And now, anatomical proof of "The Curse of the Bambino":
Cal Ripken's rear end.
Without it, rookie first baseman David Segui wouldn't have had the chance to hit a three-run homer that lifted the Orioles to a 4-1 victory over Boston on a night they were no-hit for 6 1/3 innings.
Without it, rookie pitcher Jose Mesa wouldn't have defeated an AL East contender for the second time in five days, and without it the Red Sox might still be in first place instead of tied with Toronto.
Yes, the latest chapter of the Red Sox's flawed history can be traced directly to the body part that only surfaces in baseball discussions when it manages to get in the way of a ball.
Which, of course, is exactly what happened last night.
Ripken, the Orioles' All-Star shortstop, had just broken up lefthander Tom Bolton's no-hitter when the next batter, Craig Worthington, hit a line drive directly at Boston second baseman Jody Reed.
It appeared Ripken would be doubled off first -- he had taken off on contact, thinking the ball would hit the ground. But Reed's hurried throw struck him in the rear and rolled away.
Ripken thus returned safely, erasing the possibility of an inning-ending double play. Bolton then allowed four straight hits, including the game-tying single by Mike Devereaux and the stunning homer by Segui.
Baseball is a game of sudden reversals, but often those reversals are intitiated by subtle plays such as Ripken's. Other players might have slid into the bag instead of staying on their feet, the better to block the throw.
"He did what he had to do, what you should do, what a good, smart baserunner does," Orioles manager Frank Robinson said. "Get in the path of a throw without intentionally interfering."
Ripken said he did not act deliberately -- "It's not right if you do it on purpose," he said with a straight face. "It's not legal." But, he added, "I knew I was in the line of the throw.
"Your route back to the bag is deep anyway," Ripken explained. "If you're not a base-stealer, you're not running straight [to second]. You're behind the bag so you can round it."
In other words, Ripken was in perfect position, while Boston first baseman Carlos Quintana probably was not. Quintana apparently did not set up far enough toward the outfield to give Reed a clear target for his throw.
"I didn't see Carlos, I just flipped it over there," Reed said. "Ripken's a big dude [6 feet 4, 220 pounds]. He takes up some space."
"Reed threw the ball right smack to the bag," Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said. "If the throw had been on the outfield side, he's a dead duck. But such wasn't the case. It would have taken an astronomical mind to throw the ball on the outfield side."
It does not take an astronomical mind, however, to determine the impact of the play on the changing dynamics of the pennant race. The Red Sox led Toronto by 6 1/2 games two weeks ago, but now they have yielded sole possession of first place for the first time since Aug. 19.
The Blue Jays have won four of their last five games in the ninth inning (Cardiac Kids in Toronto? The world truly is upside down) but the way Bolton was pitching last night, it appeared Boston would have no problem maintaining its one-game edge.
Bolton (9-4, 3.43) came within eight outs of throwing the year's 10th no-hitter. Seven different AL clubs -- exactly one-half -- have been on the short end of a no-no this season. Somehow the
punchless Orioles have not, although they were no-hit for seven innings by Detroit's Jeff Robinson on July 24.
Mesa, meanwhile, was making only his ninth major-league start, and he allowed just three hits in seven innings. One was a sinking liner trapped by leftfielder Dave Gallagher. Another was a popup that fell between Ripken and rookie third baseman Leo Gomez down the leftfield line.
The latter hit led to Boston's only run, on Wade Boggs' two-out RBI single in the sixth. Another Orioles rookie, Curt Schilling, pitched a scoreless eighth. Then the grand old man, second-year closer Gregg Olson, earned his 32nd save, moving within two of Don Aase's club record.
Still, the story was Mesa. The Orioles acquired him from Toronto in the Mike Flanagan trade three years ago. Now he has recovered from two elbow operations to become a serious contender for the 1991 rotation, and he's still only 24.
"I didn't see him before he hurt his arm, but he couldn't have been any better," Orioles pitching coach Al Jackson said. "Everyone was talking about what a great arm he had before. I see what kind of great arm he has now."
Mesa (2-2, 4.22) topped out at 92 mph on the radar gun last night, and consistently registered 88-plus. He throws four pitches -- fastball, curve, slider, changeup.
Last week Mesa earned the Orioles' only victory in four games against Toronto, but last night he said of his former team, "I'm giving them all the help they need." And the time before? "I have to do my job," Mesa said, laughing. "They beat me in '87, so this year's my turn."
Two lockers away, another 24-year-old rookie -- Segui -- was left to explain his sudden power surge. He had only two homers all season at Rochester in 307 at-bats. Now he has two with the Orioles in his last six.
Robinson believes Segui can hit 10 to 15 homers, "with a chance to improve on that as he gains experience." Segui hit 28 doubles at Rochester, but after undergoing surgery on his right wrist last Jan. 12, he said he lacked the strength to drive the ball over the wall.
In any case, he is proving he can hit major-league pitching, which could force the Orioles to keep him next spring, even with a healthy Randy Milligan. But all that's in the future. Last night Segui was a hero, thanks to a now-legendary body part:
Cal Ripken's rear end.