For nine weeks, Baltimore Orioles Manager Earl Weaver had the American League's quickest trigger finger -- and best bullpen.
Tonight, he did not pull the trigger, and Tom Brookens' three-run homer off starter Ken Dixon in the eighth inning was the difference in the Detroit Tigers' 5-4 victory before 18,067 at Memorial Stadium.
The Orioles' bats finally came to life, with Rick Dempsey hitting a bases-empty homer in the fifth and Mike Young a three-run shot in the eighth. Nevertheless, they lost for the seventh time in 10 games and for the fourth time in a homestand that is only five games old.
With the loss, they not only fell 5 1/2 games out of first place, but they missed a chance to retake second place after the New York Yankees lost to the Boston Red Sox, 10-1.
After being battered for 16 homers in his last 35 innings, Dixon pitched well for seven innings, scattering four hits and allowing the Tigers only a 2-1 lead.
He got the first two outs of the eighth but walked Alan Trammell, who stole second. He then gave Pat Sheridan an intentional walk to bring up Brookens, whom Dixon had struck out in the sixth in a similar situation. Brookens had not hit a home run this season, and he had only 46 in eight seasons.
When he came up in the eighth, Dixon had thrown 143 pitches and worked hard, striking out a career-high eight and walking a career-high nine.
"This was the exact situation we wanted," Weaver said. "We wanted Brookens up there. Look at what he'd Dixon done three hitters before. Don't tell me that because he was great three batters earlier, he's now crap. That's not right."
"Brookens is the last guy I thought would hit it out of the park," Dixon said. "I know he's a major-leaguer, but I don't expect that from him. It must have been a bad curveball because it went out of the park, but I was trying to get ahead in the count."
The Orioles came back to make it 5-4 when Young hit a three-run homer off Detroit's ace reliever, Willie Hernandez, in the bottom of the inning.
Then, in the ninth, the Orioles' Jim Dwyer opened with a pinch double to right. One pitch later, with Alan Wiggins at the plate, Dwyer was picked off second.
"Tonight, Dwyer made a mistake," Weaver said. "I hope God forgives him. I hope the fans forgive him. And I hope the press forgives him. I know I'm going to forgive him. You can't play this game without making mistakes sometime. He's human. That's three times it's happened to us already."
The Orioles least expect it to happen to Dwyer, an 11-year veteran who has survived as much with brains as with physical talent. That talent appeared to have brought results again when he opened the ninth by putting the Orioles' tying run on second.
On the next pitch, Wiggins, who had squared around to bunt, took a pitch. Dwyer had a big lead, and when he saw Wiggins take the pitch, he started back toward second. He stumbled, and, assuming catcher Lance Parrish already had thrown toward second, stopped. When he saw Parrish hadn't thrown the ball, he stumbled again and was picked off by Parrish.
"I was trying to get a good jump," Dwyer said. "I stopped and kind of twisted my ankle. I just assumed he'd already thrown the ball toward second, and when I saw he still had it, I was caught."
Someone asked if his ankle was seriously hurt.
"No," he said, managing a smile. "I'll be able to pinch-run tomorrow."
Detroit Manager Sparky Anderson said he could sympathize with Dwyer -- but not Wiggins.
"It's only one guy's fault, and that's Wiggins," Anderson said. "The guy on second has to read the ball, and with a pitch down the middle, you expect the hitter to at least bunt it foul. Dwyer did everything perfectly. Wiggins has got to get the bat on the ball."
The Orioles' offense didn't really come to life until the eighth. Detroit starter Frank Tanana (7-4) allowed just four hits over seven innings, and the Orioles' only run off him was on Dempsey's eighth homer. The Tigers had taken a 1-0 lead in the second on Parrish's double and Dave Bergman's RBI single. Dempsey's homer tied it in the fifth.
The hit puts Dempsey on a 21-homer pace. It also gave him his 16th RBI, but 13 of them have been produced by the eight homers.
The Tigers got the run back, 2-1, in the sixth. Parrish singled with one out, and after Darrell Evans walked and Bergman struck out, Trammell doubled off John Shelby's glove in center to score Parrish.
That was it until Dixon's walks finally hurt him in the eighth.
But the Orioles came back to batter Hernandez, who started the eighth and retired two of the six Orioles he faced.
Lee Lacy opened the eighth with a single. Juan Beniquez and Eddie Murray then flied out, but Cal Ripken doubled to left, and Young hit his fifth homer, a towering shot over the left field fence to make it 5-4.
When Juan Bonilla followed with a hard single to left, Anderson brought in John Pacella.
Pacella, who was called up from Class AAA Nashville only today and pitched for the Orioles briefly in 1984, did the job, getting Shelby on a grounder to Bergman at first to end the eighth. Then after the Dwyer pickoff, he got the Orioles out in the ninth for the save.
Detroit third baseman Darnell Coles didn't play tonight, and doctors suspect he has come down with chicken pox. Orioles infielder Jackie Gutierrez is at Class AAA Rochester on a rehabilitation assignment after having a case of chicken pox. . . . Since Tanana joined the Tigers last season, he has gone 13-1 against the American League East, but 4-10 against the AL West. He is 4-0 against the New York Yankees.
Young is three for nine against Hernandez, and all three hits are homers. . . . The opposition has scored first in the Orioles' last eight games. The Orioles are 15-19 when the opposition scores first, but 20-6 when they score first. . . . Tanana's victory tonight was his 15th against the Orioles. He and Tommy John each have 15 victories, the most by any active pitchers against the Orioles. . . . Dwyer is six for 16 (.375) as a pinch hitter this season