It began with the launching of 3,000 balloons and ended with the bursting of thousands more, but in between, the Baltimore Orioles and their fans scared the daylights out of the Milwaukee Brewers. This was only natural, because the Orioles and Halloween share the same colors. And this year they nearly shared the same month.
It came down to the last game of the regular season, Jim Palmer versus Don Sutton, for the American League East title, Earl Weaver's grand finale as Oriole manager and thousands of people screaming, "Sweep! Sweep!" while some even waved brooms. It was, in fact, only the second time in baseball history that the two teams tied for first place had met in the last regularly scheduled game of the season. The Yankees beat the Red Sox on the other occasion in 1949. This time it was the Brewers, who came alive after three moribund losses and won 10-2.
"Yesterday, I felt like my chest was wide open," said Milwaukee Catcher Ted Simmons, whose two-run homer in the ninth put the finishing touch on Sunday's victory. "And I felt like they were ready to pluck out my heart. But now I see our guys crying with joy."
The Brewers had to stare down the Orioles, the Baltimore fans and, in a sense, themselves to win their first title. In the opening three games of last weekend's series, Baltimore had outscored the Brewers 26-7, while the crowds drove them crazy. But on Sunday, Milwaukee displayed the power and the glory it had shown all season. It was too bad for Weaver, but the Brewers were just too good.
Irony fans had a good time with the thought of Palmer pitching Weaver's last regular-season game—he had long ago announced his retirement—with a championship on the line. As if that weren't enough, here was Sutton doing exactly what the Brewers expected of him when they picked up his $750,000 a year contract from the Astros on August 30.
But the pitching duel never developed. Robin Yount's fly ball drifted lazily into the rightfield seats in the first inning, and his second homer of the game and 29th of the season gave the Brewers a 3-0 lead in the third. Yount pulled within one hit of beating out Kansas City's Willie Wilson for the batting title when he tripled in the eighth. But in the ninth, the league's most valuable player was hit by a pitch and ended the season with a .3307 average. Wilson finished at .3316.
Palmer was gone by the sixth—pulled from a game for the last time by his old nemesis-manager—but Sutton hung on for eight gutty innings. Backed by a superb defense, most notably Leftfielder Ben Oglivie's sliding two-on, two-out eighth-inning catch of Joe Nolan's shot into the corner with the score 5-2, Sutton survived three jams, an accusation that he was scuffing the ball and a bad cold. "I had a sore throat," he said, "so I took penicillin to get rid of the cold, cortisone to get rid of the penicillin, water to get rid of the cortisone...pitching made better through chemistry."
The game was never really out of the Orioles' reach until the ninth, when Milwaukee exploded for five runs. But even in the bottom of the final inning, Baltimore fans exhorted the O's until Gary Roenicke flied out to Oglivie to end the game. Then, while the Brewers cavorted and six police horses pranced, the crowd called a tearful Weaver out for one last ovation: "W-E-A-V-E-R!"
The Brewers arrived in Baltimore needing to win only one game of the four. Their magic number to tie had been just one since Wednesday, Sept. 29, when the Orioles lost 3-2 to the Tigers in Detroit while Milwaukee beat the Red Sox 6-3 in Boston on Ned Yost's three-run, first-of-the-year homer in the ninth. The Brewers presumptuously congratulated each other after that one. The next night, Baltimore defeated Detroit 6-5 as Milwaukee fell 9-4 to Boston. Three games up with four to play, the Brewers took their nine cases of champagne to Baltimore.
The Orioles launched their 3,000 balloons, half of them red, white and blue and half of them orange, black and white, at the start of Friday's doubleheader. The Brewers took a 1-0 lead when Leftfielder John Lowenstein misplayed Charlie Moore's fly ball, but the Orioles came back with three runs in the second on three singles, a walk off Milwaukee ace Pete Vuckovich and a bad throw by Second Baseman Jim Gantner. Baltimore never trailed after that, even though Dennis Martinez gave up back-to-back homers to Simmons and Oglivie in the sixth. The final: Orioles 8, Brewers 3. Wild Bill Hagy, the legendary cabbie who'd been sighted in Memorial Stadium only half a dozen times this season, led one of his famous spelling bees in the bottom of the seventh.