On a frosty night when there was no such thing as a routine pop fly, the elements appeared to conspire against the Orioles.
There was Randy Milligan's fourth-inning cannon shot to centerfield, an almost certain home run until it hit head winds of 20 mph and dropped softly into Chicago outfielder Lance Johnson's mitt.
An inning later, there was Scott Fletcher's twisting drive to right-center, a ball that hung in the air a long time before falling safely between Orioles outfielders Mike Devereaux and Dwight Evans for a two-run double.
That was all the offense lefthander Greg Hibbard needed as he and Bobby Thigpen combined on a three-hit, 2-0 White Sox victory at Memorial Stadium last night.
Did the gusting wind play favorites?
First witness, Greg Hibbard: "Randy Milligan hit a rocket. On any other day, that ball is out of the ballpark."
Next witness, Scott Fletcher: "I saw the wind take it [his hit] away from Devereaux in center, and I saw Evans try to catch up with it. It seemed like the wind laid it in there real nice."
The jury may now adjourn.
The truth of the matter is both teams had a devilish time trying to chase down tantalizing popups and wind-blown fly balls all night. But when the Orioles failed to capitalize on a bases-loaded, one-out threat in the fifth inning, the big chill set in.
That's when Hibbard, a pitcher who relies on changing speeds and upsetting rhythms, won a game of nerves with Billy Ripken and Devereaux to escape big trouble.
"It seemed like the temperature dropped in the fifth inning," Hibbard said. "I was chilled all inning. After that I came in the clubhouse and put long sleeves on [under his jersey]."
The Orioles loaded the bases on a double by Craig Worthington, a single by Leo Gomez and a walk to Chris Hoiles. Pitching to the outside part of the plate against Ripken, Hibbard jumped ahead in the count at 0-2. Ripken fouled off a couple of pitches, worked the count to 2-2, and then missed another outside delivery for strike three.
"I pitched him real tough," Hibbard said. "I got some quality pitches in against him. The last one was four to six inches outside. I wasn't looking for a strikeout until I got two strikes. I was trying to get a ground ball and a double play. It's better to walk in a run than give up a base hit and give up two."
Hibbard almost walked Devereaux, falling behind 3-0. At that point, Hibbard looked toward the White Sox dugout, as if to ask "What am I doing wrong?"
"He was a little out of sync," said manager Jeff Torborg, recalling the moment. "Sammy [pitching coach Sammy Ellis] calmed him down, told him to take it easy."
Devereaux took two strikes and then waved at a third. End of threat. The Orioles didn't get another runner to second, and in the ninth, they had to face Thigpen, who saved a record 57 games last season.
With that, the White Sox got off to a 2-0 start, sweeping the season-opening series from the Orioles. A year ago, the Sox took baseball by surprise, finishing only nine games behind the Oakland A's in the AL West with a 94-68 record. That prompted comparisons to the Orioles' stunning, near-miss success in the AL East in 1989.
Now the White Sox want to avoid the tumble the Orioles took (to fifth place) in 1990. Orioles manager Frank Robinson already has tipped Torborg to the danger ahead.
"Frank and I talked about it last year," Torborg said. "I think the world of Frank. I have the greatest respect for him. We talked at the winter meetings and he said 'Next year can be the tough one.'
"In their case, I think they had injuries [that contributed to the Orioles' downfall]. Our feeling, the thing that encourages us, is that nobody other than Thigpen and maybe Bobby Jones had career years last year."
This week, the White Sox pointed themselves in the right direction.