The Baltimore Orioles played the kind of game tonight that, in the best of times, gives managers nightmares, and that, in the worst of times, gets them fired.
These may not be the worst of times for the Orioles and their manager, Joe Altobelli. But it's getting there fast.
The Orioles lost their fourth straight game tonight, again to a key American League East rival. This time Detroit won, 8-7, in 11 innings in an amazing game before 33,239 in Tiger Stadium.
"Funny?" said Altobelli after seeing his team hit four home runs and lose, his bullpen blow leads in the seventh and 11th and his defense give away three runs. "No, these last few games haven't been so funny. Not funny at all."
Lance Parrish ended this 3-hour 55-minute match between baseball's last two world champions with a little single to left field off loser Sammy Stewart. That hit, for Parrish's third RBI, scored Lou Whitaker, who had singled and been sacrificed to second.
What a paltry end to a game that had enough highlights and pratfalls, heroes and goats for a book.
Instead of Parrish's final hit, why not remember the 450-foot upper deck homer he hit in the seventh off Tippy Martinez to tie the score, 5-5?
Why not remember the heroic home run hit to tie the score, 6-6, with two out in the ninth inning by Floyd Rayford, the Orioles' least-used player, off Detroit's MVP and Cy Young winner, Willie Hernandez? Hernandez had been 43-1 in save situation as a Tiger, but Rayford took him over the right field wall by inches.
Why not remember the home run by Lee Lacy with two out in the 11th inning off Detroit's other bullpen ace, Aurelio Lopez, that gave Baltimore a 7-6 lead? Lacy also had homered to lead off the game. And broke his bat in half. Realizing it was difficult to hit a broken-bat homer, officials cut into the bat looking for cork or other illegal additions, then pronounced the bat okay. What a perfect goofy prelude.
What the heck, why not remember Barbaro Garbey's leadoff home run in the bottom of the 11th that tied the game again, 6-6, and brought the crowd back howling from the exit ramps and parking lots?
While we're at it, why not remember Larry Sheets' two-run homer off starter Jack Morris that tied this game, 3-3? Like Lacy's first homer and Rayford's liner, the ball cleared the right field fence by a foot or two. None of the three would have been homers in any other park except Wrigley Field.
What the Orioles will remember longest and most bitterly about this night is a call that freeze-frame replays show was blown by first base umpire Tim Wilke.
With a man on second and one out in the eighth, Wilke called Larry Herndon safe on a chop over the mound even though shortstop Cal Ripken's throw was in Eddie Murray's mitt and Murray's foot was dug into the bag while Herndon was airborne more than a foot above the base.
Dave Bergman followed with a sacrifice fly -- one of four by the Tigers to tie the major league record) -- that would have been the third out except for Wilke's call.
The Orioles, who have lost 16 of their last 27 games and remain 6 1/2 games behind first-place Toronto, may grouse but they shouldn't. They lost on merit, too.
The Orioles, beaten by Boston without allowing an earned run Saturday, continued to give up runs their new-fashioned way; they unearned them. Center fielder Fred Lynn dropped a routine fly ball that led to two runs. Ripken threw a ball into the Orioles' dugout to set up another.
Finally, Tippy Martinez, who gave up a home run to the first man he faced (Parrish), threw a wild pitch to set up the run in the eighth.
The painful irony of this night was that the Orioles made a month's worth of marvelous plays. Gary Roenicke leaped above the left field fence to rob Alex Sanchez of what would have been a sudden death home run in the 10th. Third baseman Wayne Gross climbed the tarp and catcher Rick Dempsey climbed the backstop screen to catch foul balls and end rallies.
Starter Dennis Martinez picked off two runners. Ripken made a dream-sequence force-out throw from the hole. Murray forced a lead runner on a dangerous sacrifice bunt.
But the Orioles also stunk. A pop-up dropped in short center field. Dennis Martinez let Tom Brookens, who steals a base a month, swipe second and third to set up a cheap run.
Also, Altobelli killed what should have been a bases-loaded, one-out rally with Murray at the plate by having slow Jim Dwyer running on a 3-2 pitch to Ripken. Ripken, overanxious, fanned on an ankle-high pitch and Dwyer was thrown out for an inning-ending double play.
Altobelli paid dearly for his curious squandering of his bullpen Sunday when, in a lost game, he used up Nate Snell and Don Aase. Tonight, Sammy Stewart warmed up three times, starting in the fourth inning, then pitched three crisis-filled innings, yet still was on the mound at the end for one reason.
The Orioles had no other fresh reliever who'd been on a major league mound in a crucial situation. That may not be bad managing, but it's embarrassing when the owner is back home talking publicly about how unhappy he is.
"Being in a game like this might be just what the doctor ordered," said Altobelli, who also may have hurt his cause by arguing half-heartedly over Wilke's call. "We really fought back."
Stewart said, "This right here showed a lot. More than we've shown all year. I wanted that game so bad for the team . . . Jeez, we had our heads buried and Floyd hits one out for us. I ask 'em for another home run and Lacy gives it to me and I give it right back."
"It was better tonight," said Tippy Martinez, "but it doesn't seem like we're quite as spunky (this year)."
"You know what Earl Weaver always said," Ripken offered. " 'There is no such thing as momentum in baseball. It's a new game, new pitcher, new lineup every day.' "
"Have a beer and forget the last one," said Joe Nolan, offering another Weaverism.
When they start quoting previous managers, that's not good, either.