Forty years ago this week, it all came down to the 162nd game of the season.
The 1982 Orioles entered the final series of the regular season with a four-game set against the visiting Milwaukee Brewers, who happened to be three games ahead of Baltimore in the American League East standings.
The Orioles needed to win each game to advance to the playoffs, and for the first three contests, they did just that, forcing a winner-take-all nationally televised Sunday afternoon game at Memorial Stadium in front of 51,642 fans. ABC broadcaster Keith Jackson described it as “quite a remarkable circumstance with a full World Series or playoff flair” as two future Hall of Famers toed the rubber: the Brewers’ Don Sutton and the Orioles’ Jim Palmer.
What’s more, it was slated to be the denouement of another Hall of Famer — longtime Orioles manager Earl Weaver, who had announced he’d be retiring at the season’s conclusion.
“The setting was too perfect,” sportswriter Jim Henneman wrote in the Evening Sun on Oct. 4, 1982.
Indeed, it was a storybook setting but not a storybook ending, as Robin Yount hit two home runs and the Brewers won, 10-2, to take the division crown. The Orioles finished with the second-best record (94-68) in the majors but missed the playoffs.
Anthony Murawski was an Orioles fan then, at age 11, and he remains one today. He can recall precise details from that summer — like rookie reserve Floyd Rayford hitting a walk-off homer in the 13th inning during a July game or Terry Crowley following suit with a pinch-hit grand slam in August. They overcame an eight-game August deficit to tie the Brewers in the standings ahead of the season finale.
It was a magical time for Murawski, and the season’s conclusion is imprinted in his memory.
“That season cemented my devotion to the Orioles because that was just an amazing thing,” he said. “And it broke my heart at the end.”
The Orioles trailed 5-2 in the eighth inning with two on and two out when pinch hitter Joe Nolan hit a ball to left field that seemed destined for extra bases. Instead, it was caught by Milwaukee’s left fielder.
“Ben Oglivie, of all people, slid into the wall and ended up catching the ball,” then-Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey said last week, “otherwise we score two runs right there.”
It was a sour end to what had been a sweet comeback. One usher cried. The front page of the next day’s Baltimore Sun read: “There is no God. Check that. There is a God, but it’s obvious now that he lives in Milwaukee.”
The baseball gods quickly backed Baltimore, though, as the Orioles returned — with mostly the same team, minus Weaver — to win the 1983 World Series, their most recent championship.
“I do think the combination of ‘81 and ‘82 carried over for that team the next year,” Henneman, now 87, said this week.
1982 was special in its own right, though. It was the year Cal Ripken Jr. began his consecutive games played streak and the year Weaver walked away (until his brief return in 1985). More than 20 minutes after the game against the Brewers had ended, half of the ballpark’s crowd remained, eager for another sighting of Weaver. It was “almost like nobody would leave,” Henneman recalled.
“They’re still out there?” Weaver asked at the time.
Weaver dutifully completed the curtain call and then led fans in a chant of “O-R-I-O-L-E-S.”
The Orioles had come up short that day, but not before staging an improbable late-season comeback and setting the stage for a title the following season.
“It was typical Oriole magic of those days,” said Dempsey.