It ended with a gutter ball.
Del Ballard Jr. needed seven pins to win the $150,000 Fair Lanes Open in Randallstown yesterday. He got none.
In one of the most bizarre finishes ever on the Professional Bowlers Association Tour, Ballard rolled his final ball into the gutter to leave top-seeded and wire-to-wire leader Pete Weber the title.
"It's just unbelievable. I feel so bad for Del I don't know what to say," said Weber, who won $30,000 for the 213-207 victory, his 16th since joining the PBA Tour in 1980.
"My adrenalin was flowing too fast," Ballard said. "I just ran up there and threw it. I didn't take my time and use my head."
Ballard said he decided not to throw the ball down the middle "because if you barely hit the head pin, you could only get five."
Ballard, who reached the final with a 257-223 defeat of second-seeded Norm Duke, came back from a third-frame gutter ball. He had to double in the 10th frame, did, and put Weber in trouble.
"It was over when he threw that second strike [in the 10th]," said Weber, who himself regrouped from difficulties in the middle frames to close with five straight strikes.
But the unthinkable happened to Ballard, and Weber stared in near-disbelief as his opponent collected his equipment and walked from the lanes.
"Del's just not that kind of bowler. He got up there and very nonchalantly threw the ball. Even when you only need seven pins, you've got to take your best shot," Weber said.
"Me and Del go way back, and have had lots of exciting matches. It's just a shame to see one of us do that," Weber said. "I know the feeling of throwing a gutter ball in a championship match, but not for the championship.
"It's hard [to enjoy] because you shouldn't win a championship like this," said Weber, 28, of Florissant, Mo.
Ballard, who earned $15,500 for second place, was philosophical. "If I'd bowled better in the beginning, it wouldn't have come down to that," he said.
Form held elsewhere in the five-man stepladder finals of the 22nd annual Baltimore tour stop.
Fourth-seeded Robert Lawrence converted a 2-4-10 split in the first frame and then used seven strikes to turn back No. 5 Walter Ray Williams Jr., 219-217.
Lawrence collected $7,000, and Williams, the tour's second-leading money-winner this year, $6,000.
However, Lawrence could not pull the same magic twice. His failure to convert a 2-4-10 split in the eighth frame of the second match enabled Ballard to pull away to a 247-220 victory.
In the semifinal, Ballard got all the help he needed when second-seeded Duke ($8,500) could not pick up a 10th pin in the seventh frame. Ballard reeled off six straight strikes for the 257-223 victory.
Weber used to skip the Baltimore tour stop, but entered here for the first time last year and finished third.
"I'll be back again next year. I guarantee it," he said.