The suspension of disbelief is usually associated with art. To enjoy "Gulliver's Travels" or "E.T.," you have to suspend your normal disbelief in a land of tiny people or the arrival of cuddly creatures from outer space.
The Orioles have now brought the suspension of disbelief to baseball.
To watch the Baltimore team properly these days, it is necessary to abandon our normal habits of observation and, instead, imagine a team that, for a few short weeks, can turn fantasy into reality at will.
The mundane fact of the matter is that the Orioles are simply an excellent team in perfect health, enjoying a remarkable streak of opportune play.
However, to take such a blase view is to miss the pleasure of a more imaginative point of view. Who would watch Peter Pan fly and strain to see the strings?
That's how it has been with the Orioles for the past four weeks. Only a spoil sport would look for the strings. The Orioles know that their baseball "miracles" can be explained away as a combination of fine play and good luck. But it's much more fun to say that, starting Aug. 24, the Orioles entered a Magic Month that has lasted precisely four weeks.
This evening, the magic month ran out as if a midnight bell had tolled. Tonight, it was the Tigers who scored a run in the ninth to tie and another with two out in the 10th to win, 5-4. Details, AL Roundup, D3 This turnabout only highlighted the Orioles' dramatics of the previous 28 days.
In this month, the Orioles have gone from contender to champion, blowing the remnants of the AL East race to shreds with a 25-5 record.
The Orioles first foreshadowed their future on Aug. 5 when, trailing Chicago, 4-2, with two out in the bottom of the ninth, they got five consecutive hits to win. The odds on a .270-hitting team getting five straight hits are 700-to-1. Game-winning hit: Rich Dauer.
On Aug. 14, the Orioles led, 2-1, in the ninth in Chicago, but the White Sox loaded the bases with no outs and their Nos. 3-4-5 hitters coming up. No runner budged as Tim Stoddard struck out Carlton Fisk and Tom Paciorek, then got Greg Luzinski to ground out.
Five days later Baltimore was losing, 4-0, and Gaylord Perry was pitching a no-hitter in the eighth inning. The no-hitter vanished, but the Orioles were still trailing, 4-2, with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. The Orioles got four consecutive hits off Kansas City relief wizard Dan Quisenberry to win. Lenn Sakata had the game winning RBI.
All this merely created a mood of possibility that blossomed on Aug. 24.
Trailing Toronto, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth with two outs, Baltimore had back-to-back hits to tie the game. On the first pitch of extra innings, a Blue Jay homered; the Oriole defense included Sakata as a catcher, John Lowenstein at second base and Gary Roenicke at third. Reliever Tippy Martinez, who hadn't picked off a runner since 1977, picked off three in a row at first.
Cal Ripken homered to tie the game, then, with two outs in the 10th, Sakata, who hadn't caught since he was 11 years old, hit a three-run homer.
The next night Toronto broke a scoreless tie with a leadoff homer in the 10th. With two on and one out in the home half, a fly by Dan Ford ticked off the center fielder's glove for a two-run, game-winning Baltimore double. The madness was in full control.
The Orioles then won games by scores of 9-0, 5-3, 11-4, 9-2 (John Shelby's grand slam), 12-4 and 10-2 (seven runs in first inning). After one loss, the Orioles won the first 1-0 game in the history of the Hubert Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis on Ken Singleton's ninth-inning home run. The next day, they won, 13-0, with six home runs (one Singleton's grand slam) and a team record-tying 39 total bases.
Baltimore stayed sane for five whole days before veering into the Twilight Zone again Sept. 10. Tied in the ninth in Yankee Stadium, the Orioles scored six runs with Goose Gossage on the mound, highlighted by a grand slam by Lowenstein.
On Sept. 13, tied in the ninth, the Orioles beat Boston relief ace Bob Stanley when Jim Dwyer's fly ball bounced out of Jim Rice's glove for a three-run double. In the nightcap of that twinight sweep, Gary Roenicke hit a grand slam.
The next night, Roenicke homered again in a win, giving the Baltimore left fielders 18 RBI in eight games.
Last Sunday the Orioles became the first team in the 30-year history of Memorial Stadium to come from seven runs behind and win. Eddie Murray's grand slam off reliever Pete Ladd in the eighth gave Baltimore a 9-7 lead. When Milwaukee tied the game in the ninth, the Orioles won in the bottom half of the inning on home-town, third-string catcher John Stefero's single.
The next night--oh, yes, the next night--the Orioles trailed, 7-6, in the 11th, down to their last out. Three straight hits later, they had won, 8-7, with that same tiny bullpen catcher Stefero delivering another game-winning hit with his family in the stands. That gave the Orioles a 10-1 record this season against the defending AL champions.
Finally, here in Detroit on Sept. 21, on the night after losing, 14-1, and suffering 11 first-inning runs on 10 consecutive hits at the hands of the Tigers, the Orioles rebounded with their fourth straight doubleheader sweep.
Trailing by a run and down to their final out in the ninth inning of the nightcap, Lowenstein hit a game-winning bases-full homer. It was the team's sixth grand slam in 23 days. The next batter, Joe Nolan, homered just for the devil of it.
That Lowenstein blow meant that, since Aug. 6, the Orioles had trailed as they reached their final out of the game five times and come up with five hits in a row, four hits in a row, three hits in a row, two hits in a row and, now, Lowenstein's one "in a row" to turn defeat into victory.
The list of Orioles exotica is almost endless. The team, which has 36 come-from-behind wins this season, has hit over .300 in its Miracle Month. Ripken has hit .389 for 32 games and Murray is batting .364 for the last 28.
What does this mean for a team that three times this year has fallen on its face (0-7, 5-12, 0-7) and looked as though it couldn't beat the Mariners?
Perhaps only October can answer that question.