Maybe the Texas Rangers would have been wiser just to give Eddie Murray an intentional walk in the eighth inning here today.
Really now, shouldn't the Rangers have known he was about to launch a game-winning two-run homer halfway up the right field bleachers for Baltimore's 4-2 victory on opening day?
Shouldn't the Rangers have known that the best clutch hitter in baseball was angry and embarrassed and just waiting to make a loser of the Rangers' new free agent reliever Dave Rozema and a winner of the Orioles' new auction baby Don Aase?
How often does Murray strike out twice, pull a boner on the bases and let a grounder go past him to blow a late-inning lead -- all in one game? And how often, when a truly great player has been that embarrassed before a crowd of 50,402, does he fail to atone?
Sure, a free pass would have been very unconventional in a 2-2 game with no outs and an Oriole on first base. But if you couldn't do something weird this afternoon, when would you ever try?
How many games get delayed for five minutes in the first inning by a snowstorm? (Is that what the Orioles get for starting Storm Davis?)
How often do you see a manager do what Texas' Doug Rader did this day: hook a pitcher (Charlie Hough) who has a no-hitter for six innings?
For that matter, how often does a guy with a no-hitter leave a game trailing. Old knuckleballer Hough was in a 2-1 hole when he left, thanks to four straight two-out walks in the sixth and a run-scoring passed ball.
This was a game full of everything goofy. The Orioles (who had 10 walks) managed only two hits all day. As owner Ed Williams said, "Howdaya like all that power we acquired over the winter?"
When Jim Palmer wasn't throwing out the ceremonial first pitch on one bounce ("Rick Dempsey will never let me forget it"), the Rangers were running themselves out of rallies in both the seventh and eighth innings when veterans pulled bonehead plays. What could you expect of a game that started in 40-degree chill with winds gusting up to 29 mph?
Even with all this zaniness, the Rangers couldn't really have walked Murray on purpose. But what a gruesome dilemma they faced. In 1977, the same year Murray came to the big leagues, baseball created a new statistic -- game-winning RBI. Talk about a perfect coincidence. Some people just call it "the Murray Column." He's got 132 so far and nobody else is close.
Murray is at his best in late-inning pressure spots with men on base. Last year, in just such situations, the stat freaks tell us that he slugged .838 -- which most players couldn't do if you let them hit it out of their hand.
However, this afternoon was special, even for him. This is a man, who above everything, hates to look foolish. When Hough, whose fast ball can't break a pane of glass, struck him out twice on fast balls, that was bad enough.
Matters got worse in the sixth. The Rangers had taken a 1-0 lead on a two-out walk to George Wright and an RBI double up the gap in right-center by Curtis Wilkerson. But in the bottom of the inning the Orioles came back, if you could call it that, by doing nothing.
Cal Ripken walked on five pitches and Murray, Fred Lynn and John Lowenstein each walked on four pitches, none hinting at a swing, to tie the game. On the first pitch to Wayne Gross (a called strike), the ball bounced off catcher Don Slaught's glove and rolled 40 feet away. Murray gambled.
"I was halfway before I said, 'Oh, no,' " said Murray, who should have been out by yards. "If I slide, I'm out. If I run into him, I'm out. So, what's next? I decided to stop . . . . I had to come up with something because I was dead . . . ."
Hough, in a hurry, snagged the ball, put down a quick tag behind his back, touched only air, then fell forward from the force of his momentum as the tippy-toeing Murray tagged the plate standing up.
"I goofed," Hough said. "Totally my fault. I didn't realize he was that far behind me. I mistimed it."
That run might have looked good on the scoreboard, but Murray knew he'd just been lucky.
Aase entered to start the eighth after Davis (hit on the calf by a ground smash in the fourth) had battled through 102 pitches. After Wilkerson's drag-bunt single and Slaught's single, Aase showed his door-closing stuff, getting Toby Harrah on a weak pop, Gary Ward on a meek fly and Pete O'Brien on a sharp one-hopper to Murray's right.
Except that Murray never touched the hopper that went for a game-tying hit. "I think I should have had it," he said flatly. "The ball just got by somehow. Not that that was on my mind when I came to bat (the next half-inning), but you hate to see an effort like Storm's go down the drain."
In fact, according to Davis, Murray was so upset at himself that he sought out Davis in the clubhouse to apologize for failing to make what would have been a Gold Glove play, then went out and hit one of Rozema's palm balls about seven-eighths of the way to Cockeysville.
"I hit a change-up; that's what he throws and I was looking for it," said Murray, who had 19 RBI in Florida and battled Rozema through six pitches to a 2-2 count. "He got it up and I was just worried about keeping it fair. If he'd kept it down, it would have been a tough pitch . . . .
"Hey," volunteered Murray, "let's talk about my strikeouts."
What the Rangers will talk about this evening is a call at third base. In the seventh, Buddy Bell singled, then tried to go to third on Cliff Johnson's single. "Never make the first or last out of an inning at third base," is the first rule of base running. As Kurt Bevacqua found out in the World Series last fall.
Excuses don't count. If you go for third in those situations, you must make it standing up. Bell arrived head first. Replays show that umpire Rocky Roe might well have blown his only call of the day -- hey, maybe he was frozen -- but ballpark veterans will ask what in the world Bell was doing arriving at third base on his face with nobody out.
"The dirt was flying and I just dove in there with my eyes closed," said third baseman Gross of his tag.
If Bell could blame Roe, Slaught couldn't blame anybody. After O'Brien's RBI hit in the eighth, Slaught wandered around second and got trapped by Murray's routine cutoff and fake throw to home. That blunder took Aase out of a two-on, two-out jam.
After this game, Davis summed things up by saying, "Mr. Clutch did it again."
Before this game, pitcher Scott McGregor demonstrated his prescience. Someone greeted Murray by saying, teasingly, "Did you make this ballclub again?"
"He is this ballclub," said McGregor.
Before the game, the Orioles reached the player limit by optioning outfielder John Shelby, 27, to Rochester of the International League.
He led the team in stolen bases and outfield assists during his two seasons. He hit .258 in l983, .209 om '84, and .217 this spring.
The team also went through the formality of buying the contract of third baseman Fritz Connally from Rochester. He had been a nonroster player during training.