The crowd of 23,350 that showed up at Memorial Stadium last night got to see the winningest pitcher of the 1980s go head-to-head with one of the most promising young pitchers of the 1990s.
It was Jack Morris vs. Ben McDonald. Youth vs. experience. Everything you ever wanted in a pitching duel, and a lot more.
In this case, youth was served, though it took a late-inning comeback to carry McDonald and the Baltimore Orioles to a 2-1 victory and keep the Detroit Tigers from sweeping the three-game series.
It also took Jeff McKnight's first major-league home run, a leadoff shot in the eighth that closed a one-run deficit that had stood since the first inning. Cal Ripken put the Orioles over the top with a bases-loaded infield single, and McDonald went on to complete a three-hit masterpiece.
He leaped off the mound and threw his fists into the air after his final pitch -- a full-count curveball -- retired former Oriole Larry Sheets to end the game.
"It was an exciting moment because you don't throw a lot of 3-2 curveballs with a one-run lead and two outs in the ninth," McDonald said. "You dream about throwing that pitch in that situation. And it was nice to beat [Morris]. He's certainly the best pitcher of the 1980s."
The Orioles haven't had a lot to jump for joy about lately, so McDonald's post-game victory dance was a welcome change of pace.
"He's an emotional young man," manager Frank Robinson said. "He had just outpitched a guy who is a very good pitcher. He felt good about it. It's good to see somebody show some emotion in this game."
Morris has been known to curse the fates on occasion, and he probably had a right to this time. He had given up just two hits going into the eighth inning, and his slim lead evaporated on a line drive by McKnight that barely cleared the outstretched glove of a leaping John Shelby in right field.
"I was just trying to get on base in that situation," said McKnight. "With Morris on the mound, I was just looking for something I could handle. I thought it had a chance to go out when it started going up, but when Shelby jumped for it, I didn't know."
The Orioles loaded the bases before Ripken hit a ground ball to short that glanced off the glove of Alan Trammell for the Orioles' first hit in their past 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
Morris, the winningest pitcher of the '80s and losingest pitcher of the '90s at 11-18, couldn't believe his bad fortune.
"Tell me of another job in America where you have to be perfect just to survive," Morris said. "I have to be perfect, and I can't."
Morris had the best ERA of any starter to face the Orioles in the series, but that wasn't saying much. He came into the game averaging more than five earned runs per nine innings, but his ERA still was better by a full run than either of the starters (Frank Tanana and Steve Searcy) who preceded him.
Not that ERA is a very meaningful statistic at Memorial Stadium. Tanana shut out the Orioles over seven innings Monday night and Searcy pitched six scoreless innings Tuesday.
Morris picked up right where they left off, holding the Orioles hitless through the first 4 2/3 innings. He went on scatter five hits in his team-leading ninth complete game of the season.
McDonald was coming off his first victory in his past five decisions, an eight-inning performance against the California Angels in which he gave up just four hits.
He threw well again last night, but a leadoff walk in the first inning would cost him a run. Tony Phillips moved around to third on a couple of ground outs and scored on a solid hit by Cecil Fielder.
The Orioles got through the series without seeing Fielder add to his major-league-leading home-run total, but the RBI was his 117th of the season and the one-run lead held up until the eighth. Fielder went on to get two of the Tigers' three hits.
Though Morris didn't give up a hit until the fifth, he was in serious trouble in the bottom of the fourth. Brady Anderson reached first on an error by Fielder, then stole second and third on consecutive pitches.
Morris has been known to get rattled on such occasions, and he responded to the two steals by walking Cal Ripken and Sam Horn to load the bases. But Mickey Tettleton bounced into a double play that ended the inning.
The Orioles finally got a clean hit with two out in the fifth, when Morris tried to sneak a changeup past rookie first baseman David Segui, who pulled the ball down the right-field line for a double.
McDonald (7-4) settled down after the first to give up just two hits the rest of the way, though he needed a big play to get out of trouble in the third. He walked Phillips again and gave up a single to Lou Whitaker that left runners at first and third with one out, but Trammell followed with a line drive to right-center that Anderson turned into a spectacular double play.
Anderson made the catch on the run and threw a perfect strike to the plate, erasing Phillips to keep the Orioles within a run. Not bad for a guy who has been in and out of the Orioles lineup the past couple of seasons because of a shoulder problem.
"That didn't surprise me," Robinson said. "He was coming in, and his timing was good. He had his momentum going toward the plate and made an outstanding throw. His arm has come back."
Where else but Memorial Stadium could a single run loom so large? The Orioles scored a grand total of one run in the first two games of the series and were even less threatening at the plate through the first seven innings last night.