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Fans make right moves to give Orioles the edge

In the bottom of the fourth inning Saturday, with Cleveland threatening to tie the Orioles' 2-0 lead and thus plunge Baltimore into a state of discomfort not felt since Roberto Alomar was the spitting image of himself, I decided to do the laundry.

"Are you out of your mind?" asked my wife, Suzy, the extremely sophisticated baseball strategist.

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"I have shpilkes," I explained, reverting to the ancient Yiddish, meaning, loosely translated, my nerve endings were doing the Macarena and I had to channel all of this pent-up energy into something constructive or else beat up the walls.

"Now?" she asked. "Now, with a 2-0 lead? Since when do you change positions with a 2-0 lead?"

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She meant our own positions, not the Orioles'. I have to be careful how I explain this, because it's possible there could be public skepticism. This isn't about winning some piddly ballgame, it's about pulling down the curtain on the Dark Ages of Orioles baseball. To end such a cursed era, you have to revert to ancient magic, which is how, in my household, we have personally won many baseball games this year while, of course, modestly allowing those such as Alomar and Anderson to take much of the credit in public.

Take Saturday's playoff in Cleveland, for example, when the Orioles went ahead, 2-0, on consecutive home runs by Palmeiro and Bonilla.

My wife, sitting near me by the television set, crossed her left ankle over her right and folded her hands in front of her, as if in prayer, moments before Palmeiro went deep. I held a Sun opened to the third page of the sports section.

Yeah, said my wife, jumping to her feet as she watched Palmeiro's shot disappear over the horizon. Then she sat down and carefully crossed her left ankle back over her right and refolded her hands. The sports section, momentarily dropped, went carefully back into my right hand. Immediately, Bonilla homered.

"You can't move from that position," I instructed.

"Who do you think you're talking to?" my wife asked. "An amateur? I know how this thing works."

So do many fans, though some are reluctant to discuss details in public: the moving of the TV remote control precisely four stations up and four back, to correct for any electromagnetic flaws, as B. J. Surhoff leans in with the game on the line; the careful tapping of fingers against your head when Bobby Bonilla taps his bat against his own head, a gesture of simpatico; the staunch refusal, on my part, to take another spoonful of ice cream until Armando Benitez puts out a rally. (I'll show them intensity; I'll starve myself!)

"You know," said my wife, who is a clinical social worker, "there's a psychological term for what we're doing."

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"Yeah, a complete reversion to primitive superstition," I said, quickly knocking on wood.

Such gestures don't come easily to me. I'm an ex-sportswriter, who long ago learned objectivity, emotional distance, a cool eye. But it's 13 years between playoffs, and the heart finds itself, against all professional training, against all odds, engaged, and reaching for any available edge.

Such as Saturday, when Cleveland was rallying, and my wife was strategically seated, and the sports section in my right hand was in its proper place.

You say this is stupid, that crossed limbs and gripped newspapers have nothing to do with baseball games. That's what they want you to think. Some people want you to think natural playing ability has something to do with it, but then how do you explain the '69 Mets? Or they want you to think God determines ballgames, in which case how do you explain Alomar in the ninth inning, and then again in the 12th when even the umpire Hirschbeck, much less God, hadn't yet granted forgiveness.

God has things other than baseball games on his mind. And anyway, remember Roger Kahn's book, "The Boys of Summer"? He recalls a hitter crossing himself for good luck. The catcher, Birdie Tebbetts, calls time out, steps in front of home plate, and ostentatiously crosses himself.

"OK," says Tebbetts, "it's all even with God. Now let's see who's the better man."

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So there we were, two Cleveland runners on base, Orioles holding their 2-0 lead, and my heart's doing a Ringo Starr drum solo (loud and irregular). Rising from the couch to do some tension-breaking laundry, forgetting the simplest tenets of such rituals, I drop the sports page from my right hand and hear my wife say, "Are you out of your mind?"

And the next thing I know, Sandy Alomar Jr. is naturally singling for Cleveland with two on base, and we have a 2-2 ballgame.

You have to show respect to the magic. From the moment of Robbie Alomar's ninth-inning, game-tying single, to his game-winning home run in the 12th, to Randy Myers' final Cleveland strikeout Saturday, no one changed position where I live.

In New York tonight, the Orioles begin playing the Yankees for the American League pennant. In my house, all the important rituals will be respected. My wife and I can be counted on. If anything goes wrong at Yankee Stadium, nobody's pinning the rap on us.

Pub Date: 10/08/96


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