. Ladd, rattled, walked Sakata, moving the winning run to second.
That was the 11th of 23 Oriole runners who reached base on a gift--a walk, hit batter or error. It was one too many.
Heretofore, Stefero's main role has been to spend countless hours warming up pitchers in the subterranean Memorial Stadium tunnel during the offseason. As his game-winning grounder found right field and Gulliver traveled home, the Orioles had their 34th come-from-behind victory of the year.
And a season of mounting improbabilities had twisted the tail of normal baseball reality once more.