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.