With chances to crack, club instead scrambled to title 1983

THE BALTIMORE SUN

As a pitcher for the Orioles in 1983, Mike Flanagan was off to the best start of his career when he sustained a knee injury. In August, the bench had gotten so thin during a game against the Toronto Blue Jays that manager Joe Altobelli was forced insert a reserve middle infielder as his catcher.

You think today's Orioles have been scrambling of late? They could learn a lot from the resilience shown by the '83 club, which also rode out a couple of losing streaks to deliver Baltimore's first World Series title in 13 years.

Flanagan was 6-0 when his spikes caught on the mound at Memorial Stadium as he tried to field a tapper to his right by the Chicago White Sox's Tony Bernazard.

Flanagan opted not to have surgery and pitched with a brace. He ended up 12-4 in 125 1/3 innings. He also ended up with a championship ring.

"I didn't want to miss any part of that," he said. "I wouldn't have changed that for anything."

Neither would Mike Boddicker, who was forced into a prominent role and won 16 games. But he wasn't the ace. That description belonged to left-hander Scott McGregor, who won 18.

Relievers Sammy Stewart and Tippy Martinez were so reliable they each worked more than 100 innings. The Blue Jays were so eager to run on Lenn Sakata, the emergency catcher, Martinez picked off three runners in the same inning that August night. And the Orioles were going so good, a late acquisition named Tito Landrum emerged an unlikely hero with an extra-inning home run to clinch the AL pennant.

"We had the calming affect of veterans and enough youthful enthusiasm to do it," Flanagan said. "Of course, Cal [Ripken] was the young man coming in, and he was instant impact. And we had solid veterans like [Gary] Roenicke and [Al] Bumbry and [Ken] Singleton and Eddie Murray. Very much a stabilizing force."

Flanagan drifts back to the World Series loss of 1979 as the springboard for what transpired in '83. There were the 100 victories in '80, not enough to get into the playoffs, and the strike-shortened season of '81. And the mad dash for the Milwaukee Brewers in '82, when the Orioles were eliminated on the final day in Earl Weaver's farewell as manager.

"When we came into spring training in '83, I could have told you that we were going to go wire-to-wire," Flanagan said. "It was sort of a culmination. And that's a comparison to this team. They had a taste of the postseason last year."

As Flanagan slips on his headphones and assumes his role as an Orioles television analyst, he sees more common denominators that link this year's club to 1983: pitching and defense.

"The team ERA that year was something like 3.60 [3.63], and that's about where it is right now," he said. "But this is a much stronger bullpen than the '83 team had. In those days, you had a closer, and fifth and sixth starters were the long men. You counted on the starters to go a lot deeper into the game."

Altobelli proved to be the right successor to Weaver. Many of the players knew him from his tenure as manager at Triple-A Rochester, and he knew enough not to mess with a good thing.

"It was smooth," Flanagan said. "Earl had built that team, and it could pretty much steer itself."

The season ended with Ripken snaring a line drive from the Philadelphia Phillies' Garry Maddox and shaking his glove in excitement. Murray had shed his postseason blues that dated back '79 with two homers in the final game, and Rick Dempsey was named Series MVP.

The Orioles haven't been back there since.

Pub Date: 7/06/97

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