If the Detroit Tigers had any questions about why Baltimore will be champion of the American League East this year, they were answered tonight as the Orioles blasted the Tigers from their path, 6-0, 7-3, in a doubleheader.
Tonight in Tiger Stadium, the Orioles did to Detroit what they've been doing to the New York Yankees, Milwaukee Brewers and Toronto Blue Jays for the last month. The Orioles beat the benumbed Tigers with heroics that bordered on the unbelieveable, even by the Orioles' recent ridiculous standards.
The champagne will come later, but tonight the Orioles cemented their title, moving 8 1/2 games ahead with 11 to play. Their magic number is three.
With a 12-strikeout shutout in the opener by magician Mike Boddicker and with homers by Eddie Murray, Cal Ripken and John Lowenstein off Tigers ace Jack Morris, the Orioles crushed the Tigers' last realistic hopes with that victory.
Then, in a nightcap that will remain seared into both teams' memories, the Orioles scored six runs in the ninth inning to grind home the indelible moral that they are not merely their division's champion, but, for the moment, its master as well.
In an utterly fitting final note, the Orioles, trailing by a run and down to their final out, completed this sweep with a dramatic grand slam home run into the right field bleachers by John Lowenstein off Detroit's best reliever, Aurelio Lopez.
As though no excess of excellence were beyond them, the Orioles' Joe Nolan then stepped up and hit an upper-deck home run as a final punctuation mark on an incredible night.
As John Lee Hooker's Motor City blues song says, "Boom, boom, boom, boom, out go the lights." Start hoarding those tickets for the first two American League playoff games in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium.
"Let's face it, they just added us to a string (of teams) they've been doing this to," said Manager Sparky Anderson, whose Tigers had, just the night before, welcomed the Orioles to Detroit by scoring 11 runs in the first inning.
"I take my hat off to them," said Coach Gates Brown, the club's guru. "Those Baltimore boys are bad. They're doing something awful right, or the rest of us are doin' something awful wrong."
"I don't even want to play. It's too much fun watching," laughed Gary Roenicke, half of the left field platoon that Lowenstein represented so nobly. "I think the Tigers got a good view of what we've been doing."
"The first game was wonderful. Every pitch was agonizing," said Mike Flanagan. "The second game was just . . ." He was lost for words.
"The crescendo," said Scott McGregor.
"When Lowenstein came up with the bases loaded, I had this feeling of deja vu that was so strong that I was jumping around telling everybody about this dream I'd had and how he was going to hit a blooper over (first baseman Enos) Cabell's head to tie the game.
"And then," said Flanagan, "he even beat my dream."
That's how the Orioles have played for a month--beyond any reasonable dream--winning 25 of 30 games. As one for-instance out of a sea of examples, Lowenstein's homer was the Orioles' sixth grand slam in 23 days.
There are major league teams that have never hit six grand slams in any one season. Let alone one month.
If the back-to-back home runs from Lowenstein and Nolan, coming on the heels of an upper-deck homer by Murray (No. 30) in the eighth, was the glorious climax to this night, then Boddicker's first game shutout was the gritty and vital victory.
Boddicker, who leads the AL with five shutouts, now has a 15-7 record and a 2.58 earned run average--the best mark of any active American Leaguer. As a marvelous final flourish to his 150-pitch show, Boddicker struck out the last four Tigers he faced: Cabell, Chet Lemon, Glenn Wilson and Wayne Krenchicki.
"I just got outpitched. That kid outpitched me," said 19-game winner Morris. "I'm bewildered how he gets people out with that stuff. I guess I'll have to talk to him and learn something.
"It's the same old thing. Wait 'til next year, right? Well, I'm sick of the same old thing. I'm tired of that song," said Morris. "I've pitched my guts out and here I am with the same old song again. You know the song: 'I did my best but I guess my best wasn't good enough.' That's us, boy."
Boddicker, who had the worst of his many blister problems--"Heck," he said, "I had a blister under the blister"--was typically subdued in victory.
"I never, never expected anything like this to happen (this season)," said the 26-year-old rookie, who began the year at Rochester. "I was just hoping to get back up here. This is all bonus."
The nightcap madness was like midnight lightning. The Orioles, down, 3-0, after two innings, got seven shutout innings of relief from Dan Morogiello (2.41 ERA) and winner Sammy Stewart. In the ninth, down, 3-1, they got a walk from Jim Dwyer and singles from John Shelby and Dan Ford to load the bases with none out.
"The bench was in hysterics," said Roenicke.
On came Lopez, the erratic fireman. He wild-pitched home a run, then got Ripken on a pop up and walked Murray intentionally. Lopez then fanned rookie Mike Young, who was in the game because Manager Joe Altobelli had used him to pinch run for Singleton in the eighth, mistakenly thinking Singleton would not bat again.
On a 1-1 fast ball, Lowenstein rocketed a liner to right. Murray, on first base, was so torn between running and screaming, "Get up, get up," that he missed second base, tripped and fell rounding the bag, then had to stumble back to retag, laughing all the way since the ball was safely in the bleachers.
Afterward, Lowenstein sat, almost emotionless, and discussed his umpteenth clutch hit and his theory of always maintaining perfect emotional equilibrium.
Asked if all this didn't excite him, the unruffleable Lowenstein said, "Oh, yes, I suffer from emotional highs (sic) like anyone else."
The rest of the world is combating depression and Lowenstein is fighting too much happiness. Of course, playing for the Baltimore Orioles these days will do that to you.