One lucky half-swing in the ninth inning by Jim Traber made a day-long series of Orioles frustrations a moot point.
The 14 Baltimore runners left on base and the sixth-inning brawl that resulted in the ejection of starting pitcher Ken Dixon and catcher Rick Dempsey was reduced to weekend highlight film when Traber's bases-loaded, two-out, ninth-inning single gave the Orioles a 2-1 victory this afternoon over the Chicago White Sox in Memorial Stadium before 24,527.
Traber probably should have ignored Dave Schmidt's third pitch -- a chin-high fastball. But he hacked at it, anyway, and watched elatedly as the grounder shot into left field, just inside the third-base line, to give Traber his first game-winning RBI of the season.
The run was scored by Fred Lynn, who had driven in Baltimore's first run and set up the rally with a one-out single to right after a walk to Juan Beniquez. After an intentional walk to Ripken and a force out by Jim Dwyer, Traber batted.
"I was definitely lucky; the pitch was over my head," said Traber, whose contributions (.370 batting average, four home runs, nine RBI in 27 at-bats) in place of injured Eddie Murray have been spectacular.
Traber's hit made a winner of relief pitcher Rich Bordi (4-1) and a loser of the White Sox for the sixth consecutive time.
But White Sox Manager Jim Fregosi was in no mood to hear about Traber's hit. "It was over his head," Fregosi said. "He'll swing at that another 100 times and never hit it."
Though Traber's hit won the game, the hit most of those here may well remember was the one that took place in the sixth inning and renewed a mini-feud between the two teams that has been going on since the 1983 American League playoff series.
With two out and nobody on base, Chicago pitcher Gene Nelson, on in relief of Jose DeLeon, hit Dempsey on the wrist (Dempsey said the ball also glanced up and hit him in the eye) with a curve ball.
Dempsey had just seen Nelson's fastball knock down Cal Ripken and was fed up. He charged the mound and collided with Nelson, which led to both benches clearing onto the field.
Somehow, Chicago third base coach Doug Rader wound up in a swinging match with Dixon, who was working on a four-hitter.
Dixon, Dempsey and Rader were ejected. Nelson stayed in the game. Baltimore Manager Earl Weaver played the game under protest. The Orioles definitely were at a disadvantage, having lost their starting battery.
"It was a spontaneous thing," Dixon said. "I wasn't thinking about the game when I went out there. I was thinking about helping my teammates. I didn't have any idea of what was going to happen. Sometimes you pay the price for being in the wrong place at the wrong time."
Rader said he didn't go after Dixon first, then added, "but I will next time. If you think that was a fight, wait till next time."
It's difficult to put a fight between the White Sox and Orioles into proper perspective without recalling the 1983 playoff series when Chicago pitcher Richard Dotson admitted that then-manager Tony LaRussa ordered him to throw at Ripken.
Since then, the Orioles have felt that the White Sox pitchers still throw at them.
"I understand brushing hitters back is part of the game," Dempsey said. "But they do too much of it; that's all. They have thrown at our hitters for the last few years and you get tired of it."
Dempsey said that seeing Ripken dusted off the previous inning on an 0-2 pitch made him angry. "This is typical of what's been going on the last couple of years . . . Pitching inside is one thing, but when you start headhunting, then you've got to put a stop to it somewhere."
Nelson, in the quiet of the White Sox locker room, said he didn't intentionally hit Dempsey.
"It was so hot," Nelson said, "I was having a hard time to start with. My hand was wet. I was going to the resin bag. It was just a curve ball that slipped from my hand. It surprised me that he came out to the mound . . . He got heated up for no reason. I've never had anyone charge me before . . . "
Fregosi said: "We're pitching inside and we will continue pitching inside. I'll tell you that."
The fight livened up an otherwise uneventful game. Chicago scored in the third on three walks, an error by Dixon on a pickoff attempt, a double and a wild pitch. Certainly, the White Sox could have buried Baltimore in that inning alone. But Harold Baines and Carlton Fisk left men at third base.
Baltimore tied it in the third when Dempsey bunted for a hit and went to third on a hit-and-run single past a shifting infield by Juan Bonilla that otherwise would have been a double-play ball to short.
Lynn then doubled down the right field line off DeLeon, who was making his first American League start after coming from Pittsburgh, where he was 2-19 last year.
The White Sox never could put together two hits in an inning against Dixon, Brad Havens (1 2/3 innings) and Bordi. Chicago's 3-4-5-6 hitters -- Baines, Greg Walker, Ron Kittle and Fisk -- had one hit in 14 at-bats.
Considering Baltimore's success against Chicago the last three years (a 28-13 record since August 1983), it wasn't a surprise that the Orioles came through in the ninth.
Traber, however, said he is surprised at his success, "and by the confidence Earl has shown in me, keeping me in the lineup against left-handed pitchers and letting me bat fifth and sixth in the lineup. It's a surprise, but it feels great. I'm just glad I've helped out a little."