Bobby Grich has 1,775 hits in a splendid 15-year major league career that has established him as one of his game's consummate professionals. Of those 1,775 hits, the most recent was neither the hardest hit nor the most important.
It was one simple blooper that shattered the handle of his bat and dropped into shallow left field, a few feet behind shortstop Cal Ripken but in front of left fielder Mike Young.
It also won a game for the California Angels today. On a sunny, mild afternoon that included five homers and three doubles, hard sliders and slow curves, Grich's hit was the one that made the most difference in a 7-4 victory over the Baltimore Orioles before a noisy crowd of 47,408 at Anaheim Stadium.
"Some teams win ugly," Grich said. "I hit ugly. But wasn't it a thing of beauty? It was two inches from my hands, a pretty good fastball. It shattered the bat and stung me, but it was a good feeling."
Grich's hit drove in two runs in a five-run eighth inning that helped the Angels temporarily break open what had been a 2-1 game after seven. It ruined what had been a good afternoon for Orioles starter Scott McGregor (4-4) and began the end of the Baltimore bullpen's 22-inning scoreless streak.
It also helped the 28-19 Orioles end what had been a terrific trip on a sour note with two straight losses. After winning six of their first seven, they settled for a 6-3 trip and their fifth loss in 21 games. They also settled for falling two games behind the second-place New York Yankees and 4 1/2 behind the first-place Boston Red Sox in the American League East.
Today's game was played in two parts. The first seven innings belonged to starting pitchers Mike Witt (5-4) and McGregor.
Through seven innings, the Angels led, 2-1, on homers by George Hendrick and Wally Joyner. The Orioles had only five hits, with the first of two John Shelby homers producing their only run.
Baltimore had had only one other chance to score off Witt and that was in the fourth, loading the bases with one out. Witt got Shelby to hit into a forceout, then got Floyd Rayford on the same thing.
If there's a subplot to the Orioles this weekend, it is Rayford's. He started back-to-back games because Manager Earl Weaver hoped to snap him out of a horrendous batting slump that has reached none for 28 and dropped his average to .123. Instead, he only went deeper into it, going zero for six with four strikeouts.
It's serious enough now that Weaver and General Manager Hank Peters will discuss some kind of roster move Monday. Their options include asking Rayford to accept a brief assignment to Class AAA Rochester to get straightened out.
"I know what he's going through," Weaver said of Rayford. "You come back to the dugout, and you pray to God you come out of it. Tears come to your eyes, and you just feel everything slipping away."
For awhile, the fourth inning appeared to be the last chance the Orioles would have to score, and that became more important when the Angels sent nine men to the plate in the eighth to score five runs and go ahead, 7-1.
Center fielder Gary Pettis started it by lining a leadoff single to center. That brought up Joyner, who is not only hitting .308 in his rookie season but leads the American League with 17 homers and is second with 42 RBI. He swings away, right?
No. With a 2-1 lead, Angels Manager Gene Mauch was playing for one run and a 3-1 lead, so Joyner bunted perfectly, just to the right of the mound and past McGregor. Base hit.
"It did surprise me, but it was a good bunt anyway," said McGregor. "I'm not thinking about a bunt, but I'm not sure I'd have gotten it anyway."
Having won a round from Weaver, Mauch then went for two. With runners on first and second, the Orioles played bunt. Mauch called for a hit, and Brian Downing grounded an RBI double down the left field line, just past third baseman Juan Beniquez, who was playing in on the infield grass.
Weaver then went for reliever Rich Bordi, who had allowed only one earned run in his last 12 innings.
Not today. He got Doug DeCinces on a flyout to left and intentionally walked Hendrick to load the bases and set up a possible double play.
That's when Bordi threw what Grich called "a good fastball. It shattered my bat, so it must have been good." Grich dumped the fastball into left for a single to score Joyner and Downing and make it 5-1, and after Dick Schofield struck out, Jack Howell's double made it 7-1.
None of that seemed important at the time, but it was a few moments later when Witt couldn't get anyone out in the ninth.
Beniquez led off with a single, and Young hit his second homer of the season to make it 7-3. Shelby followed with his second of the afternoon to make it 7-4, and when pinch hitter Larry Sheets grounded a single to to center, Mauch went for reliever Doug Corbett.
Alan Wiggins greeted Corbett with a single. But with no one out, Lee Lacy grounded into a double play.
Corbett walked Cal Ripken, which brought up Eddie Murray, the tying run, but Murray grounded out to end the game.
"It's still a good road trip," Weaver said. "It's too early to worry about anyone else. I'll take six out of every nine the rest of the way."
Center fielder Fred Lynn wasn't available today because of a sore left wrist. . . . The Orioles will have Monday off before beginning a three-game home series with Seattle Tuesday.