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Near sweep whisks away Weaver era
One of the most enduring moments in Orioles history occurred in 1982 -- after the final out of the season.
That year, the Orioles waited until Aug. 20 to initiate a pennant drive that went down to the last day. It was the year Earl Weaver closed out 14 1/2 seasons as manager (though he would return in mid-1985 to manage an additional 1 1/2 seasons).
On Oct. 3, after the Milwaukee Brewers' Don Sutton bested the Orioles' Jim Palmer in a duel of two of the game's great veteran pitchers, many fans in the Memorial Stadium crowd of 51,639 stayed. And stayed. And stayed.
"Forget what is happening on the field," Howard Cosell said in his post-game commentary for ABC-TV. "The real story is taking place in the stands."
Forty-five minutes after the game, after Weaver wrapped up his news conference, 25,000 people still lingered in the stands. They refused to leave, continuing to cheer wildly. They wanted Earl Weaver.
Responding, Weaver went back onto the field and led them in one final O-R-I-O-L-E-S cheer.
"I felt sadness at first -- winning the first three against Milwaukee and then losing the fourth was a big disappointment," Weaver said. "We thought we had let Baltimore's fans down. But the appreciation they showed after the game picked us right up. It was so dramatic, I cried.
"We still have the tape of Cosell raving about how great Baltimore was, about the Orioles' great owner [Edward Bennett Williams] and the great fans. We play it once in a while."
In mid-August, the Orioles were 7 1/2 games out of first. Weaver had announced his retirement before the season and there was so much talk that his lame-duck status might be hurting the club that Williams addressed the players in Boston on Aug. 14.
When the lawyer completed his remarks, Rich Dauer leaped up and yelled, "Let's go out and win one for the 'Duck.' "
And they very nearly did.
A 10-game winning streak narrowed the gap, as did a five-game sweep of the New York Yankees. On Sept. 16, the Orioles trailed by one. The frenzy built. Then four losses to the Detroit Tigers in nine days all but --ed hopes.
Entering the final series of the season, against division-leading Milwaukee, the Orioles were three games behind with four to play. To win, they had to sweep a Friday-night doubleheader and single games Saturday and Sunday.
Before 51,883 screaming fans, the Orioles swept the doubleheader. Harry Dalton, a former Orioles official who was then Milwaukee's general manager, greeted the Brewers as they entered the clubhouse.
"I noticed that a lot of you didn't look me in the eye, as if you were embarrassed," Dalton told them. "There's no reason to be embarrassed. Our situation is still good. We have to win one more, and one only."
Recalling the moment, Dalton said, "I think I was trying to convince myself as much as them."
After the Orioles won again on Saturday and moved into a tie for first place with Milwaukee, pitcher Scott McGregor found the Brewers ready to surrender: "They said, 'We can't beat you. You're incredible. You win.' "
Some fans arrived Sunday with brooms in anticipation of sweeping the series. It would be only the fourth time in history that two teams met on the final day of the regular season with a championship on the line.
"In a clubhouse meeting before the game, Earl said that no matter what happens, we had made his last season memorable," Palmer said. "Dauer wiped his brow and said kiddingly, 'Whew, I thought you were going to tell us you're not retiring.' "
So, there it was: One game left, Palmer against Sutton. Palmer had won 15 games that season, but on this afternoon, 12 days shy of his 37th birthday, he didn't have one great start left. He gave up three home runs -- two by Robin Yount that wrapped up the league MVP award and left Eddie Murray an also-ran again -- in five innings. The Brewers went on to win, 10-2.
"When Earl came out to relieve me, he said, 'Thanks for all the games you won,' " Palmer said. "It was the biggest game of my career, and the most disappointing."
Judging by the fans' reaction after the game, the day and the year weren't lost. Indeed, it was hard to tell who lost, and in a sense no one did.
Remembering the moment
"It was heartbreaking. Realistically, we knew it would be hard to win four straight, but we felt we could do it."
Orioles outfielder Al Bumbry
"After Saturday's win, it was Fantasy Island. We had gone into the series out of the race, but came to the park Sunday with our bags packed to go to Anaheim for the playoffs against the Angels."
Orioles pitcher Scott McGregor
"I was giving a speech that weekend in Williamsburg (Va.), but was told by WMAR to come back to do Sunday's game [on TV] if we won the first three. It had all the ingredients of a great matchup -- Sutton against Palmer. I really thought we'd win."
Retired third baseman Brooks Robinson
"The first time, Yount hit a low and away fastball into the right-field bleachers. Dempsey said we had to pitch him up and in. I said he can hit that out, too. Next time, I pitched him up and in and he hit it over the bullpen. I didn't have great stuff that day."
Orioles pitcher Jim Palmer on his conversation with catcher Rick Dempsey on how to pitch to Milwaukee's Robin Yount