38 Years Ago
I remember this game. I’m sure everyone who watched it remembers it.
Orioles left-handed reliever Tippy Martinez picked off three Blue Jays in the top of the tenth inning.
There was a bit of backstory. Coming into the bottom of the ninth, the Jays were up 3-1. The Jays scored a run in the third on a Garth Iorg sac fly. In the fifth, Lloyd Moseby scored on an error by Orioles’ third baseman Todd Cruz. And, in the top of the eighth, Barry Bonnell scored on a Buck Martinez sac fly.
Going into the bottom of the ninth, starter Jim Clancy was still pitching. A starting pitcher still throwing in the ninth inning seems like one of those things that we only read about in the history books. Clancy made 34 starts that year, finishing 11, throwing 223 innings. Clancy got the first batter out, then gave up a bunt single to John Shelby. Pinch hitter Gary Roenicke struck out, then Lenn Sakata walked, putting the tying run on base.
Bobby Cox brought in lefty reliever Dave Geisel. We lacked a shutdown closer that year. Randy Moffitt led the team with 10 saves, and we had 3 other pitchers with 5 to 9 saves. Geisel ended up with 5 saves.
The Orioles pinch-hit their catcher Joe Nolan for Benny Ayala. Ayala was a bat without a position, but he didn’t have a good 1983 season, hitting just .221/.287/.404 with 4 home runs. It was a curious move because Nolan had come into the game to pinch-hit for starting catcher Rick Dempsey. But Nolan was a lefty hitter, and Ayala was a right-handed hitting pinch-hitter. And, down two runs, with two outs, it seemed unlikely that the game would go into extras, but no manager now would take out their last catcher for a pinch-hitter.
Ayala singled, Shelby scored, and the tying run went to second. Lefty batter Al Bumbry was up next and singled home the tying run. Then, Geisel came out, Joey McLaughlin came in and ended the inning.
So, going into the tenth, the Orioles didn’t have a catcher. Sakata played catcher. He had had an 11-year career and had never caught before or ever again.
Cliff Johnson led the top of the tenth with a home run off Orioles reliever Tim Stoddard. We were up 4-3. Barry Bonnell followed with a single. Out goes Stoddard, incomes lefty Tippy Martinez.
Martinez had an excellent move to first, but the Jays were all amped up to run on Sakata. Bonnell first takes off for second before Tippy throws a pitch, Tippy throws to first, and then an easy throw to second Bonnell is out. Pick-off caught stealing.
Dave Collins walks. Collins had 31 steals that season. Before his second pitch to Willie Upshaw, Martinez picks Collins off first.
Upshaw singles. Upshaw stole a base earlier in the game. He stole 10 bases that year, caught 7 times. We’d have been better off if he didn’t try. Bobby Cox is yelling from the dugout, ‘Don’t take a leadoff. Keep a foot on first base. He’s saying he will fire the first base coach if Upshaw gets picked off.
And, of course, he is picked off.
In the bottom of the inning, Cal Ripken and Sakata each homered, and the Orioles win.
Buck Martinez talks about the inning here:
This still hurts, 37 years later. #Orioles were forced to use their utility infielder, Lenn Sakata, at catcher in the 10th and #Bluejays seemed to be a little too excited about that. Narrated by Back-In-The-Day Buck!!! https://t.co/UUj1Em68tL— Mike Wilner (@Wilnerness) August 24, 2020