A long, tense, marvelous four-game series ended this afternoon with Mike Boddicker and the Baltimore Orioles beating the New York Yankees, 4-3, thanks to a mighty checked-swing single and a misjudged fly ball.
Yet, if you thought this was only one warmup series in June, four games to fill time between spring training and the all-star break, you may have been wrong.
Almost an hour after today's game, Orioles Manager Earl Weaver had not yet removed his uniform as he paced back and forth across his office, cigarette in one hand, glass of iced tea in the other.
"Oh, man," he said. "I was uptight, and I know that rubbed off on the team. That's not good because guys start going up there thinking they've got to do everything. And with each loss, it got worse."
About 100 yards away, in the other clubhouse, the Yankees' manager also was having trouble calming down. One of the miracles of the 1986 season is that a rookie manager named Lou Piniella has controlled his volcanic temper, and today, he almost didn't.
"They were lucky to beat us," he said, biting off the words. "That's plain and simple. I don't say that very often. In fact, I very rarely say that. They had a checked-swing single and a fly ball. What the hell do you call that? Skill? We gave 'em five outs in the eighth inning, and amazingly they were all scored hits. That's something, isn't it?"
When this day began, the Yankees had won the first three games of this series by the scores of 7-5, 3-1 and 4-2, pushed the Orioles back into third place in the American League East and handed them their fifth loss in six games since they won three times in Yankee Stadium last weekend. When it ended, the Orioles were 4 1/2 games behind division-leading Boston and one behind second-place New York.
If the managers were excited, so were the fans, who turned out in near-record numbers. Today's game drew 43,910 to Memorial Stadium and the four-game series attracted 166,752, the second biggest for a series in Orioles history.
What they saw today was more of the same: another close, well-played game. What they also saw were two of the Orioles' most sure things combining for a victory.
Boddicker stretched his record to 9-1 by scattering five hits over eight innings, and reliever Don Aase pitched the ninth for his league-leading 18th save (seven of them for Boddicker).
Two of the hits off Boddicker were big ones, homers by Dan Pasqua and Rickey Henderson, and for a while it looked as though Yankees pitchers Doug Drabek, Bob Shirley and Brian Fisher (2-3) would make three runs stand up.
Pasqua's homer had given the Yankees a 1-0 lead in the fifth, and Henderson's made it 2-0 in the sixth.
An indication of how tense the series was is that Drabek, making his first major league start, was pulled in the fifth with a no-hitter going. The Orioles had only one base runner the first four innings and only five hits for the game. But after shortstop Ivan DeJesus misplayed Larry Sheets' pop fly in shallow left, Drabek walked Tom O'Malley and went to 2-0 on Mike Young. Piniella had seen enough.
"I didn't even think about him having the no-hitter," Piniella said. "I'm here to give our team the best opportunity to win games I can. If it had been the eighth inning, that might have been different."
Reliever Shirley got Piniella out of the fifth. He struck out Young, allowed John Shelby a bloop single to right that loaded the bases, then struck out Floyd Rayford and got Alan Wiggins to pop up.
The game turned for the Orioles in the sixth when Shirley walked Cal Ripken with one out and Eddie Murray hit a towering homer to left for a 2-2 tie.
"Oh, geez, that was important," Weaver said. "That got us going. We just weren't doing anything before that."
The Yankees came right back and took a 3-2 lead in the top of the seventh when Boddicker walked DeJesus with two outs, then allowed Gary Roenicke a bloop single and Henderson a single off second baseman Wiggins' glove.
Fisher put the Orioles down in the seventh, but in the eighth, the Orioles got a couple of hits and a lot of luck.
The luck began with Lee Lacy's checked-swing bouncer in front of the plate. Fisher and catcher Ron Hassey converged on it and appeared to bump. Lacy was given a single. Ripken followed with a double into the left field corner that scored Lacy for a 3-3 tie. Then things got complicated.
With first base open, Murray was given an intentional walk, and Fisher appeared close to getting out of the inning again as he got Sheets on a pop to center and O'Malley on a pop to short. But then Young hit a hard liner toward right field that froze Pasqua, who was starting in place of Dave Winfield.
"I just lost it," Pasqua said.
Regardless, Young was given a single, and Ripken scored for a 4-3 lead.
"It had a lot of topspin on it," Young said. "I think that's why he played back. I thought I hit it harder than I did, but . . . "
Was the game won on luck as Piniella said?
"A majority of them are," Weaver said. "Last weekend, we hit the foul pole. Yesterday, Henderson hit it with a game-winning homer. The first night here, Winfield went six inches over the wall to catch a ball. I do think the best team will win over the course of a year, but luck ain't too bad to have."
The three-game losing streak was the Orioles' longest of the season, and Boddicker has stopped four of their seven two-game losing streaks and their three-game streak.
He also continued with what has become a marvelous season as he fed the Yankees a diet of curveballs for four innings, then watched them flail at fastballs and changeups for the next four. An indication of his consistency is that he has pitched at least seven innings in 10 of his 11 starts and held the oppposition to three or fewer runs eight times.
"I didn't pitch one bit better than Scott McGregor pitched yesterday or Storm Davis did Friday," Boddicker said. "You can't control how many runs they score for you, but you can cheer. I just wanted to pitch as well as they did."
Ripken made his first error in 34 games today. . . . The only other series that drew more fans to Memorial Stadium was in August 1980, when a five-game Yankees-Orioles series drew 249,605 (the major league record for a series). . . . The Orioles hit .176 with runners in scoring position this series. . . . Since the start of the 1983 season, when Boddicker came to the big leagues, he has won 57 games. Only Detroit's Jack Morris (59) has won more during that time; the Yankees' Ron Guidry also has won 57.