Attention, all Baltimore Orioles. Does anything that's happening to you these days seem familiar? This is not a drill.
Baltimore was left at the gate by the Detroit Tigers in April of 1984. Now, it faces the possibility of being caught flat-footed by the Toronto Blue Jays.
An important and potentially frightening weekend began for the Orioles tonight with an 8-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox at damp Memorial Stadium before 34,185 fans.
Just as Toronto is mugging the injured and sagging Tigers, the Orioles are running into a Red Sox team that has won eight of nine games.
Suddenly, the second-place Orioles find themselves 6 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays, who have won 15 of 17, in the American League East. Toronto (36-16) now is almost as ferociously hot as Detroit was last year.
"We're tryin' to keep up with them," said one of the exasperated Orioles, Jim Dwyer. "We know they're hot."
"Toronto is winning at an unbelievable pace," said Cal Ripken. "You don't like to say that games this early in the season are really important. We know they are. We just can't say it."
This night's loss was a galling one for the Orioles since they gave their star, Mike Boddicker, an early 4-2 lead against Al Nipper on a three-run homer by Eddie Murray in the first and a homer by Wayne Gross in the second. That, however, was all the damage the hosts could do as nibbler Nipper (2-5) settled down to combine with reliever Bob Stanley on a six-hitter.
The coldest Red Sox hitter of the year, Dwight Evans (.199), drove in four runs, including the game-winner with a single in Boston's decisive four-run third inning.
Baltimore got more bad news this evening because Boddicker (6-5) lost his fourth straight game, the longest losing streak of his career. Once again, he was wild, walking four men and hitting one, as he allowed six runs. He lasted only 2 2/3 innings, the second-quickest exit of his three-year career.
"Tonight, I was concerned," said Manager Joe Altobelli about Boddicker, who has walked 40 in 75 innings. "I haven't been so much before because he has lost some pretty tough games."
Because of worry over the generally erratic control of Orioles starters, the team probably will send rookie Ken Dixon to the bullpen soon and go with a four-man rotation. "Pitchers who depend on finesse and changing speeds to be effective, like ours, need more work than they're getting," said pitching coach Ray Miller.
This series with fifth-place Boston begins a sequence of 25 straight games for the Orioles against American League East opponents. More important, however, is the fact that while Baltimore (29-22) has spent a third of the season treading water against mediocre teams, the Blue Jays have built a first-place nest.
The next five days could be a crucial juncture in the AL East race. Detroit, 8 1/2 games back, is in serious trouble since it must send Doug Bair and Randy O'Neal to the mound in the final two games of its series with the Blue Jays. Then, the Tigers will face the Orioles three times next week.
The Orioles and Blue Jays could leave the battered Tigers a dozen games out of the lead by Wednesday night. On the other hand, if the Orioles do poorly, they easily could face a double-figure deficit by the time they leave Detroit.
"It would be a real good time to win some games," said reliever Tippy Martinez.
Ripken said, "In '82, we finished second, then we won the next year. In '83, the Tigers were second, then they won the next year. Last year, Toronto was second and they got a real good taste of being in the race. You can tell that they're hungry now. They can be beaten. But we can't let them get away."
The good news for the Orioles this misty evening, on which play started 36 minutes late because of rain, was that Murray is still scalding. With a walk, single and 380-foot homer, he's 17 for 29 with 14 RBI in the last eight games.
Just as superb is 32-year-old rookie Nate Snell, who is making the most of a very belated major league debut. With 3 1/3 more shutout innings tonight, he's allowed only two runs in his last 25 1/3 innings. In all, he's worked more innings than any American League reliever (49) and has a 1.85 ERA.
Snell's work couldn't overshadow Boddicker's shakiness. Although Boddicker walked Evans to force home a run in the first inning, it was the fourth that undid him.
With one out, Bill Buckner doubled to right on a ball Lee Lacy missed by inches after a poorly timed leap. Mike Easler walked on a full-count change-up that fooled him completely and which, replays seemed to show, was an almost perfect strike. "It was down the middle," Boddicker said afterward.
Boddicker may have been demoralized by the call. On his next pitch, Rich Gedman sliced an RBI double into the left field corner. Two pitches later, Evans hit a two-run single to left for a 5-4 Boston lead.
Boddicker got a second out, but No. 9 hitter Glenn Hoffman knocked him out with an RBI triple to the right field corner on a lazy fly that glanced off the end of Lacy's glove as he dived.
Neither of Lacy's near misses was a bad play but many top outfielders, like Boston's Evans, probably would have made both plays.
Near misses may be permissable in some years and in some divisions. But in 1985 in the American League East, coming up an inch shy too often in June is a good way to be out of the picture by September.