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The time the Orioles picked off three Blue Jays in one inning

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Tippy Martinez picking off a Blue Jay
Tippy Martinez picking off a Blue Jay
YouTube video screen capture

It was a warm summer night in Baltimore's Memorial Stadium, an ovoid stadium that was home to both the Orioles and soon-to-be-relocated Colts. It sat some 53,000 fans when full, but only 25,882 showed up to the game on August 24, 1983, and only a fraction of those were still in their seats by the time the Orioles picked off three Blue Jays in the tenth inning.

Both participants in this battle of the birds were still in a playoff chase: entering the game the Orioles were in second place, a half-game behind the Brewers and the Blue Jays were in fourth place, percentage points behind the Tigers, and 1.5 games behind Milwaukee.

The Blue Jays got in flight first, with Lloyd Moseby scoring in the top of the third on a Garth Iorg sacrifice fly. The Orioles joined them in the bottom of the inning, with their own sac fly against Jim Clancy. The Jays scored again in the fifth on an error, and then in the eighth on a Buck Martinez sac fly. Clancy took the 3-1 lead into the ninth, but allowed two runners on base around two outs. Reliever Dave Geisel was called in but he promptly gave up two singles to pinch-hitter Benny Ayala and Al Bumbry to tie the game 3-3.

Joey McLaughlin replaced Geisel and got the final out, taking the game into extras. The problem now for Orioles manager Joe Altobelli is that he didn't have any catchers left on the bench or in the lineup. Having gone 0-for-2 against the right-handed Clancy, the same-handed light-hitting starting catcher Rick Dempsey was pinch hit for in the seventh inning by backup catcher Joe Nolan, who batted left. Altobelli played the percentages again in the ninth by subbing in righty Ayala against the southpaw Geisel. I guess he was hoping for a walkoff win (or a loss) to avoid the messy problem of having lost both of his catchers, but alas, the inning ended with the game tied and the Orioles would need someone to receive incoming reliever Tim Stoddard.

Hawaii-born Lenn Sakata was the utility guy on the Orioles so he was pressed into catching action, something he hadn't done since Little League.

He might have worried about it, but he didn't end up needing to catch the first pitch from Stoddard--Cliff Johnson deposited it in deep left-centre for his 20th home run of the season (he would end up hitting 22 that season, tied for his career high). For the following sequence, I'll let Allan Ryan, who covered the game for the Toronto Star, take over:

Barry Bonnell then singled off Stoddard's third pitch to arrange for an appearance by Tippy Martinez and, ultimately, one of this season's most bizarre sequence of events. Mel Allen's going to love this.

With Dave Collins at the plate, Martinez, a lefthander, caught Bonnell too far from safety and first baseman [Eddie] Murray eventually ran Bonnell down in the vicinity of second. Martinez then proceeded to walk Collins.

With Willie Upshaw at the plate, Martinez picked off Collins, then game Upshaw a single.

So, with Buck Martinez at the plate, [Tippy] Martinez picked off Upshaw.

The Blue Jays insist that Collins and Upshaw pick-offs were textbook balks, but Martinez (never mind the hitters, show me some base-runners) earned his seventh win in 10 decisions.

Seeing the tape of the plays (what did people do before YouTube?), I don't think the Blue Jays were justified in crying foul. To my eyes, Tippy Martinez definitely did not balk one either plays as he clearly stepped to first and didn't make any motion towards home plate.

The complaining Blue Jays were probably just embarrassed--they saw some guy who hadn't ever caught before behind the plate and thought (probably correctly) that they could steal a few easy bases against him but got caught.

In the next half-inning, birthday boy Cal Ripken Jr. (he turned 23 that day) tied the game 4-4 with a leadoff homer against McLaughlin. McLaughlin walked two more batters before being relieved by Randy Moffitt, who struck out Gary Roenicke (father of Josh). With two runners on and two outs, Lenn Sakata expressed his dislike for catching by slamming a walkoff three-run shot over the fence to end the experiment once and for all.

The Orioles won the game 7-4, which would be the start of an eight-game winning streak that would propel them into first place, a position that the would hold through the end of their World Series-winning 1983 season. That shows you that even managers who make boneheaded moves could win the World Series.

Tidbits
  • According to Allan Ryan's column in the Star, after Pete Rose's ironman streak ended at 745 games earlier that afternoon, the Blue Jays' Alfredo Griffin moved up to second place at 313 consecutive games played while Dale Murphy took over the lead at 311 games. Cal Ripken's streak was at 240 consecutive games at the conclusion of this game.
  • Lenn Sakata was the second Japanese-American to play in the major leagues. He was also the starting shortstop at the game that started Ripken's streak. Sakata now manages the San Jose Giants (class A-advanced).
  • From Baseball-Reference's Play Index, we can see that Tippy Martinez is one of only eight different pitchers have had three or more pickoffs in a game. He is the only relief pitcher who recorded the feat, as well as the only pitcher to have done so in one inning.
  • The games with three or more pickoffs come in clusters: three happened in 1977, four between 1982 and 1984, and just two outside those ranges.
Sources