Hitting and morale are often synonymous, as the Baltimore Orioles discovered today in one of the more inspirational comeback victories in Memorial Stadium history.
The Orioles have been playing here since '54 but only once have they come from further behind than they did today in beating the Cleveland Indians, 8-7, after trailing the Tribe and its ace Bert Blyleven, 7-1.
Blyleven allowed three homers and six runs and was so furious at seeing his big lead disintegrate that, as he marched off the mound after being hooked, he twice made obscene gestures at the crowd of 33,293.
The final Baltimore uprising came in a three-run eighth. After a leadoff walk (which knocked out Blyleven) and a pair of infield hits loaded the bases, Eddie Murray doubled home two runs to tie the game at 7. Moments later, the big home crowd got the last laugh as John Lowenstein drove home the game-winner with a long sacrifice fly off Rich Thompson.
That final rally, however, merely culminated a day-long assault by the Orioles offense that never flagged in its belief that such a huge lead could be overcome, even against so famous a pitcher.
All the fine fellowship and bench chatter on earth can't do a baseball team as much good as a few late-inning line drives. Last season the Orioles looked like a dead-headed ballclub. Once behind, they stayed behind. Quietly.
Now, once more, Oriole Magic has returned to Memorial Stadium here on 33rd Street. The reason isn't psychology or pep talks. It's slugging. The house physician known as Dr. Longball and his associate Mr. Clutch are again on call.
Wayne Gross took a Blyleven curve into the right field bleachers for a solo homer in the first inning just to set a threatening tone.
After the Indians scored six runs in the second to knock out wild Storm Davis, the Orioles seemed hopelessly flat. How could they possibly revive their spirits? Hadn't they squandered a 3-1 lead on Saturday night when the Indians scored eight runs in the eighth?
Home runs have a way of reviving dormant baseball souls. After Cal Ripken and Fred Lynn singled in the fourth, rookie Larry Sheets demolished a low Blyleven fast ball 400 feet down the right field line for a three-run homer to cut the Cleveland lead to 7-4.
When Lynn scorched a solo homer barely over the right field fence at the 376-foot sign with two outs in the sixth, this game was up for grabs again.
Thanks to 7 1/3 innings of one-run relief pitching by Sammy Stewart, Nate Snell and winner Don Aase, the Orioles were still in position to retaliate in that eighth. Blyleven dug his own grave, and bought himself a shower, with a leadoff walk to Jim Dwyer.
As he marched off the mound, he made an underhand gesture with his right arm that has a universal meaning. Then, he did it again.
"My wife Agnes had to explain to me what it means," said Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams. "I don't think it was nice for him to do that. I'll have to explain to (American League) President Bobby Brown what it means tomorrow and see what he thinks should be done."
Orioles General Manager Hank Peters said the team would file a formal complaint with the league. "They didn't do anything out of the ordinary. I was just mad at myself . . . very, very upset at myself," said Blyleven. "I'll apologize if I hurt anybody's feelings."
Pinch hitter Fritz Connally, patient under pressure as he's been all year, got reliever Dave Von Ohlen in a 3-1 hole, then smashed an infield hit off his glove. Ripken then got lucky with a scratch single in the hole at short off Tom Waddell.
"After the leadoff walk, everybody looks at each other and says, 'Here we go,' " said Ripken. Added Sheets, who's new to these familiar shenanigans, "You could just feel it. It was going to happen."
Murray, who sometimes seems almost preternatural in his ability to rise to such situations, smacked a 2-2 fast ball to the opposite field for a clean double that kicked toward the corner.
After Mike Jeffcoat intentionally walked Lynn, the Orioles sent up Dan Ford to pinch hit for Sheets. The Indians brought in Thompson and the Orioles countered with Lowenstein, who has been in a clutch slump since 1983. Lowenstein made his .087 average seem immaterial with a long loud fly.
Murray's game-changing double may have been his way of atoning for a fielding gaffe that opened the gates to the six-run Cleveland second. After Davis had walked Cleveland's Nos. 8 and 9 hitters to load the bases, Murray became confused after fielding a Brett Butler dribbler and threw the ball past Davis at first base as a second run scored on the play.
That lost out may have meant as much as five extra runs. After the Indians blew a hit-and-run sign and Tony Bernazard was thrown out "stealing" third, the bases were reloaded on a walk to Franco and an infield hit by Mel Hall.
On Davis' 42nd pitch of a struggling inning, Pat Tabler tripled to right center for a 5-1 Indian lead. Joe Carter flared a double over first base and the Indians were cruising. An RBI ground out by Carter in the fourth seemed like mere window dressing.
But it was not enough.
"This was a big, big win for us," said Orioles Manager Joe Altobelli, who got his first ejection of the year in the sixth inning arguing over a called third strike on Ripken. "It didn't look like we were going to do much the way we were foolin' around with the baseball and doin' funny things in the second inning. But, when you score some runs . . . well, I wouldn't say all is forgiven, but it feels better."
The player not forgiven is Davis, whose ERA is now 7.23. Said Altobelli, "He's 23 years old, throwing 91 miles an hour and he's nibbling at corners to a team that's at the bottom in hitting home runs. He ain't supposed to do that. He's pitched well out of the bullpen in the spring in other years. Maybe . . . "
Last season when a starting pitcher dug a hole for the Orioles, they stayed in it. Already this April the Orioles have won a pair of 8-7 games after trailing 7-2 (against Toronto on the 13th) and 7-1. "The last time this kinda thing happened," said pitching coach Ray Miller, "was in 1979 when we had a coach on our bench who was talking to the hitters constantly about what to expect. He's back now, the bench is alive again and it's happening all over. Frank Robinson. Probably just a coincidence."