Jaywalkers nabbed by Officer Martinez

ORIOLES GREATEST MOMENTS

July 20, 1995|By Doug Brown | Doug Brown,Sun Staff Writer

First he picked off Barry Bonnell. Then he picked off Dave Collins. To complete the inning, he picked off Willie Upshaw.

Tippy Martinez had a solid 10-year career as a left-handed reliever for the Orioles, but that moment on Aug. 24, 1983, -- when he picked off three Toronto Blue Jays in one inning -- defined it.

"Seems like everybody was there that night," Martinez said. "I hear about it even today. That's how I'm remembered. Which is OK."

Moments later, Lenn Sakata, in real life an infielder but who was, of all things, the catcher, hit a game-winning home run, capping a couple of the most bizarre innings in Orioles history.

Trailing Toronto 3-1 with two on and two outs in the ninth, the Orioles tied it on RBI singles by Benny Ayala and Al Bumbry, only to have the Blue Jays go back on top on Cliff Johnson's home run off Tim Stoddard leading off the 10th. Bonnell singled, Martinez came on and the fun started.

"I don't think Tippy had picked off three guys all year until then," Bumbry said. "He had one of the worst moves to first base for a left-hander I ever saw. The stars must have been aligned right that night."

Bonnell was edging off first base, eager to steal. The odds were in his favor, with Martinez and his poor pickoff move on the mound and Sakata behind the plate.

Although he hadn't caught since Little League, Sakata was rushed into the breach because Joe Altobelli, in a series of managerial maneuverings, had removed starter Rick Dempsey and his successor, Joe Nolan. Outfielder John Lowenstein was at second base, for the first time since 1975, and Gary Roenicke was at third, for the first time in the majors.

"When Sakata was on first base with a walk in the ninth, I hit my fist in my hand and pointed to him to show he would catch," Altobelli said. "Out there, he couldn't argue with me."

Other possible catching candidates, Jim Dwyer and Rich Dauer, already were out of the game. And Lowenstein? "I've caught enough to know if the need ever arose, I could not catch."

Without being told, Martinez knew he had to keep Bonnell close to the bag to prevent him from stealing on Sakata.

"Lenny wanted a chance to throw 'em out," Martinez said. "I said no way, not at my expense."

"The mask felt heavy and I really couldn't see out of the bars," Sakata said. "I didn't want to throw and give away my secret weapon -- the one-hop toss to second base."

At first base, Eddie Murray, one eye on Bonnell, motioned with his fingers to his chest, hoping Martinez got the signal.

"Eddie had a knack of knowing when a guy was stealing," bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks said. "That motion with his fingers meant: 'Throw to me. He has too much of a lead.' "

Martinez threw and nailed the eager Bonnell. One out. Collins walked. He, too, took a large lead and was picked off. Two out.

"The runners were mesmerized by the prospect of stealing on Sakata and weren't paying attention to Tippy," pitcher Scott McGregor said.

Upshaw singled and wasn't fooled by two lobbed tosses to first by Martinez. The third one, not lobbed, caught him.

John Sullivan was Toronto's first base coach, and years later, when pitcher Mike Flanagan was with the Blue Jays, Sullivan told him: "I said to Upshaw, 'Whatever you do, don't . . ." He hadn't finished the sentence -- "get picked off" -- before Martinez did just that.

"By that time, it had become comical," Hendricks said. "When the third guy took an even bigger lead, Eddie was waving frantically for Tippy to throw over."

In the bottom of the 10th, Cal Ripken led off with a game-tying home run. Then, after two walks and two outs, Late Inning Lenn, who already had won three games in sudden death in his four seasons with the Orioles, delivered again, with a home run.

In the clubhouse afterward, good lines flowed.

"Our strategy was to keep throwing to first base until the lights went out," Sakata said.

Alluding to the unusual infield alignment, Lowenstein said, "The reason Tippy kept throwing to first base was because Eddie was the only guy he recognized."

Smiling, Dempsey said: "Lenny looked good. Maybe he ought to start tomorrow."

Remembering the moment

"Although Lenny hadn't caught since Little League, he worked on his catching all during spring training."

-- Pitcher Jim Palmer

"Tippy had such a bad move to first base, they were probably the only three pickoffs he ever had."

-- Pitcher Mike Flanagan

"We had a new hero every night. These were the kind of things the team did that year on its way to the World Series."

-- Pitcher Scott McGregor

"They were so anxious to steal, if there had been eight of them, Tippy would have gotten all eight."

-- Ex-manager Earl Weaver, who was listening to the game on the radio while visiting his daughter in Baltimore

"All three guys were pretty fast and they wanted to get an extra step on me. But they didn't need to, not with Sakata catching for the first time since Little League."

-- Pitcher Tippy Martinez

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