There is much talk in baseball these days of teams such as Pittsburgh being "families," of a kinship existing among athletes that is so warm as to make the households of, say, Judge Hardy or Clarence Day seem no more congenial than that of Roderick Usher. If this is true, if baseball teams really are families, then there are more broken homes in the American and National Leagues than in Beverly Hills, because there is no talk of brotherhood among losers. Only winners possess a familial bond, and once the victories stop, it's Splitsville, stranger. What players on such winning teams as the Orioles, the new American League champions, actually are is interdependent, and that does not have anything to do with family ties. Baltimore's brilliant third baseman, Doug DeCinces, described this basically unsentimental relationship last week as he and his brother Birds made their perilous way past the California Angels, three games to one, in the league playoffs.
"There isn't a player on this team we don't have confidence in," said DeCinces. "It's hard to explain, but we, as players, feel that."
On the Orioles, that confidence is well placed. They are not a team of stars, but they do have what their manager, Earl Weaver, prefers to call—with thundering redundancy—"deep depth." This quality was evident as one unsung Oriole after another took his turn pecking away at an Angel team that was left pitifully shorthanded by the absence through injury of hitters Willie Mays Aikens and Joe Rudi and Pitcher Jim Barr.
The first game figured to be a matchup of glamorous pitching stars—Jim Palmer for the Orioles and Nolan Ryan of the Angels—until the little guys upstaged them. To show what a family the Orioles are, Palmer didn't even want to start the opener. Because of recurring arm problems, he had pitched rarely during the regular season, amassing a 10-6 record that added up to about half his normal total of wins and losses. "I didn't know what I could do," Palmer said. "I didn't know how I'd feel by the seventh inning." Besides, he told Weaver, Mike Flanagan, the Oriole lefthander who won 23 games, deserved the honor of opening the playoffs. "I was just trying to help Earl," Palmer said. Weaver certainly doesn't meet the standards of the classic paterfamilias. He is short, pug-nosed and undignified looking, and his players make great sport of him. But no one questions his extraordinary gifts as a manager—the '79 pennant was his fourth in 11 years—and Palmer was talked down.
October 14, 1979
Weaver was right, of course. Palmer pitched nine exceptional innings before leaving with the score tied 3-3. His opponent, the mercurial Ryan, was even more spectacular, striking out eight with his 97-mph fastball and surrendering only one earned run in the seven innings he pitched before he retired with a pulled calf muscle. Palmer and Ryan are not only marvelous pitchers, they are among the handsomest and most graceful of professional athletes. But they were not the ultimate heroes this night. Mark Belanger, a premier Baltimore shortstop for many years but a .167 hitter this season as a part-time player, drove in an important run with a single in the third inning, vindicating Weaver's faith in his ability to hit the mighty Ryan, if no one else. Pat Kelly, another Oriole part-timer, playing leftfield on this occasion, scored a run in the fourth: he walked, stole second, advanced to third on a passed ball and came home on a sacrifice fly. But the true champion emerged later in the proceedings.
With reliever John Montague pitching for the Angels in the 10th inning, DeCinces led off with a single, was sacrificed to second and remained there as Al Bumbry was walked intentionally. Belanger was the next scheduled hitter, and California Manager Jim Fregosi was fully aware that Weaver would pinch-hit for him. Fine. He would rather have Montague, who throws the mystifying forkball, face someone cold off the bench than anyone who had been in the game all along. Lowenstein, another part-timer, who hit .254, sliced a forkball high down the leftfield line. Fregosi insisted later that a brisk wind blowing from left to rightfield kept the ball fair. At any rate, it cleared the fence at the 309 sign, several feet inside the foul pole, for a three-run homer and a 6-3 win.
Weaver, his genius certified once more, raced almost to second to greet Lowenstein as he circled the bases, and the Oriole fans, who flocked to Memorial Stadium in record numbers—1,680,561—this year, carried on madly, eventually calling Lowenstein back from the clubhouse for a curtain call. "I was surprised," said Lowenstein of his manager's unexpected appearance on the playing field. "I'd never seen such a small guy out there."
Oriole fans have been especially wild this year, having been inflamed almost nightly by, among others, a bearded cab driver in a white cowboy hat named Wild Bill Hagy and retired Army bugler Pat Walker. But the character who most arouses the multitudes is Don (Stan The Man Unusual) Stanhouse, a relief pitcher whose plentiful and unkempt red hair resembles that of Bozo the Clown and who takes, probably for theatrical purposes, approximately forever to throw the ball.
In the eighth inning of the second game, when it appeared that Flanagan, Palmer's choice to start the first game, was about to blow a 9-1 lead, Stanhouse came on to wild acclaim from the spectators. It was 9-4 when he arrived from the bullpen; it was 9-8 when he finally induced Angel Brian Downing to bounce into a force play with the bases loaded to end the game.
Weaver normally chain-smokes under the stands when Stanhouse pitches, finding it unbearable to watch as his bullpen ace first puts a victory in jeopardy and then saves it, as he did 21 times this year. But in this game Weaver watched and waited, firm in his belief that somehow Stan The Man Unusual would prevail, as he did in Game 1 when he pitched one inning of no-hit relief. Stanhouse himself was characteristically unflappable. "There was never a doubt in my mind," he said. "Earl came out and looked at me rather funny. I said, 'Earl, I'm throwing my strikes, but they're calling 'em balls.' It wasn't pretty, but I got out of it."
The third game was played in the once beautiful Anaheim Stadium, reduced now to a construction site as builders enlarge and reshape it in preparation for the tenancy of the NFL Rams next year. Inspired perhaps by the clamor of their counterparts in Baltimore, Angel fans seemed determined to outshout them. They did, in a game that was more than a match for the first two in terms of raw melodrama. The Orioles appeared to have the game and the pennant nailed down in the seventh inning when another of their reliable substitutes, Terry Crowley, pinch-hit a single that scored Al Bumbry, who had legged out a triple, with the run that gave them a 3-2 lead. Baltimore's starting pitcher, Dennis Martinez, had allowed only single runs in the first and fourth, the latter on a Don Baylor homer, and had retired 11 consecutive batters when, with one out in the ninth, Rod Carew wrist-hit one of his patented doubles to left-center. Weaver immediately summoned Stanhouse from the bullpen.
At this juncture the Angel crowd set up a deafening chant of "Yes—We Can," which is as inspiring a rallying cry in Anaheim as Wild Bill's O-R-I-O-L-E spell-yell is in Baltimore. Stanhouse took a full six minutes to walk Downing. What a pair of adversaries they made. Downing's exaggerated batting stance makes all other foot-in-the-bucket hitters look like plate-crowders. A righthanded batter, he aims his left foot at the box seats between the third-base coach's box and the dugout. It's as if he expects the ball to be delivered to him by one of the spectators, not the fellow staring at his profile. But as the pitcher goes into his windup, Downing rights himself and swings like a normal batter—and, it should be appended, with abnormal success. He hit .326 this year. Stanhouse, for his part in the charade, stared imploringly at the heavens, adjusted his uniform and interminably paced the mound.
The crowd was apoplectic by the time Bobby Grich stepped up with Carew on second and Downing on first. Grich had hoped, he later acknowledged, to "rip" one over the fence, but when the count reached 2-2, he lowered his expectations to a line drive. And that is what he hit to short center. Carew took off at the sound of the bat and had advanced to third when he saw, to his horror, that the speedy Bumbry had run in far enough to make the catch. "If he catches it," Carew said to himself, "I'm a dead duck." Double play. End of season. But the ball popped out of Bumbry's glove and fell at his feet. Reprieved, Carew sped home with the tying run and Downing barely beat Bumbry's throw to second. Larry Harlow, an unknown Angel and an ex-unknown Oriole, blooped a hit to left that scored Downing with the winning run. The Angels had broken the ice 4-3.
But in the fourth and final game, Oriole lefthander Scott McGregor shut out the Angels on six hits in an 8-0 win that was anticlimactic considering the preceding dramas. It was DeCinces at third who took the heart out of California when, with the bases loaded and one out in the fifth inning and the score still only 3-0, he leaped headlong over and, in fact, onto third base to take a two-RBI hit away from Jim Anderson and convert it into an inning-ending, third-to-first double play. It was a fielding gem that was reminiscent—even Brooks Robinson, now an Orioles broadcaster, agreed—of Brooks Robinson.
And it put the interdependent Birds in the World Series, which is where they belong.