- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 3, 2007

“They bought the golden goose, and today Sutton gave them the golden egg.”

Orioles outfielder John Lowenstein,

Oct. 3, 1982

Twenty-five years ago today, the Baltimore Orioles and Milwaukee Brewers played the 162nd regular-season game of 1982 to settle the American League East championship — a supposedly epic showdown that turned into a blowout.

Today’s fans might find the confrontation hard to imagine. For one thing, the Brewers are now in the National League. For another, the increasingly woebegone O’s haven’t sniffed a pennant race since 1997.

But a quarter-century ago, the world seemed to stand still for those who considered baseball significant. The Orioles, who started the season 2-10 and trailed the slugging Brewers by 7½ games Aug. 20, caught them by going 32-11 down the stretch and beating Milwaukee five straight times over eight days.

On the final weekend, the Brewers invaded Charm City leading by three games with four to play. Then the O’s won the first three games of the series — a doubleheader Friday night, single game Saturday — to set up a thrilling if improbable finish with both teams at 94-67.

“I feel like I’m on life support,” Orioles owner Edward Bennett Williams said after the Saturday victory. “Do you know the odds against us winning four straight? They’re 16-to-1.”

As it turned out, the odds were a little too long. The finale featured a prospective duel between two future Hall of Fame pitchers, Milwaukee’s Don Sutton and Baltimore’s Jim Palmer, but it proved a mismatch as the so-called Brew Crew romped 10-2.

Palmer gave up three home runs, two by AL MVP Robin Yount, and was gone in the sixth inning with the Brewers leading 4-1. Milwaukee added five runs in the ninth to remove any lingering suspense and advance to the AL Championship Series against the California Angels.

As if the day weren’t momentous enough, it also was the final game for retiring Orioles manager Earl Weaver, the chain-smoking despot who had goaded and whipped the O’s to four pennants and several near-misses in 14½ seasons. After the game, Baltimore fans screamed and stomped for Weaver for 45 minutes, a demonstration so moving that even acerbic ABC commentator Howard Cosell was awed.

All these years later, Palmer and Sutton are MASN analysts for the Orioles and Nationals, respectively, and both remember their 1982 denouement.

“Things don’t always end the way you want,” Palmer said recently. “Though I didn’t really have great stuff that day, we were in it when I left. It was one of the toughest losses I ever had, but I didn’t have time to think about it. I was working the Brewers-Angels series for ABC, so I had to go home, pack and leave for California right away.”

Palmer, who had a long-standing adversarial relationship with Weaver, said he was surprised when the feisty skipper called a rare pregame meeting. Weaver, worn down at 52, had announced in spring training it would be his last season. (He returned for 1½ seasons in 1985 and 1986 with a notable lack of success.)

“We thought, ‘Oh no, don’t tell us you’re not going to retire,’ ” Palmer recalled with a chuckle. “But all he wanted to do was thank everybody. … Unfortunately, I wasn’t at the top of my game that day, and you needed to be in a game like that.”

By contrast, Sutton was. The frizzy-haired 37-year-old right-hander went from Houston to the Brewers at the Aug. 31 trading deadline and provided welcome pitching depth for a slugging team known as “Harvey’s Wallbangers” for manager Harvey Kuenn, who succeeded Buck Rodgers on June 1 and went 72-43 the rest of the season.

“The Brewers were an amazing, strange team — the best collection I ever saw of guys who knew how to play, people like Yount and [Paul] Molitor, although some of the others looked like [grungy] escapees from Attica Prison,” Sutton said. “But when it came to playing together, nobody was better. Sometimes it looked like we could read one another’s minds.”

Sutton said some of his teammates seemed nervous on the final Saturday, “and you had to be concerned. But I didn’t see any signs of tightness or tension on Sunday — everything was back to normal. When I went out to warm up, I felt like, ‘We gotcha!’ It was a privilege to get the ball that Sunday. … Then when we scored three runs [over the first three innings for a 3-1 lead], I told myself, ‘Now you’ve got some breathing room — let them put it in play.’ ”

Earlier that weekend, however, Sutton experienced what he called “scary” health problems.

“I took a penicillin shot Friday because of a raspy throat and had a bad reaction, so I took cortisone to get rid of the penicillin, and then I drank a lot of water to get rid of the cortisone,” he said. “I didn’t leave the clubhouse Friday or Saturday, but by Sunday I was fine.”

Indeed. Sutton allowed eight hits over eight innings and was aided by nice catches in key situations by Cecil Cooper and Ben Oglivie before Bob McClure mopped up in the ninth with an eight-run lead. Sutton went 17-9 for the Astros and Brewers in 1982, then pitched for six more seasons before retiring with 324 victories.

Palmer, six months younger than Sutton, lasted just five innings, allowing four hits and four runs. He finished 15-5, the last good season for the eight-time 20-game winner. He won just five more games over the next two years and hung up his toeplate with 268 victories.

The Brewers defeated the Angels in a five-game ALCS, then lost a seven-game World Series to Whitey Herzog’s St. Louis Cardinals. Sutton started the second and sixth games but won neither. In the latter, a 13-1 victory for the usually light-hitting Cardinals, he was pounded for seven hits and seven runs in 41/3 innings.

“I had pitched something like 60 innings in 31 days, and I was all done by then,” Sutton said. But when it counted against the Orioles, he was definitely all right.

The loss was a terrible letdown for the O’s and most of the 51,642 fans at Memorial Stadium, but Weaver saw brighter days ahead. After the game, according to pitcher Sammy Stewart, “Earl told us we couldn’t have thrilled him any more if we’d won the World Series. Then he said, ‘Win it next year for the other guy.’ ”

The “other guy” turned out to be New York Yankees coach Joe Altobelli, and the 1983 Orioles — eager to prove they could win without Weaver — did exactly that. In their last gasp of glory for at least 25 years, the O’s won the AL East and then whipped the Chicago White Sox in the ALCS and the Philadelphia Phillies in the World Series.

Trying and failing to ignite one of his Raleigh cigarettes after the final game of 1982, Weaver said, “I guess I can throw away my lucky lighter now — it’s out of fluid.”

As an epitaph for the Orioles’ near-miss, his remark served nicely.

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