Sunshine brings out the best in Orioles and baseball

John Steadman

August 21, 1992|By John Steadman

It was a day blessed with a Columbia-blue sky, accompanied by bright sunshine and a breeze coming from Mother Nature's own air-conditioner. Yes, baseball was invented for summer afternoons. During the first century of its grand existence, that's when it was played.

Then, coming out of the Great Depression, the major leagues turned on the lights in a desperate economical move to attract more customers. In truth, it made the cash registers ring, allowing the sport to became solvent, but at the same time the game took on a nocturnal dimension.

"Turkey Mike" Donlin, an earlier Baltimore Oriole, was quick to express himself. "I can't imagine ballplayers having to give up their nights," he lamented. At the time, Donlin had retired from the game to become a part-time actor but his reaction was in accord with how it was to play nine innings and, subsequently, to join the Rover Boys for celebrating after dark. Then it was back to the grind the next afternoon.

The Orioles, the good little Spartans they are, would never be tempted by the bright lights of evening. We all know that. So yesterday they went 10 innings before they clubbed the Seattle Mariners into submission by the resounding score of 2-1. The crowd of 45,951, divided among business men stealing away from the office, vacationers and youngsters off from school, made for a diverse mix.

It was the third time this season the Orioles departed from the norm and started a game at high noon, rather quarter-past the hour. The audience was relaxed, dressed for the most part in casual attire and witnessed a memorable performance. The setting made for a glorious occasion.

Here's one vote for more of the same. The Seattle team, accompanied by wives and children enjoying their once-a-year family road trip, had held the Orioles hitless for nearly five innings, thanks to Brian Fisher, who knows how to mesmerize by taking something off every pitch and making hitters supply their own power.

Fisher, with a 1-2 record, had held the Orioles hitless until Chito Martinez drove a liner into center field in the fifth to prove the pitcher wasn't the second coming of Eddie Lopat.

The Mariners had jolted the Orioles in the first two games of the series and had more than ample opportunity to break yesterday's matinee wide open. But 1-0 wasn't enough to hold up. even if it took an extra inning for the home town heroes to put them away and provide a victory for Storm Davis.

Davis had relieved Rick Sutcliffe after he battled his way out of more jams for 7 2/3 innings than were to be anticipated in the 4 o'clock rush hour.

Mike Devereaux, found expendable by the Los Angeles Dodgers, got around in time to get the end of his bat on an opposite field triple to right in the eighth inning to drive in the tying run. Then in the bottom of the 10th, after Brady Anderson pulled a line drive triple into the "Bermuda Triangle" known as the right field corner, Devereaux lofted a fly ball to score the decisive run. He represented a one-man run-maker.

While Anderson was rounding the bases on his leadoff triple, Jay Buhner, the right fielder, was trying to find the handle on the elusive ball that trapped itself in the corner and didn't rebound. "The ball hits the rubber mat and goes all over," Buhner explained. "You never know what it's going to do when it gets down in there. You have to stay about two steps off the grass and work from there."

Anderson turned out to be the winning run when he rode home on Devereaux's hoist. It was all over and since the Toronto Blue Jays were losing to the Milwaukee Brewers in a different precinct, it became a profitable occasion for the Orioles in that they gained a game on the leaders.

Despite what the cynics say, the Orioles are in the race to stay because the Blue Jays, rich and content, keep letting them get back in contention. Only three precarious games separate them in the AL Eastern Division standings and Toronto keeps acting as if it's a team that doesn't want to win it.

Apart from the Orioles' success, there's nothing so rare as a cool August afternoon in Baltimore, with a nine-mile breeze and baseball being played in midweek. It was a pleasure that isn't too often available anywhere in the world, at least this side of Fenway Park or Wrigley Field.

It was the finest of all sports being presented for pleasure in the daylight hours. Too bad the economy of baseball doesn't lend itself to more such glorious occasions.

This, you feel, is what Doubleday intended. Perfect conditions. Green grass flooded with sunshine. A dirt infield. Square bases of white punctuating the base paths.

Baseball in the afternoon. Savor its beauty.

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