For some perspective on July 12, 1980 the Baltimore Orioles were six games above .500 yet floundering in 4th place in the AL East and buried nine games out of first place.
Forty three days later, the Orioles were 24 games above .500 and tied in the loss column for first place with the Yankees.
The Orioles and Yankees combined to win 203 games that summer. The two teams had the best record in Major League baseball. And only the Yankees would go on to play in the post-season.
On Aug. 8, more than 54,000 poured into Yankee Stadium to see an Orioles team that had not dropped a game in August. It was Jim Palmer for Baltimore and Ron Guidry for New York. Eddie Murray had four hits to back up Palmer’s 4-2 win. The Yanks lead was still 4.5 games.
Only 48, 109 showed up on Saturday night in the Bronx. It was Tommy Underwood for New York and Steve Stone for Baltimore. Stone was searching for his 18th win of the season. Oscar Gamble’s two-run homer put the Yanks up. Al Bumbry’s homer hit the foul pole and knotted this game up at 2-2.
Both pitchers settled in as this game was knotted at 2-2 heading to the eighth. Ken Singleton and Rich Dauer plated extra base hits in the eighth. Another 4-2 win was in the books and the Birds were 3.5 games out.
Sunday, the 10th brought out 54,000 again. The Yankees couldn’t get swept on their home field could they. Mike Flanagan went for the Birds and 15-game winner Tommy John was on the mound for New York. The Orioles struck first with four runs. The Yanks knotted the scored at 4-4. John took a 5-4 lead to the ninth with three outs to go. Rick Dempsey’s two-out single tied it. Murray’s triple put the O’s up front and Tim Stoddard shut the Yanks down in the home half.
The Orioles had completed a three-game sweep in New York. The once big lead was down to 2.5 games. And a five-game series in Baltimore was looming. It began on the 14th of August. There were almost 50,000 in attendance in Memorial Stadium to see Stone take on Underwood and the Yankees again. In the seventh inning, Dauer cracked a Ron Davis fastball over the wall for a homer. It was his first long ball since the 79 World Series. Stone tossed a two-hitter in the 6-1 romp.
Here’s a quote I got from Stone about the Yankees series.
“The Yankees series was wonderfully exciting,” Stone said. “The first time I beat them in that series, I threw all fastballs and curve balls. The second time it was all fastballs and sliders. I went with two different plans. That Yankees team had some good left-handed hitters and I went 3-0. I had never beaten them before.”
Would the Orioles take all eight games and blow the doors off the Yankees?
No this fairy tale ending didn’t happen. New York took the next two games in Baltimore and didn’t score more than four runs in either victory. Another 49,000 plus came out for each game.
The final game of the series went to Baltimore 1-0 on Terry Crowley’s RBI double in the seventh.
The 1980 Orioles won 100 games and went home without a playoff berth. The O’s pulled within a half of a game with New York for more than a week and grew no closer. It was a great pennant chase but without a wild card berth in place, this fine club went home for the winter.