"Don't get thrown out. Don't go for two. Oh, nooooo," screamed Earl Weaver, wearing only shower clogs, as he raged at the player being gunned out at second base in front of him.
"That's twice you've done that, damn it!" howled the Baltimore Orioles' manager, stomping for emphasis as he chewed out the player. "There's nothing -- nothing -- worse than overaggressive baseball."
With that, Weaver took his anger to the shower and left the Boston Red Sox and California Angels to continue their game on his office TV. The sinning Angel was lucky to be 3,000 miles away.
Out in the Baltimore clubhouse, the Orioles pretended not to notice the game in progress. But when Boston's right fielder staggered and missed a fly ball, allowing a run to score, Orioles coach Frank Robinson could not contain himself. "Aha! Dwight Evans!" erupted Robinson, like the detective who has just solved the murder. "Gold Glove my rear end."
Suddenly, the Baltimore Orioles, and four other teams in the American League East from New York to Toronto to Cleveland to Detroit, have momentarily stopped contemplating their own manifold weaknesses and begun concentrating on the possibility that a pennant might be won in 1986 by a seriously flawed team.
"Looks like we're back in a pennant race," said Mike Flanagan. "Hope we realize it pretty soon."
Four Sundays ago, when the Red Sox left this town with a three-game sweep, the Orioles were 10 games behind and gasping. Just 11 days ago, at the all-star break, that margin was still 10, and hopes of any AL East pennant race -- even a two-team affair -- were slim.
Now, as the Red Sox lost again Sunday -- for the 10th time in their last 13 games -- the prospect of about 10 weeks of baseball madness has glimmered once more. The Yankees are just three games out, the Orioles 4 1/2, and a total of six clubs are within 7 1/2 games.
Or, as Weaver said, watching Bobby Grich's home run off Tom Seaver sail over the wall, "Tater! Hey, was anybody on base?"
"It's a lot more fun coming to the park now," says the Orioles' Don Aase.
That's not because pros hang their heads and quit when their season turns sour. It's because most are still big kids at heart who get as excited as fans when the tension tightens.
For nearly 10 years, fans have had dog-day fantasies of a ridiculous, zany pennant race in the AL East. This extravaganza would include at least three teams and maybe four or five. The whole gang would be bunched at Labor Day, then every wonderful silliness would break loose. The final week would be heaven for those who love agony.
Everybody's waited. But it's never happened.
At the moment the Red Sox have it in their power to bring about such delight. Well, not delight in New England. But think about everybody else.
The AL East appears to have six pretty good teams, but, perhaps, no great one. Everybody is bailing water. And, in almost every case, pitching is the question at issue.
Until Oil Can Boyd returns and proves he can 1) pitch effectively and 2) behave like a civilized human being, the Red Sox have troubles. Roger Clemens can't get better than 17-2 and might lose a couple. Seaver (4-9) is okay, but hardly Terrific. And Bruce Hurst has lost twice since his long visit to the disabled list. For a team with a modest bullpen, it's migraine time.
The Yankees are tough customers. But Ron Guidry, who won Sunday, is only 5-8, and Dennis Rasmussen is awfully green to be an ace. Don't discuss fourth and fifth starters. Nobody knows who they are. And George Steinbrenner III hasn't even started to panic yet.
The Indians have one difficulty. They're the Indians. Though they seem to be overcoming that nicely. To bunch the whole affair marvelously, the Tigers are regrouping forces behind Jack Morris, while the Blue Jays, even with Dave Stieb (2-10) in the bullpen, have stayed in the hunt with Jim Clancy and rookie Rick Cerutti pitching decently.
At times like this, old managers often make a large difference. Which is why Weaver seems so eager to get his well-worn pennant-hunting gear down off the shelf and take one more long walk in the woods.
This is what Weaver came back for, what he dreamed about, what he expected when he looked at his '86 team. For months he's been confused, disturbed that his judgment could be so askew. He thought he had a contender, not a sleeper. Even today, asked if he liked his team, he said, "I picked 'em. I gotta like 'em."
Now Weaver's excited. He has a new toy. Super-reliever Aase. "Never had one of 'em. I always wondered why other managers took their starters out in the eighth and ninth when they were still going good. And now I'm doing it. If you got somebody like Aase, if you don't, you should be shot. I've called for him when I didn't want to do it. I ask the starter, 'How do you feel?' hopin' he'll say he's tired. He says, 'I'm all right.' And I hear myself sayin', 'Well, Aase's comin' in.' You know, they never seem to complain. . . . When he got to 11, 12 saves , you had to go for the next one. Now, it's what? 26? Well, I'm goin' for 27."
The Earl of Baltimore is also deep into his rotation juggling. "Spotting pitchers against their favorite clubs," he calls it. "Tough decisions," he says, roguishly. "Short rest, extra rest. Who can do it, who can't. Sometimes, it backfires.
"But not usually."
Weaver watches the Red Sox on the tube. "Take Cleveland," he says. "I think of them as a predominantly right-handed hitting team."
A year ago, Weaver might not have been able to name two-thirds of the young Indians lineup. Folks were embarrassed to grill him too hard on the league's personnel. He'd been away.
"Carter-Franco-Jacoby-Tabler-Thornton," he rattles them off as if they were one name. "Almost all the people who can hurt you are right-handed. So, I wanna push Scotty McGregor back to the Toronto series to miss them. Maybe move Mike Boddicker up. But he's done well against the Blue Jays. See, it's hard. Helluva decision."
And he's off. Factoring off days and past performance, gut hunches and a thousand dugout details that only he holds in his little gnarled hands. The eyes of the people around him glaze. Nobody can follow his logic. He's off in his own world, muttering to himself.
But one eye stays on the Red Sox.