In the beginning, with the Baltimore club of the Gay Nineties, there was the Old Oriole Spirit: scuffling, beer-swilling scoundrels, full of spit and tricks, with squeeze plays, high spikes, Baltimore chops—of course—and whatever else it would take to beat you. Now the modern Baltimoreans, after producing the best record in baseball over the past quarter century and winning more division titles and Championship Series than anyone else, have engendered a New, Improved Old Oriole Spirit, which could be characterized as inspired moderation.
Baltimore made a wonderfully complete presentation of this latter-day spirit in the American League playoffs against the game Chicago nine last week, mixing strong pitching and defense and a penchant for big innings with grittiness, new faces and the catchall that Rick Dempsey describes as "the magic things."
It was this combination that outscored the White Sox 19-3 over four games. The West Division champions had to settle for four extra-base hits—all doubles—and, in a hackneyed bit of baseball parlance that has never been more accurately employed, stranded 35 baserunners, 18 from the seventh inning on. In the final game Saturday, played under gunmetal skies and in a wind you could nickname a city for, the Sox got men on base in each of the 10 innings, but they could never safely pass Dempsey's wicket.
He's the catcher, the heart of the team, if not of the batting order, and he said of that three-hour, 41-minute struggle, "That was the toughest game I ever participated in. It was mentally draining, and physically, you couldn't make any mistakes." Indeed, it was such an extraordinary contest that the losing pitcher, Britt Burns, generously declared afterward, "I was very happy to be part of a game like that."
Burns's outing, although it ended in defeat, was one of three superb pitching performances that defined the nature of this series. The third game, an 11-1 stampede for the Orioles in which a great deal of nonsense and bad manners were displayed—turning ultimately into a Retaliategate—was an aberration we will get to in time. The American League was won by pitching or, if you will, lost by those who could not hit that pitching.
The Orioles chose to pitch the Sox sluggers cute—which is rather what the American League is known for. As it says on the T shirt that Rabbitt Miller, the Orioles' highly respected pitching coach, wears, WORK FAST/THROW STRIKES/ CHANGE SPEEDS. Nothing about heat. The Orioles only teased with the fastball against the meat of the order; instead, the pitchers changed speeds promiscuously, coming in, then out. The culmination of this effort came against Greg Luzinski, the Chicago cleanup hitter, in the final game. The Oriole index card on Luzinski said to set him up so he could be jammed, and so frustrated did Luzinski become with this pattern that on Saturday he failed to hit a fair ball in five trips.
The efficacy of this sort of strategy was first demonstrated not by the Orioles but by the Sox' Dewey LaMarr Hoyt, he of the name from Hee Haw, the girth from sumo and the 24 regular-season wins, the last 13 in a row. Hoyt has computer control of the location of his pitches and their velocity and, thus, an unerring ability to get ahead on the count. In the opening game he threw strikes on 74 of his 98 pitches, and of the first pitches to the 31 batters he faced, 26 were strikes. The final 17 Oriole batsmen fell into that first-strike category. Eddie Murray, Baltimore's most feared hitter, was the last; he went for a first-pitch fastball down and away and grounded it weakly to end the game, with the tying run base.
The final score was 2-1 for Chicago, as the big bats boomed, the Sox scoring on a single that went through the third baseman's legs and a double-play grounder. But who could know that this would be Chicago's one binge?
Going into the playoffs Chicago hadn't played a .500 or better team since late August. As the Championship Series wore on, the Sox bats flailed away, and Tony LaRussa, the Chicago manager, kept swearing that tomorrow, surely, his boys would start hitting. But they simply ran out of time before they could get attuned to good pitching...and good defense...and good everything. You can be positive that never before in baseball history did a team prep for October by playing for 5½ straight weeks against losers.
Curiously, too, the Sox had never even seen the man who would, ultimately, beat them. You know who he was? He was that baseball staple, the Player to Be Named Later—later, in fact, having been Aug. 30, months after the Orioles had express-mailed a utility man named Floyd Rayford into the Cardinal system. TPTBNL turned out to be a guy whose name is Terry Landrum, except during the baseball season, when he's known as Tito Landrum. A onetime male model, Landrum got to bat 41 times for the Orioles, but he never started a game in right-field until the playoffs, when Dan Ford was hobbled by an injured right foot. In his first four at bats' Saturday, Landrum scratched out an infield single. As Burns went out for the 10th inning, the only outstanding question was why the game was still on, as the Sox had let numerous scoring opportunities slip away. The Sox even came up empty in the seventh when they got three singles and a balk.
Landrum was the second Oriole batter in the 10th, preceding Cal Ripken Jr. and Murray. Before Landrum moved out on deck, Ralph Rowe, the Baltimore batting coach, told him he'd been undercutting the ball. Storing that advice, Landrum stood in looking for a fastball, which was mostly what Burns had showed him so far. Landrum has no illusions. He's almost 29 years old, a perennial fringe player. Hitters like Kid Rip and Eddieeddieeddie are the ones pitchers work on; hitters like Landrum they won't be cute with, especially after having thrown 149 pitches, as Burns had. They must, as Landrum says, "go at" the Landrums. The fastball at him was a little high and not quite fast enough. He saw it "pretty good-sized" and hit it on a line under the wind, and Burns watched it land in the leftfield upper deck.
Mike Boddicker, the uncommonly handsome man who had been called upon to pitch Game 2, had been summoned from the minors on May 5. A 26-year-old wintertime grain-elevator worker, Boddicker had, not unlike Landrum, bounced around the minors, while bigger boys who fired smoke got their chances. Every winter he went back to Norway, Iowa (pop. 633), where most everybody hangs out at Rich's Roost tavern and where Boddicker lives with his wife, Lisa, the daughter of his American Legion coach. But if Boddicker's pitches were not fashionably live—"worse garbage than the stuff I take out at night," Rod Carew had said earlier this year, first time he got a whiff of it—his trash got him 16 wins, a 2.77 ERA and this start against Floyd Bannister. Boddicker prepared for the occasion by installing a CB in his pickup truck and playing video games.
And so he shut out the Sox, struck out 14—a record-tying total for a Championship Series—and won the series MVP honor for his part in taking the Orioles into the Metroliner series via Chicago.
In the four games against the Sox, the Birds crushed three home runs, one in each victory: Landrum's, a two-run shot off Bannister by Gary Roenicke that iced Boddicker's win and Murray's 420-footer to right center in the first inning of Game 3. That last blow was rife with ramifications.
First, it got Murray off a long-term schneid or two. He had bombed in the '79 World Series, taking the collar for his last 21 at bats, and his oh-fers in the first two games of these playoffs had left him 0-29 in postseason competition as well as 0-23 in his most recent sorties against the Sox.
So it was that Murray stepped to the plate against Richard Dotson, with Dwyer and Ripken on. Dotson's first pitch came close to grazing Murray's midsection, and in the Oriole dugout there was a surprised buzz. "Maybe," somebody said, "that'll wake him up." After taking another ball, Murray stood back in, opening and closing his hands on the bat handle. The pitch that came in then was the one that went back out 400 feet and more.
In the innings that followed there were some strange developments. Flanagan, the Oriole starter, struggling, hit Ron Kittle, who was leading off the fourth for Chicago, in the kneecap on a 3-2 pitch. It hurt a great deal, and Kittle, normally a most collected young man, screamed at Flanagan. Now, nobody can logically imagine anyone intentionally hitting the leadoff man in the fourth inning. Moreover, Baltimore is renowned as a team that never throws at the opposition. Earl Weaver, who managed the Orioles from 1968 through last season, would bellow at anybody who ever even idly proposed retaliation. But Kittle screamed, and it's baseball dogma that in such cases everybody has to rush out and act foolish, which is what happened for a while.
O.K. Top of the next inning, two out, Dotson plunks Ripken. Ripken smiles, waves the trainer away and calls over to Dotson from first base, "Is that all you got?" Dotson angrily fires the ensuing pitch way inside on Murray. Murray threatens Dotson. Dotson calls Murray an ugly name. Remember how this goes? LaRussa runs out. Orioles run out to make sure Murray doesn't hit LaRussa and get thrown out. Much milling and cooing follows. Even bullpens empty. Pitchers warned. Heavens to Betsy.
Dotson, coming to his senses, throws next three pitches very far outside, walking Murray. Gently. Then John Lowenstein doubles to make the score 6-1. Last Pale Hose to leave, turn out the lights.
Unfortunately it gets worse, because after the game, while LaRussa is declaring, "I'm here to tell you Ripken was not hit intentionally," Dotson, normally the most careful and taciturn of athletes, is telling sundry listeners that not only did he "hit Ripken on purpose," but he had "taken a poll" to find out which Oriole "would be the best to hit," since orders to do so had "come down from the grapevine." The next day, LaRussa explained away the seeming contradiction between his and Dotson's accounts as merely a case of Dotson's being "worked up." Flanagan, for his part, allowed as how "last year, real men didn't eat quiche. This year, real men don't pitch inside."
As usual, the Orioles assumed their glory without undue emotion. "On this team," Pitcher Scott McGregor says, "we've learned to put aside a lot of the facade that athletes often think they have to show. We don't have to be perfect and we don't have to be nervous either." Real Orioles don't pout. Real Orioles don't gloat. Real Orioles just win.