What this team had was workhorses, maybe even warhorses. There were some greats to be sure: Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr., to name two. I would probably include Ken Singleton but that's because I love the guy.
I have to give you the dramatis personnae just so you know why this game was so wild and so very much fun.
The great manager Earl Weaver was gone and Joe Altobelli had taken his place. Joe was kind of a run-the-numbers kind of guy. Weaver flew by the seat of his pants.
On August 24th, everybody would play a wild and important part. Tippy Martinez called it "the oddest game I ever played in." At that date, the Orioles were in second place in their division and the Blues Jays were just getting their feet under them.
By the bottom of the ninth inning, everything had been pretty much ordinary. The game was tied after three innings and Toronto scored a go-ahead run in the fifth then added one in the eighth to lead 3-1 after eight innings. The Orioles were down by two runs in the bottom of the ninth.
By this point, Orioles manager Joe Altobelli had already used John Shelby, Jim Dwyer and Joe Nolan in pinch situations (Shelby had pinch-run for Kenny Singleton who was a great hitter but a bit slow on the basepaths. Dwyer had pinch-hit for Todd Cruz and Nolan had pinch-hit for the catcher Rick Dempsey), and Lenn Sakata had been inserted as a defensive replacement. Shelby was still in the game, however, since he had pinch-hit for the Designated Hitter.
Joe Altobelli took some pages from Earl Weaver's playbook apparently because he substituted like a madman. Shelby bunted for a single and Lenn Sakata got a base on balls. Altobelli pinch hit Benny Ayala for Joe Nolan because Benny was great against lefties. But Nolan was the second and only remaining catcher! It was the bottom of the ninth , however. The move paid off as Ayala smacked a single, scoring Shelby and slicing the deficit to one run. Al Bumbry followed with another single to tie the score.
There it was, the score was tied with runners at second and third and two outs. Dan Ford struck out to end the ninth inning and take the game into extra innings.
This is when it got wild...
Everyone and I mean everyone was stunned when the Orioles took the field in the top of the tenth. It wasn't really who took the field as much as who took the field where.
Pinch-hitter Benny Ayala trotted out to left. So where was Lowenstein? He was at second base for Rich Dauer who had been pulled for pinch-hitter Gary Roenicke. Lowenstein had not played secondbase in eight years! Roenicke, who had pinch hit for Rich Dauer, stood at third, where he had never, ever played.
So imagine seeing poor Lenn Sakata behind the plate. Sakata had not played at that position since he was in Little League! Still, he kept his mouth shut and put on the catcher's gear.
Tim Stoddard came in to relieve Scotty McGregor. Stoddard was pretty solid and he just had this huge, menacing presence on the mound. But almost immediately, he gave up a monster home-run to Cliff Johnson. The Orioles were down by one run again.
After allowing another hit, Stoddard was gone and in came my favorite closer Tippy Martinez.
What a surreal situation! Martinez didn't want to put the ball in play because he was afraid of the lack of infielding ability of Lowenstein and Roenicke. "They both had the range of a dime, so not much coverage there," Martinez had said. Roenicke and Lowenstein didn't want the ball hit to them, either. In fact, Gary Roenicke later said that he was just praying that the ball would be hit to Cal Ripken or Eddie Murray who were the only infielders left in their own positions!
Sakata and Martinez held a conference on the mound. It was just unreal to look across from one to another. Lenn told Tippy,"I don't know what I'm doing."
Martinez was hoping to at least be able to use his best pitch. "Well, can you catch a curveball?" he asked his "catcher."
"No," Sakata confessed.
So, not only can Sakata not catch Martinez' best pitch, there is no way that Lenn will be able to throw out any runner attempting to steal a base. "I think Lenn was probably the strongest guy on the team, but I'm not sure he could have even thrown the ball to second without bouncing it," Oriole broadcaster Tom Marr later said.
Those Toronto base runners were going to steal on every opportunity. "Their eyes got as big as silver dollars," Marr said of the Blue Jays' runners. "It was like they were going to commit a bank robbery with no one in town and the vault already open."
Like I said above, Tippy was not known for a great pick-off move. But maybe... just maybe... the Blue Jays' eagerness to steal on the unfortunate Sakata could be made to work against those Toronto baserunners.
Sure enough, Barry Bonnell was on first (having been allowed on by Stoddard) and he took a big lead off the bag, ready to challenge Lenn's untested arm behind the plate. Tippy Martinez quickly threw the ball to Murray to catch Bonnell in a rundown. Bonnell was tagged out. One out in the top of the 10th inning.
Tippy then walked Dave Collins. Collins was fleet-footed and was ready to steal second at his first opportunity. He took a big lead off the bag and... Martinez threw to Murray to pick him off. Two outs!
Due up: Willie Upshaw. He smacked a grounder that slipped past Lowenstein for a single. Upshaw took a big lead off first. No way he will be picked off, right?
Oh, my God...Martinez made a quick throw to Murray, who tagged out Upshaw to end the inning for the Blue Jays. Announcer Tom Marr shouted, "Martinez to Murray once, Martinez to Murray twice, Martinez to Murray three times!" All three outs made off of three pick-offs.
There it is in the box scores; Tippy Martinez, 3 Assists.
Now all that was wonderful, extraordinary, beautiful... but the Orioles were still behind by a run going into the bottom of the tenth inning. "I really don't want to go back out there," Martinez later remembered thinking.
Eddie Murray got on base with a walk. Lowenstein grounded out. John Shelby was walked intentionally. Gary Roenicke struck out.
It was tied in the bottom of the 10th inning. Oriole runners on first and second. Two outs.
Toronto pitcher Randly Moffit started his delivery, Murray and Shelby took off from second and first. The batter was...Lenn Sakata.
Yes, that Lenn Sakata. The nice young Japanese-American boy from Hawaii who was made to play a position he was woefully unprepared to play. The guy who was rescued from humiliation by a teammate making moves he normally did not make. The guy who did not want to put on that mask, that vest and those shin-guards ever again.
And he didn't have to. Sakata drove that ball screaming over the outfield wall for a three-run homer. The game was exactly what Earl Weaver described as the Orioles' formula for winning which was "Good pitching. Good Defense. And Three-run Homers." It was one of only three homers that Sakata would hit in the 1983 season. The Orioles won 7-4.
After the game, Tippy Martinez said, "You couldn't have written a story any better."
I love baseball.