When Ernie Banks said, "Let's play two," he meant games, not days.
As expected, the Orioles and Texas Rangers presented The Doubleheader From Hell last night and early this morning. After seven hours and 45 minutes, the dance finally ended at 12:52 a.m. BST (Beaten Standard Time).
A self-respecting fan could have watched virtually the entire "Godfather" trilogy instead, but those hearty souls who remained at Memorial Stadium for all 21 innings witnessed an even more special treat.
One month to the day after tying the major-league record for most pitchers used in a no-hitter (four), the Orioles set an AL record and tied the 1963 Milwaukee Braves and '77 San Diego Padres for most pitchers used in a doubleheader (13).
The kicker is, they won both games.
"Are they going to take our picture again?" asked lefthander Mike Flanagan, the only reliever who didn't work in Game 2 as the Orioles completed their thrilling sweep. "Champagne for the bullpen. Champagne for everyone."
Flanagan said coach Elrod Hendricks is now suffering "tendinitis of the ear," presumably from answering the bullpen phone so many times. Hendricks deadpanned, "I'll have it checked," but that's where the joking ended.
Those surging Orioles suddenly need a reliever for tonight and a starter for tomorrow after their 4-3 and 8-7 victories, the first in 12 breathtaking (excruciating?) innings.
According to unofficial records, club executives held the latest closed-door meeting in franchise history early this morning. The Orioles have won three straight one-run games for the first time since May 1987. Man the battle stations!
General manager Roland Hemond and assistants Frank Robinson and Doug Melvin entered manager John Oates' office after 1 a.m. Needless to say, they didn't catch the end of "Late Night with David Letterman," or the start of "Later with Bob Costas."
By the time Oates emerged, public relations director Rick Vaughn was waiting. Vaughn once threw gas at George Mason, but it was fitting that he injured his typing shoulder last night, and could not volunteer his estimable services.
"Undecided for Thursday?" Vaughn asked.
"Really undecided," Oates replied.
Roy Smith was scheduled to start tomorrow, but he threw 93 pitches in his most recent start and worked 2 1/3 innings in Game 2. Jose Mesa, coming off a shutout at Rochester, is his most likely replacement. It's his day to pitch.
It's also Arthur Rhodes' day, but Oates said he would not be recalled from Double A to face Texas. Lefthanded starters are 7-14 with 6.14 ERA against the Rangers. "I don't want his first start to be against these guys," Oates said.
But that's tomorrow's problem. Tonight the Orioles are expected to promote a reliever to replace Mark Williamson, who retired one batter in Game 1, then strained the lateral oblique muscle in his left side in Game 2.
That's the same injury Ben McDonald suffered in spring training last year. Williamson threw only four pitches after giving up a two-run homer to Juan Gonzalez that pulled the Rangers within one run in the seventh inning.
"I've hung some sliders, but not like that," Williamson said. "That was just terrible. It was a matter of not really following through, being free and easy."
Thus, Williamson is a likely candidate for the 15-day disabled list, but his bullpen replacement is anyone's guess -- "You can throw out any names you want," Oates said, refusing to even concern himself with speculation.
Now that's going too far.
Ditto for the Three Amigos -- Jeff Ballard, Jeff Robinson and Paul Kilgus. That leaves future expansion candidates Francisco De La Rosa and Israel Sanchez. You expected Walter Johnson and Cy Young?
Williamson, Jim Poole, Todd Frohwirth and Gregg Olson worked both games last night. The latter three also pitched Sunday -- as did Dave Johnson, who earned his first major-league relief victory in Game 1 (Frohwirth won Game 2).
Bob Milacki left the opener with a 3-2 lead in the seventh, and Oates used four relievers to get to Olson. Great plan, except Olson suffered a bizarre blown save culminating with Mario Diaz's bad-hop single off third baseman Leo Gomez.
Oates, of course, knew he'd again use his bullpen heavily in the nightcap, for rookie Stacy Jones was making his first professional start since June 28, 1989, back when he was in A ball.
Jones lasted all of three innings, and the parade of relievers began anew. The only Orioles pitchers who didn't work were Ben McDonald (Monday's starter) and Mike Mussina (tonight's). Oates sent Mussina home at midnight.
McDonald joked, "I was just waiting for the word. I had my spikes out. I wanted to pinch-run. I was offended a little bit when Johnny asked Mussina to pinch-run the other day. I used to do that all the time. I think I'm faster than him."
We'll settle that the next doubleheader.
With all due respect to Ernie Banks, let's go home.