Flanagan provides last bit of magic


October 07, 1991|By Peter Schmuck

For a few shining Memorial Stadium minutes, even the victorious Detroit Tigers had to submit to the magic. Mike Flanagan made sure of that.

Flanagan, a living link between the 1991 Baltimore Orioles and their glorious past, would not let their final game at the old ballpark end without recapturing some of it.

History will record that the Orioles ended 38 years on 33rd Street with a lopsided 7-1 defeat yesterday, but the sellout crowd of 50,700 will not remember it that way. The fans, who began clamoring for Flanagan in the eighth inning, will only remember that he came, he pitched and he turned torment into triumph.

He replaced Gregg Olson with one out in the top of the ninth and struck out the last two batters he faced, each time evoking a massive roar from the crowd that had carried the Orioles to a club record for home attendance on the final day of an otherwise dismal season.

Never mind that Detroit pitcher Frank Tanana, who had spoiled stadium openers in Seattle (1977) and Chicago (1991), tried to spoil the Memorial Stadium finale with a brilliant four-hit performance.

Never mind that the Orioles lost for the sixth time in their last seven games of the year and ended the season in sixth place.

Never mind that he was a reliever instead of a starter. Flanagan walked to the mound and it was 1979 all over again.

"I wanted to throw the last pitch in this stadium," Flanagan said. "This stadium is where I spent the best days of my life and made the best friends of my life. It was a moment I'll never forget."

It was an opportunity that came a little sooner than expected. When Olson took the mound, the plan was for him to get two outs and turn the last batter over to Flanagan, who had made it known months before that he wanted to be the last Orioles pitcher to take the mound at Memorial Stadium.

But as Olson took the mound, the fans began chanting for Flanagan, so Olson got the first out of the inning and then motioned for manager John Oates to come to the mound.

"It was just a matter of, 'Get him out here,' " Olson said. "I wanted to get in the game and face a hitter. That was all I wanted. Then I wanted to get him out here. Flanny is the fans' favorite. He's had such a great year. Everything that has gone on here means so much to him."

To coincide with his arrival in the game, the club announced on the DiamondVision screen that Flanagan had agreed to terms on a contract for 1992 that also includes a club option for the 1993 season. He was ringing out the old, and he would be back to help ring in the new.

Flanagan's performance put the crowd in a nostalgic mood that the Orioles would play on for the next hour. Soon after the game ended, they brought out the stars of the past in an emotional post-game ceremony reflected on the club's entire 38-year history in Baltimore.

"All weekend I've looked around, and there's no part of the park that I can look at and not see things people had done there over the years," Flanagan said. "And there were the sad times, like seeing Palmer ending his career and knowing that it would happen to me someday. Out there today, I thought of all the players who never got to come back for that one last ovation."

Flanagan, who was traded to the Toronto Blue Jays in 1987, got to come back for one last hurrah last spring and he has turned it into a second career as a relief pitcher. He was one of the steadiest pitchers on the club, making 64 relief appearances and finishing the season with an impressive 2.38 ERA.

But only one other time this year had he enjoyed an ovation like the one he received when he struck out Travis Fryman to end the Tigers' half of the ninth inning. That was back on Opening Day, when he pitched a scoreless ninth inning in the Orioles' 9-1 loss to the Chicago White Sox.

"I came in to a tremendous ovation," he recalled. "Then I got the side out and got another standing ovation. At that time, I felt that whatever happens this year, they'd never take that away from me."

They didn't, but they gave him one more fond memory to carry with him to Oriole Park at Camden Yards, where he'll pitch at least through next season.

"To me, it was like pitching the seventh game of the World Series," Flanagan said.

The bottom of the ninth inning was not quite as auspicious, but it was appropriate that Cal Ripken was the final Orioles batter to come to the plate at Memorial Stadium. Never mind that he hit into a game-ending double play.

Ripken had the season of his life, and has a chance to be rewarded for it with his second American League Most Valuable Player Award. He hit .323 with 210 hits, 34 home runs and 114 RBI, but he wanted more.

"I kind of went outside of myself and tried to do more than I could. In the back of my mind, I wanted to hit a home run, and that's the worst thing you can do."

The rest was "Field of Dreams" brought to life. Frank Robinson made the last run from third base to the plate before it was uprooted and transported to the new stadium. The All-Time Orioles Team was introduced one by one, beginning with Brooks Robinson at third base, then Frank, then Boog Powell and Jim Palmer and a parade of former players that numbered 78 in all.

"I can't really put it into words, but I just got that feeling," said current first baseman Randy Milligan. "That's the Oriole team, the winning spirit, the fans. I got all that out of that ceremony."

The doors will open at Memorial Stadium for the Maryland/Penn State football game on Nov. 9, but they will not again open for the Orioles, who hope to meld the past and the future in their grand old new stadium downtown.

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