The crowd of 23,250 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 little 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 pitch a complete-game three-hitter.
Morris has been known to curse the fates on occasion, and he probably had a right this time. He had given up just two hits going into the eighth inning, when his slim lead evaporated on a line drive by McKnight that barely cleared the outstretched glove of a leaping John Shelby in right field.
The Orioles went on to load 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 last 21 at-bats with runners in scoring position.
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 the Orioles out over seven innings on 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 to scatter five hits on the way to his 18th loss.
McDonald was coming off his first victory in 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 an important run. Tony Phillips moved around to third on a couple of ground outs and scored on a solid base 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.
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 to end 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 more 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 easily to keep the Orioles within a run.
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 last night.
Morris pitched well on both trips to Baltimore this year. He pitched against the Orioles here April 22 and gave up just a run on five hits over 6 1/3 innings.