The Baltimore Orioles celebrated the fall from grace of the Detroit Tigers all over again tonight with a 6-3 victory over Cleveland, and when it was doneSammy Stewart said his team is right where it needs to be.
The Orioles knocked Detroit out of first place in the American League East for the first time in 197 days over two seasons Thursday when they beat the Indians. Tonight, after preserving Dennis Martinez's second win with 3 2/3 innings of runless relief, Stewart said the Orioles need to stay front-runners to reverse 1984's fifth-place finish.
"We don't want to lay in the grass and sneak up on anyone," he said. "We tried that last year, and the Tigers kind of ran a lawn mower over us."
Tonight's victory, before 36,104 on an umbrella giveaway night when rain never threatened, marked the continued rise to hitting prominence of Rick Dempsey, who raised his average above .300 in his best start of a season.
Dempsey had two hits and a walk, scored twice, and his heads-up base running in the fourth inning helped the Orioles put the game out of reach.
With Baltimore ahead, 3-1, on the strength of a bases-loaded single by Cal Ripken and an RBI single by Fred Lynn in the third inning, Dempsey singled to put men on first and second with one out in fourth.
Gary Roenicke dribbled a grounder to second base that had the earmarks of an inning-ending double play.
But when Tony Bernazard fielded it, he had three choices: tag Dempsey, who was running toward him, and relay to first; toss to second for the conventional force and double-play relay; or threaten the tag, forcing Dempsey to stop, and throw to first and await the relay at second to tag Dempsey for the final out.
Bernazard did none of the above. Instead, when Dempsey faked a stop in midstream, Bernazard threw to first and watched ruefully as the veteran catcher raced into second safely.
That left men at second and third with two out, and both scored on rookie Fritz Connally's double down the first base line. Connally made it 6-1 when he scored on Ripken's one-hopper, which went through the legs of first baseman Pat Tabler for an error.
"Rick made a good play and got us a couple of runs as it turned out," said Orioles Manager Joe Altobelli.
Martinez (2-1) won his second straight, lasting 5 2/3 innings before Altobelli called for relief.
The right-handed starter was almost untouchable early, striking out five of the first eight men he faced. But Bernazard touched him for a home run in the third, and in the fifth inning Martinez gave up two walks to fill the bases and then a two-run double to Julio Franco, who entered the game with a league-leading .449 average.
Altobelli let Martinez work his way out of that jam, but when he gave up a single to Tabler the next inning, the manager had seen enough.
"Dennis had a slight cold, and that was probably affecting him," said Altobelli.
Martinez had no complaints. "I'll take it," he said of the victory. "I don't know if I was weak, but I was pushing the ball, trying to overpower it, and that's when my fast ball goes up and gets flat. When I push, I get in trouble."
Stewart had very little trouble the rest of the way. The Indians put men on first and second in the seventh inning, but Ripken came up with a sparkling play to stem the threat.
Joe Carter nubbed a one-hopper that bounced over Stewart's head, apparently destined to be an infield single. But Ripken raced in from shortstop to make a slick scoop and fire the ball sidearm, on the run, to beat Carter by a hair.
Altobelli attributed Dempsey's quick start, including four home runs already this month, to the catcher's general good health. He said Dempsey's sore right shoulder last year put a damper on his fielding, hitting and general psychological state.
"The way it looks now, he could end up catching more games than ever this year," the manager said.
The win tonight guarantees the Orioles a winning record in April, only the fourth time in the last 11 years they have managed that.