After 5 hours and 3 minutes, after 15 innings and 125 men sent to the plate, after an RBI landmark by Reggie Jackson and last-out heroics by Eddie Murray, after a night of luck and strategy and skill that made a marathon seem marvelous, you'd think that baseball's gods could come up with a better final act than a single to center field by Mike Brown.
The ending wasn't worthy of the start here tonight in Memorial Stadium as the California Angels beat the Baltimore Orioles, 6-5, in the American League's longest game this season, a game that took longer than many doubleheaders. However, all the dramas that led up to the final a.m. scene were special. This was a game so well and tightly wound that it hardly needed a conclusion.
Orioles fans still watching at the end may have felt cheated, but not baseball fans.
In the final chapter, the Angels won this warm evening when Ruppert Jones drew a two-out walk off reliever Ken Dixon, stole second base by an eyelash and scored when Brown singled.
What an anticlimax.
That's not what the crowd of 17,237 will remember.
What will they recall?
They'll see Murray's two-out, two-run double to right field bouncing off the very top of the fence in the ninth inning to send the game into extra innings. Murray now has 15 hits in his last 24 at bats.
If the ball had bounced a foot higher, it would have been a ground-rule double, Cal Ripken couldn't have scored from first base and the Orioles would have lost in regulation.
The crowd will remember that the fence giveth and the fence taketh away.
In the 12th inning, as Floyd Rayford's line drive streaked toward the Oriole bullpen in left field, it seemed this game would end in a split second. But Rayford's blow landed just where Murray's had -- a foot from the top.
One double prevented defeat. The other prevented victory.
Those who stayed to the end will have other memories and disappointments.
Shouldn't this night have revolved around Jackson? His tough-it-out, two-out, two-strike RBI double kept alive a four-run first inning against Baltimore starter Storm Davis. When Jackson also drove home what looked like an insurance run with a single in the eighth for a 5-3 lead, he tied Joe DiMaggio for 23rd place on the all-time RBI list with 1,537.
Before the game, Jackson talked about clutch hitting and said, "In the big situations, the cream rises. I used to be like that (cream). Now, I'm just half and half.
"These days, I'm not concerned about home runs that much, said Jackson, who has 510 homers -- one behind Mel Ott and two behind Ernie Banks and Eddie Mathews. "I just want to contribute some key hits."
His bat's not dead and neither is his tongue.
Two other players made plays so similar and remarkable that they hang together nicely. Angels catcher Bob Boone, whose throwing error allowed the Orioles' first run, atoned with a wonderful rally-killing play in the third.
After a ridiculously wild throw to the plate by first baseman Juan Beniquez allowed a Baltimore run to score, Boone sprinted toward the stands, played the carom off the wall as he slid on his knees, then spun and threw to the plate to the pitcher covering to nip Larry Sheets for the last out of the inning.
In the Angels' half of the 14th inning, Rayford provided a replay -- Orioles style. With Doug DeCinces on third and Bobby Grich at bat, a white cat scampered around the outfield, delaying play. Grich looked studiously at his toes, focusing his concentration, while reliever Tippy Martinez watched the silly cat chase that had the crowd chuckling.
On the next pitch, Martinez threw a curve in the dirt that rolled 40 feet from the plate. Rayford dashed, slid, scooped the ball and whirled to throw home. DeCinces was out by an inch and the game was "saved" once more.
On a night this rich, it would be easy to forget that Angels center fielder Gary Pettis -- perhaps the best ground eater since Paul Blair -- tied a major league record by catching a dozen fly balls. Three of them looked like hits when they left the bat. Two of the grabs robbed the Orioles of runs.
Tenacious pitching was also a thread throughout. After Davis' early problems, he retired 15 men in a row. Don Aase allowed a run, but Sammy Stewart worked 4 2/3 shutout innings. Martinez had nothing and said so after getting only one out. That forced an appearance by Dixon, who was knocked out early on Monday night, in the 15th inning.
The Angels starter, Ron Romanick, looked at times as if he were pitching batting practice, but somehow didn't use up his supply of luck until the sixth inning.
The Angels' pitching hero was Stu Cliburn (2-1), who worked the final 5 2/3 shutout innings for the victory. Eight men reached base against him; all were stranded. In all, eight Orioles innings ended this evening with runners in scoring positions.
"I was going an inning at a time," Cliburn said, "but, personally, I wanted to keep going out as long as I still had stuff and was throwing strikes. I haven't gone that long in a long time, but I felt strong. We were short in the bullpen and as long as I was challenging the hitters and getting them out, I figured they would go with me.
"I kept thinking to myself, 'God, could I have just one quick inning.' "
"We can't say we didn't have our chances," muttered Baltimore General Manager Hank Peters.
Fittingly, Rayford ended the game on third base as Gary Roenicke flied out.
This victory may have been more meaningful to the first-place Angels than to the Orioles. California had lost two straight games in the ninth inning. "This one really could have hurt," admitted Angels Manager Gene Mauch. "You bet your life I went through an emotional roller coaster . . . "
"But," said Mauch of his youthful bullpen, " . . . (our) kid pitchers (Pat Clements and Cliburn) got the guts of government mules."
For the Orioles, however, this might have been the sort of night that starts a significant winning streak. On Monday, Baltimore trailed by five runs at one point, trailed, 5-3, in the ninth and still won in sudden-death (7-5) on Lee Lacy's home run.
To pull the same stunt two nights in a row might have revised the Orioles opinion of themselves considerably. And for the better.
Now, instead of feeling inspired, the Orioles will find themselves five games behind red-hot Toronto in the morning's standings.
All in all, the evening of June 4 was a lucky one for the Orioles.
It was the first 39 minutes of June 5 that wasn't so good.