During my American League East childhood in the 1970s and early 1980s, the Yankees rose to the top and fell, the Red Sox rose almost to the top and then fell, the Brewers rose from the middle up toward the top, the Tigers drifted around the middle while showing a few hints near the end that they might be preparing to rise, and the Blue Jays fell or rose, depending on your metaphysical bent, from nonexistence to the bottom, where they kept the Indians company. Only the Orioles escaped those years unscathed by ineptitude. They were always dignified contenders, somehow above both the mediocrity gripping the also-rans padding the lower ranks of the division and the ugly angst and anger surrounding the Yankees-Red Sox rivalry. I always kind of liked them. How could you not like a team that would often handle a late-inning crisis by turning to a guy named Tippy?
The Orioles lacked the star power of the Yankees and Red Sox, and even when those teams began to crumble the bearded, swashbuckling Brewers swooped in to take their place as the contender with the charisma. But the Orioles almost always had the most complete team, with strong defense, good starting pitching, some speed, good power hitters in the middle of the lineup, a skilled, versatile bench, and, perhaps most important of all, an excellent bullpen. They contended nearly every year, but during the years when I was paying the closest attention they never made it all the way to a World Series championship.
They did finally win it all in 1983, a couple years after I’d stopped collecting cards and caring so much. I don’t know when they started to believe it was their year, but a good guess might be after a game on August 24. Going into the 9th inning that day, the Orioles trailed the Blue Jays by two runs, seeming to be on the brink of falling further behind the division-leading Brewers. But the Orioles scored two runs with a scrambling, bench-depleting rally that left them out of catchers: They had to send utility infielder Lenn Sakata behind the plate. Meanwhile, outfielders John Lowenstein and Gary Roenicke were forced into service in the infield, at second base and third base, respectively. I’ll conclude my appreciation of Tippy Martinez with the rest of the game (courtesy of baseball reference.com), which started the Orioles on an 8-game winning streak that catapulted them into a division lead they would not relinquish. Please pay special attention to how Tippy Martinez recorded what would turn out to be the Blue Jays’ final three outs, and how in the bottom of the inning Tippy’s overmatched catcher showed his gratitude:
Top of the 10th, Blue Jays Batting, Tied 3-3, Tim Stoddard facing 4-5-6
Tim Stoddard replaces Scott McGregor pitching; Lenn Sakata moves to C; John Lowenstein moves to 2B; Gary Roenicke moves to 3B; Benny Ayala moves to LF
R — C Johnson Home Run (CF)
— B Bonnell Single to CF
Tippy Martinez replaces Tim Stoddard pitching; Dave Collins pinch hits for Jesse Barfield batting 6th
O 1– D Collins Bonnell Caught Stealing (PO) 2B (P-1B)
— ” ” Walk
O 1– W Upshaw Collins Picked off 1B (P-1B)
— ” ” Single to 2B
O 1– B Martinez Upshaw Picked off 1B (P-1B)
1 run, 3 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 3.
Bottom of the 10th, Orioles Batting, Behind 3-4, Joey McLaughlin facing 3-4-5
Dave Collins moves to LF; Barry Bonnell moves to RF
R — C Ripken Home Run
— E Murray Walk
O 1– J Lowenstein Groundout: 1B unassisted; Murray to 2B
-2- J Shelby Intentional Walk
Randy Moffitt replaces Joey McLaughlin pitching
O 12- G Roenicke Strikeout
RRR 12- L Sakata Home Run; Murray Scores; Shelby Scores
4 runs, 2 hits, 0 errors, 0 LOB. Blue Jays 4, Orioles 7.