The Orioles and 29,157 fans reveled in nostalgia today during a 78-minute pregame ceremony honoring pitcher Jim Palmer, the only man to play on all six of Baltimore's American League pennant winners. Then it was time to face reality.
Dragged down by inept pitching, sloppy fielding and lackadaisical base running, the Orioles were thrashed by the Seattle Mariners, 10-2.
The Mariners' Jack Perconte had the biggest day of his life, too, getting five hits in the first six innings. By the sixth, Seattle had 16 hits and an eight-run lead, sufficient to transform the earlier atmosphere of tears and choked words to one of impatience and loudly voiced disgust.
The visitors, who never have taken a season series from Baltimore, were able to escape with a 6-6 split this time. Left-hander Matt Young, who shut out the Orioles 10 days ago, breezed through eight innings today and earned only his second road success in a 10-14 season.
The Orioles entered September in fourth place, 12 1/2 games behind front-running Toronto. Only one other time in the last 15 years -- 1984, when they trailed by 14 games -- have they begun the stretch run so badly outdistanced. Palmer, of course, was here for the other 13 seasons.
He circled the field today in a convertible before and after the ceremony that culminated in the retirement of his No. 22. He received repeated standing ovations, as well as gifts as varied as a 25-foot cabin cruiser and the deed to air rights to the area between the mound and home plate.
Most of those who came to honor Palmer also brought checks for the Cystic Fibrosis Research Foundation, as he requested in his position as the foundation's national sports chairman.
The highlight of the ceremony, as expected, was the repartee between Manager Earl Weaver and Palmer, with much of it centered around the boat.
"There was many a day that I'd have liked to have put him on that boat and sent him to China," Weaver said. "And probably many a day he'd have liked to throw me off it.
"But Jim was a leader by example, and on the mound he was always doing things only he could do. I don't know anybody who handled success so well."
Palmer suggested the abundant praise he received be divided by two for a more equitable memory. He lauded former teammates as diverse as Brooks and Frank Robinson, who participated in the ceremony, and Lenn Sakata, who will rejoin the club Tuesday after exile in Class AAA Rochester.
Of Weaver, Palmer said, "I had something of a love-hate relationship with Earl, but he always had my respect. You can be captain of my ship any time you want, Earl. But I want to warn you. There aren't any life preservers."
The game started 32 minutes late, and when the folks saw the way it was developing, they probably wished Palmer had taken a few more spins around the field -- or at least one more turn on the mound. Certainly, his old battery mate, Rick Dempsey, could have done without what followed.
Dempsey, the players' spokesman at the ceremony, had joked, "The one thing I have against Jim Palmer, he left me here all by myself to argue with Earl Weaver." Later, Dempsey wasn't laughing.
In the third inning, he took center fielder John Shelby's on-the-fly throw to nail Jim Presley. Presley was out by so much that instead of sliding, he barreled into Dempsey with his left shoulder, and in the collision, Dempsey suffered a severely bruised left shoulder that put him out of the game. He went home with his left arm in a sling.
Dennis Martinez had an 11-7 record, best by a Baltimore starter, and a four-game winning streak before the game. It became clear today that he had little on the ball.
He threw 26 pitches in the top of the first inning and it took him 19 minutes to retire the Mariners. With numerous throws to first, a conference with coach Ken Rowe and other dawdling, Martinez needed nine minutes to get the first out and nine more for the second.
Remarkably, it was only 2-0. Perconte singled and, following two walks, scored on Al Cowens' single. The second run crossed on Presley's sacrifice fly.
Martinez yielded two hits in the second inning and three in the third, when he was rescued by Shelby's throw. And the Orioles were behind by only 2-1 when Weaver summoned Nate Snell following Perconte's one-out single in the fourth.
After shortstop Cal Ripken fumbled Phil Bradley's ready-made double-play grounder, Alvin Davis hit his 13th homer over the fence in right center to make it 5-1.
Baltimore, which scored an unearned run in the second on a bases-loaded walk to Dempsey, crept to 5-2 in the fourth on Mike Young's 23rd homer. Before that inning ended, Gary Roenicke was picked off first when he was unable to decide whether to run on a pitch that got past the catcher..
Wiggins booted a routine grounder during Seattle's two-run fifth inning, but the crowd's reaction was limited compared to the boos he received for failing to run out a grounder to third baseman Presley in the bottom half.
Tippy Martinez, who replaced Snell in the fifth, yielded Seattle's last three runs in the sixth. All scored on a one-out double to left center by shortstop Domingo Ramos, a .183 hitter playing because Spike Owen had a bad back.