Since Mike Boddicker saved the Baltimore Orioles season, it was only fitting that tonight he saved their postseason as well.
The veteran rookie, who spent parts of six exasperating years polishing his elegantly devious craft in Rochester, pitched one of the most dazzling and gritty games in the history of the American League playoffs, beating the Chicago White Sox, 4-0, with a record-tying 14 strikeouts.
If LaMarr Hoyt of the White Sox was marvelous in his five-hit, 2-1 win over the Orioles on Wednesday in the playoff opener, then you'd have to say Boddicker, 26, outdid him with this victory that evened the American League Championship Series at one game apiece. Game Three will be played Friday night at 8:20 in Chicago.
Supported by a two-run homer by Gary Roenicke--who also doubled, walked and scored three runs--Boddicker had a game that must have made all his days of bush league disappointment seem a small price.
"Not too bad for a country boy from Norway, Iowa . . . That's about three miles past 'Resume Speed,' " cracked Orioles Manager Joe Altobelli.
Boddicker struck out Harold Baines three times, fanned Carlton Fisk twice with the bat on his shoulder, whiffed Greg Luzinski and Tom Paciorek once each and put a "K" beside Vance Law's name twice. Classy pinch hitters Greg Walker and Jerry Hairston both struck out weakly.
Finally, Boddicker struck out Julio Cruz for the third time of the night with the bases loaded to end the game. To show the hair's breadth by which such playoff games are decided, Cruz had, just two pitches before, sliced a liner to left that would have been a three-run double had it not twisted barely foul.
With his final strikeout, which brought the crowd of 52,347 into full bellow, Boddicker tied the playoff strikeout record of Joe Coleman of the Detroit Tigers ('72) and John Candelaria of Pittsburgh ('75). In fact, Boddicker's strikeout total was the highest in the American League for the 1983 season. Tonight's losing pitcher Floyd Bannister, Jack Morris of Detroit and Boddicker had held the previous season's high with a dozen strikeouts.
"I struck out 14?" said Boddicker incredulously when told of his record. "No wonder my arm hurts. . . Right now, all that's on my mind is ice."
Then, Boddicker displayed the new pitch in his arsenal--the poor-mouth changeup. "They swung at some bad pitches," he said.
In his last start, Boddicker worked the first five innings of a one-hit shutout of the Yankees, then, afterward, said, "I had nothing. My curve ball was dropping from exhaustion."
Hearing that, coach Ray Miller said, "Mike knows how to pitch. Now he's learning how to talk. Let them sell him short."
Earlier this season, before the league learned what a consistent jewel of a corner-cutting, speed-changing pitcher Boddicker really was, six-time batting champion Rod Carew reacted to a zero-for-four by snapping, "I feed my dogs better stuff than Boddicker throws." In their next meeting, Boddicker fitted Mr. Carew for another slow-curve collar.
The Orioles gave Boddicker all the early encouragement he needed with single runs in the second and fourth innings and two in the sixth.
In the second, Roenicke, who has been in a bad slump, doubled hard to the left field corner to lead off, then scored when Vance Law at third knocked down a Ken Singleton grounder and threw the ball into the Chicago dugout.
In the fourth, Bannister, the $4.8-million free agent who won 16 games this year (13 since the All-Star break), walked Roenicke with curves in the dirt, then allowed an RBI ground ball double over the third base bag by Singleton. Coach Cal Ripken Sr. gambled and sent Roenicke home on Ron Kittle's arm. The play was close.
Finally, in the sixth, the Orioles salted this game because Chicago Manager Tony LaRussa eschewed a basic conventional strategy and had his style of managing blow up in his face. After Cal Ripken doubled high off the wall in left and took third on a long fly by Eddie Murray (zero for four and now zero for his last 29 in postseason), Roenicke stepped up in an obvious walk situation.
Roenicke has been the Orioles' best weapon against Bannister all year, but LaRussa said "Pitch to him." On a hanging 2-2 curve, Roenicke smoked his home run 30 feet over the fence in left, despite a tough cross wind.
That was far more support than Boddicker required.
Whenever Boddicker was tested this evening, Chicago was bested. Boddicker allowed five hits, only two of them solidly hit, three walks and two hit batters. Those flaws only seemed to create situations where he could shine more brightly.
With two on in the second, Vance Law fanned into a double-steal double play. Fisk struck out with a man on second, then later with two on base. Finally, in the ninth, on his way to throwing 142 pitches, Boddicker had his most severe test. A hit batter, a soft single and a full-count walk after a dropped third-strike foul tip brought Cruz to the plate.
After that foul liner to left on an 0-2 pitch, Boddicker sent one more sweeping curve plateward and Cruz struck out, giving the Orioles the victory and Boddicker a share of the strikeout record.
Boddicker's 16-8 performance this season, with a 2.77 ERA that was the second-best in the league, was the factor most vital in salvaging an Oriole season that might well have been destroyed by injuries to star pitchers Mike Flanagan, Jim Palmer and Tippy Martinez.
In the playoffs' 15-year history, no team has lost the first two games at home and come back to win. Now that Boddicker has taken the Orioles out of that predicament, the odds change. Of seven teams that lost the first game at home, then won Game Two, three went on to the World Series.
Boddicker, who is a grain elevator operator in the offseason in Iowa, gave a sense of his personality when describing his day: "I talked to an old friend from Iowa, put a CB in my pickup and came to the park and played a video game (in the clubhouse)." Then, Boddicker gave a hint of the sharp mind behind the Midwest blandness. Asked how he could be so poised, Boddicker said, "I've had some experience up here . . . and I've got a 45-year-old body."
Boddicker's masterwork this crisp energetic night was typical of his heroics all season.
When Mike Flanagan, who will start Game Three against Richard Dotson, was injured in May and lost for 80 days, Boddicker came out in the second game of a doubleheader that night and shut out the White Sox.
When Baltimore was at its emotional low point, three days after the All-Star break, with five players out of action and banner headlines of Oriole off-the-field problems, Boddicker pitched another shutout to end a losing streak.
When Baltimore visited Detroit in September and was greeted with 11 runs in the first inning and a 14-1 beating, Boddicker came back the next night and struck out a dozen in a 6-0 victory over Morris. That win all but ended the Eastern Division race.
Finally, on the last day of the season, with the Orioles in a week-long post-clinching malaise, Boddicker began that one-hit shutout that lifted spirits.
Now, after his work this evening, the Orioles have only one problem. How do they get to the World Series so he can pitch the opener?