In Sunday's game, their last of this squandered season, the Baltimore Orioles hit two home runs, giving them a total of 214 for the season, the sixth-best total in the history of baseball. No Orioles team ever hit as many as 182 before. The Orioles scored three runs, giving them a total of 818, the best in the club's history. Only one other Orioles team ever scored as many as 800 before. These Orioles also set club records for total bases and slugging percentage. In fact, no Orioles team ever hit the ball as hard and as far as this one. That's the good news.
The bad news, and we're talking bad news, is the 1985 Baltimore Orioles couldn't get anybody out. You think Joe Theismann's having trouble throwing? This Orioles pitching staff posted the fattest earned run average, 4.38, in the club's history, to say nothing of permitting opponents more runs, 764, more home runs, 160, and a higher batting average, .270, than all previous Orioles teams.
Sunday's game was just the latest, and, mercifully, final example of what has undone the 1985 Orioles. The Orioles led, 3-2, after three innings. But Dennis Martinez, who couldn't hold a lead with a forklift, barely lasted into the fourth inning, giving up five earned runs to pad his laughable ERA to 5.15. From then on, Earl Weaver made enough trips to the mound to qualify for a free first-class seat in the bullpen car, and Baltimore lost to the (talk about the bottom dropping out quicker than you can say dynasty) defending world champion Tigers, 11-3, in the Also-Ran Bowl.
Welcome to fourth place.
Five games over.
Sixteen games out.
Last winter, as the Orioles assessed how best to overtake Detroit, they decided the answer lay in getting more offense. "We had people who'd totally collapsed on us, guys who were suddenly and stunningly over the hill," Hank Peters, the general manager, said the other day, referring to longtime, stalwart Orioles such as Ken Singleton, John Lowenstein, Benny Ayala and Al Bumbry. So they spent mucho dolares on Fred Lynn and Lee Lacy, added Alan Wiggins in July, and those three, along with almost everyone else who swung the bat -- particularly old faithfuls Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken and new geysers Mike Young and Floyd Rayford -- made the Orioles even more offensive than some real estate agents. "We did what we set out to do," Peters said.
Who figured the pitching would unravel like this, like a crepe paper suit in a wind tunnel? In the three seasons from 1982 through 1984, the Orioles' front-line starting pitchers -- Scott McGregor, Mike Flanagan, Storm Davis and Mike Boddicker -- won 61 more games than they lost, an average of plus-20 per year. This season they finished at minus-4. Their ERAs were so large, they could be mortgage payments: McGregor's was 4.81; Flanagan's 5.13; Davis' 4.53. Boddicker's is the lowest, at 4.07, but last season his 2.79 was the best in the American League. And don't forget about Team Martinez, Tippy at 5.40 and Dennis at 5.15.
"The pitching is completely different from anything we've experienced; the real mystery is the contagion," Peters said. "You can be guilty of over-evaluation if you base your projections on faulty hopes, like people coming back from injury, or projecting a 12-game winner into a 20-game winner. And you can't predict instant, smash success for a young kid. But if you have people who are physically sound, relatively young, and they've done it before, then of course you can make the projections. All we said is, 'Go out and have the same kind of years you've been having.' "
Although the Orioles started well enough, 18-9 by May 11, 21-14 and tied for first place on May 19, they were moving in fits and starts, pedaling uphill by June. Earl Weaver was coaxed back (by the kind of money that would make the name of the album, Earl-Aid) and Joe Altobelli was history quicker than you could say, "There's a stagecoach leaving here at noon. Be on it." Altobelli was 29-26; the Fiery Little Genius was 53-52. Motivation is fine, but give me Dwight Gooden every fifth day.
The talk of the town now is whether Weaver will be back. Last week in New York he told the team, "I think we've got a hell of a chance to win (next season), and I want to be part of it." So you know where he's leaning. It's hard to imagine the Orioles not wanting him back next year after what they did to get him back this year. If it's a question of money -- and of course it is -- Weaver probably will get his price. The guy's going in the Hall of Fame. Most other managers are just going fishing.
Before yesterday's game Weaver already was drum-beating for next year, doing a Casey Stengel on his pitching staff's prospects, saying, "Boddicker's four games better. Give him four more wins. Take away four losses. So's McGregor. Maybe six. But just put down four. Double Ken Dixon. No better. No worse. Davis? I know we can get four more wins out of Davis. Turn Flanagan around. Nah, give him something like 15-11. That sound right? Who's my other starter? Dennis? Give him this year, which is a disappointment. No, give him one more. I don't think that's too much to ask, and I'm talking conservative now."
That's 90-odd Ws, and Earl hasn't gone to the mound yet.
Is this a great country, or what?