Standards high in Orioles' past

Sun Staff

It was the year Doug DeCinces walked from the shadow of Brooks Robinson.The year Mike Flanagan won a Cy Young Award. The year a team from Baltimore,in the words of Hall of Fame pitcher Jim Palmer "just flat-out came together."

"There was a maturation," he said. "We had come close other times, andthings just kind of fell into place."

And the New York Yankees, winners of the two previous World Series,tumbled back to earth.

The 1979 Orioles were kings of the American League, though they wouldn'tbe crowned world champions. And they developed a love affair with the citythat remains today.

DeCinces can take much of the credit for that. It was his two-run homer inthe ninth inning off Dave Tobik in a June 22 game against the Detroit Tigersthat gave his club an improbable victory and gave berth to the phrase OrioleMagic. The next day, Eddie Murray homered in the ninth to end the first gameof a doubleheader, and Terry Crowley delivered a tiebreaking single off Tobikin the nightcap to complete the sweep.

"That kind of set the tone for the whole year," Palmer said.

Miraculous comebacks were the norm. Fans cheered the two-headed leftfielder, Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein, and demanded curtain calls fromthe hero du jour. A beer-bellied cab driver named Wild Bill Hagy climbed atopthe dugout to spell out the team's name. Rick Dempsey climbed backstops.

Roenicke saved most of his homers for the Kansas City Royals. KenSingleton saved his for games Flanagan pitched. DeCinces started a tripleplay. Pat Kelly preached the Gospel between hits. Benny Ayala became ahousehold name. Tim Stoddard became known for a sport other than basketball.Manager Earl Weaver became a cigarette company's dream while suffering throughanother torturous outing from closer Don Stanhouse.

And Memorial Stadium finally rocked for something other than a footballteam.

"The Colts were playing poorly, and [owner Bob] Irsay was making a lot ofthreats about moving," Palmer said, "and baseball became No. 1 in Baltimorefor the first time."

This also was the season Palmer failed to win at least 20 games for onlythe second time in a span of 10 years, because of an elbow injury. It was arare glitch in a season when everything seemed to go right. Manager DaveyJohnson, having lost outfielder Eric Davis and catcher Chris Hoiles, should beso lucky.

"The difference between this year's club and that one was we didn't haveany major injuries," said Palmer, an analyst on Orioles telecasts. "We didn'tlose an integral player like Hoiles."

Johnson has something else, a bullpen that Palmer considers "better thanany in Oriole history."

"There's no doubt about that," Palmer said. "It's a very deep bullpen, andDavey can sequence his way through any lineup."

Perhaps Johnson will get his chance to steer the Orioles through a WorldSeries, as Weaver did four times during his Hall of Fame career. Palmer'sclashes with Weaver were legendary, and when asked about the Oriolessquandering a 3-1 lead in games to the Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1979 Series,he still breaks out a needle that never dulls.

"If Earl had bunted in Game 2, we would have won in four games, KikoGarcia would have been the Most Valuable Player and I'd have four World Seriesrings instead of three," Palmer said. "Runners on first and second, nobodyout, bottom of the eighth inning, with a chance to go up two games to nothing.Most everyone in the world would have had Lowenstein bunting. He lined into adouble play, and the Pirates won, 3-2. And I would have gotten the win.

"Whenever we played the Pirates, whether it was '71 or '79, we stoppedscoring. You don't beat good teams when you stop scoring."

That's something today's Orioles have learned.

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