Team Effort

From the batting order to the bullpen, the whole diamond shined in the postseason

October 15, 2008|By Childs Walker | Childs Walker,childs.walker@baltsun.com

When asked to reflect on their decisive run through the 1983 postseason, old Orioles rarely dwell on one player or moment.

Most athletes like to spread credit for team success, but it's more than that with this group. Look at those 25-year-old box scores and try to discern who was the star that October. It's hard.

The club's three future Hall of Famers had their moments.

Jim Palmer became the first pitcher to win a World Series game in three decades. Eddie Murray launched two titanic home runs to put his signature on the Series clincher. Cal Ripken Jr. caught the last out of the season.

But often, they ceded the glamour roles to others.

A rookie, Mike Boddicker, pitched complete-game gems to pull the Orioles out of 1-0 holes in the American League Championship Series and World Series. A career reserve, Tito Landrum, smacked the pennant-clinching homer. And a catcher who was better known for his slip-sliding hijinks during rain delays than for his potency with a bat walked off as the World Series Most Valuable Player.

"We had every component that you needed," recalled that unlikely MVP, Rick Dempsey. "Maybe we didn't have the very best in any one area - offense, defense or pitching - but we did it all well, and when you put everything together, it was so solid."

At the helm of this unglamorous machine sat an easygoing, humble man who had made his reputation managing the Orioles' Triple-A affiliate in Rochester, N.Y. Fittingly, Joe Altobelli claimed none of the flamboyant "genius" that brought fame to his predecessor, Earl Weaver.

"He was a realist," Palmer said. "Why come in and change things when they don't need to be changed? He was the perfect fit for us."

A quarter-century later, Altobelli sounds just as Zen in reflecting on the 1983 season. "Really, baseball is not a difficult game," he said from his home in Rochester. "A lot of people try to come in and overdo it."

The Orioles played in streaks through the regular season but won 98 games and took the AL East with room to spare. In the ALCS loomed the only team with more wins, the Chicago White Sox. The Orioles believed the White Sox would be a greater challenge than either team they could play in the World Series.

Cy Young Award winner La Marr Hoyt out-dueled Scott McGregor, 2-1, in the first game at Memorial Stadium. That set the stage for the signature game of Boddicker's career. The young Iowan, who still worked a grain elevator in the winter, had been a revelation all season, winning 16 games in the vacuum left by injuries to Palmer and Mike Flanagan.

But would he shine in the postseason spotlight? Dempsey had few doubts.

"I mean, he beat everybody that year," the catcher recalled. "He was just so locked in all season. He had that big sweeping curve that just hung out in front of the plate but then seemed to move right when the hitter reached for it."

Ron Kittle, Greg Luzinski and Harold Baines flailed at the bender in vain as Boddicker accumulated an ALCS-record 14 strikeouts in a 4-0 shutout.

Palmer, by then in his pitching twilight, took a connoisseur's pleasure in the masterpiece.

"Anytime you have a curveball and you can seem to walk it up to the plate and place it where you want, you're going to get a lot of outs," the Hall of Famer said. "And he had a changeup to go with it; he was a marvelous athlete. He didn't have great velocity, but he had great movement, great location. It's never easy to get hitters out, but when you're going like he was, it feels that way."

World Series-bound

Boddicker's gem had the Orioles riding high on their trip to Chicago, where they delivered an 11-1 beatdown in Game 3. Murray kicked off the rout with a three-run homer into the upper deck at old Comiskey Park.

They desperately wanted to close out the series in four. "I remember thinking that we couldn't give La Marr Hoyt another shot at us," Ripken said.

Altobelli recalled the usually stoic Murray shouting, "I want to see this clubhouse in shambles after the game," meaning he was ready to close it out and celebrate.

But the Orioles couldn't do any more against left-hander Britt Burns than they had against Hoyt. Fortunately for them, 21-year-old Storm Davis matched Burns through six innings, aided by a brilliant defensive effort. Altobelli then handed the ball to his relief ace, Tippy Martinez. Closers don't pitch four innings anymore, but that's what the little lefty with the world-class curve did as the tense, scoreless game moved into extra innings.

In the top of the 10th, Landrum came up with one out. Maybe Burns was looking ahead to Ripken on deck and Murray in the hole, but he sent a fastball right over the upper-middle heart of the plate. The veteran utility player swung hard and sent the ball on a line, beneath the wind, into Comiskey's upper deck.

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