One game back for the division lead, with five to go! The only thing that would make this more exciting would be .... no wildcard. Or, say, four games back with five to go. That was the story on September 29, 1982. Harvey's Wallbangers were 94-63, and the Orioles were four back, at 90-67. Each team played a game that night; Milwaukee lost to Boston, 9-4, as Eck beat Jim Slaton, and Baltimore beat Detroit 6-5, with Mike Flanagan getting the best of Jack Morris.
On Friday, September 30, Milwaukee brought a three-game lead to Memorial Stadium for a twi-night doubleheader, the first two games of a four-game weekend set - must have been a make-up for an earlier rain-out. In the first game, the Orioles sent Dennis Martinez to the hill, to take on Pete Vuckovich, he of the fearsome Fu Manchu.The Orioles got big hits from Rich Dauer and Joe Nolan, and a home run from Ken Singleton to defeat the Brewers, 8-3.
In the second game, rookie Storm Davis held the Brewers in check, and the Orioles won 7-1. Eddie hit a two-run shot in the first, to set the tone; Roenicke doubled in Benny Ayala; and Lenn Sakata chipped in with a home run later in the game. I listened to these games on my clock radio in my dorm room, irritating my friends and neighbors as I would not be budged.
With the sweep on Friday, the Orioles had taken three games off the Brewers' lead in two days! One down, with two to go! On Saturday, Earl gave the ball to Scotty McGregor, who was staked to a 3-0 lead in the first. But he couldn't hold it, and the Brewers tied it in the fourth. On came Sammy Stewart (is it just me, or were there a lot of Scotsmen on that team?), who put a stop to the Brewers' shenanigans. The O's put up a four-spot in the bottom of the fourth, and another in the eighth, winning 11-3.
On to Sunday, all tied up, winner take all! By now all of baseball was astonished and delighted. There were some tight races in the other three divisions that year, but two had been settled; the Braves were hanging on to a one-game lead on the Dodgers. At Memorial, the Orioles sent Palmer to the mound, with a 15-5 record in the last of his many great years. He was matched up against another future HOFer, Don Sutton, who had come over from the Astros the month before. A GAME FOR THE AGES! Or, not, as Palmer, both Martinezes, and Flanny all got touched up by the big bats from Milwaukee.
Wow - what a letdown. This wasn't as depressing for me as the 79 Series, because the Orioles had made something out of nothing in that final week. And of course they were a winter away from another great season that ended much more happily.
That's my candidate for the last great pennant race in Birdland. Assuming you were alive at the time, where were you for these games? Maybe I've missed something - let me know! I'm positive that this year's race is going to end better for the O's, but may be a bit less exciting.