The cloud hanging over major league baseball all but blocked out the Baltimore Orioles' glimpse of sunshine today.
This could have been a splendid day for the Orioles. They defeated Cleveland, 5-4, at Municipal Stadium as Lee Lacy hit a game-winning home run in the ninth and Dennis Martinez pitched 3 2/3 innings of one-hit relief. Floyd Rayford and Gary Roenicke also homered.
Better still, Toronto fell off its magic carpet for a day, losing, 8-4, to Texas. So the Orioles closed within 12 1/2 games of the Blue Jays in the American League East, which might not be great, but it's better than being 13 1/2 out.
Then came the news from New York. The players union and management broke off today's meeting without a resolution and without scheduling another negotiating session. The strike deadline is midnight Monday and the Orioles' next game is scheduled for Tuesday in Toronto.
Someone said, "See you next winter" in the Orioles' locker room as the realization set in: today's victory may have been their last game of the season.
"My philosophies are going down the tube. I thought sure a strike date extension would happen," Manager Earl Weaver said. "I can't believe this will be the last game of the year. However, I didn't think the strike would last as many days as it did last time, either (1981)."
"Man, it's not the last game of the season," said Lacy, who hit a knee-high fast ball from reliever Rich Thompson (3-6) 380 feet over the left field wall for his fifth homer.
"No, it can't happen. It's not only the players involved. There are a lot of jobs involved in cities around the country where baseball is played. I just don't see it happening."
It's been a frustrating 53-50 season for these Orioles. After their 10-4 loss here Saturday night, Weaver was angry and upset. "I'm hurt and I'm humiliated," he said.
"I'm laughing, but I'm embarrassed, that's me. I ain't even telling you how I feel as far as Mr. Williams (Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams) and the fans in Baltimore are concerned."
With the Blue Jays breezing and the Baltimore starting pitchers wheezing and the strike deadline closing in fast, the Orioles' world has been unstable the past few weeks.
"I can't say that the guys have been going on the field without thinking about the strike and the way Toronto has been playing," outfielder Mike Young said. "Those two things are tough to get out of your head.
"We're 12 1/2 games out. There's hope, but it's diminishing kind of fast."
The Orioles can take solace in the fact they won today despite having trailed, 3-1, in the fourth and despite botching one potential run and handing Cleveland a freebie.
Mike Flanagan started for Baltimore. He had given up just 12 hits in 19 innings since returning from an Achilles' tendon injury. Today, he gave up six hits (four for extra bases) and left in the sixth, trailing, 4-3.
He should have been even at 3-3. But the Orioles gave away a run in the fifth when, with two out and Indians on first and third, Julio Franco broke for second. Catcher Rick Dempsey tried to throw out Franco without first checking to see how far Brett Butler had strayed off third.
By the time second baseman Alan Wiggins' relay arrived at the plate, Butler had scored easily and Franco was standing on second.
"Dempsey could have held the ball and tagged (Butler) out, sliding. That's how big a lead he had," Weaver said. "(Dempsey) just made a bad decision, that's all."
Wiggins made a bad decision in the Orioles' seventh. Rayford had led off the inning with his sixth homer of the season and second in two days to tie the score at 4.
One out later, Wiggins singled. But starter Neal Heaton caught him leaning and Wiggins was thrown out running toward second. The Orioles then loaded the bases, but didn't score.
Weaver pointed out that Wiggins had produced the Orioles' first run with aggressive base running in the first inning. Wiggins walked, stole second and took third when catcher Chris Bando's throw trickled into center. Wiggins then scored on a groundout by Cal Ripken Jr.
"He's got to make up his mind. He's got the green light (to steal), but I'd rather call it, 'Go, if you get the jump,' " Weaver said. "(In the seventh), he didn't get the jump."
Of course, in the end, none of this mattered. All that mattered was that Martinez (8-7) won his first game in exactly a month and that Lacy produced the Orioles' league-leading 130th home run.
All of this left the 12,252 in attendance pulling their Visor Day souvenirs over their eyes rather than watch the latest bout with the bungles by the Indians (34-70).
Twenty-one of the 25 Orioles headed home to Baltimore today for a day off and who knows what after that.
"I'll have my little transistor right there," Lacy said, putting his hands to an ear as if to hear the latest on the strike.
Fred Lynn said he is one of the four players going to Toronto to wait. "Mentally, I'm saying to myself that the season will continue. I don't want to go home and tell myself the season is over and then have it start again," he said.
With a shrug, Lynn added: "Anyway, I don't like to change gears in the middle of the season."