You love baseball. Tim Kurkjian loves baseball. So while we await its return, every day we’ll provide you with a story or two tied to this date in baseball history.
ON THIS DATE IN 1950, Tippy Martinez was born.
Martinez was a very good reliever; he had a 3.45 ERA and 115 saves in 546 games. He won a ring with the 1983 Baltimore Orioles. And yet he is best known for one game, Aug. 24, 1983, because he picked off three runners in one inning of a game that Orioles fans voted the greatest in franchise history.
“I get asked about it almost every day,” Martinez said.
The Orioles were playing the Toronto Blue Jays in a big pennant-race game. Orioles manager Joe Altobelli had been through his two catchers, Rick Dempsey and Joe Nolan, in order to get the score tied after nine innings. In the bottom of the 10th, outfielder Gary Roenicke was playing third base, outfielder John Lowenstein was playing second and second baseman Lenn Sakata was catching for the first and only time in his career. Toronto’s Cliff Johnson had homered to start the 10th to give Toronto the lead. Then Barry Bonnell singled.
In came Martinez.
“I didn’t even recognize our catcher because he was a second baseman,” Martinez said. “But Lenny was looking at this opportunity as a whole new career for him as a catcher. He wanted to throw some guys out. I’m thinking, ‘Not on my watch, you’re not.’ I was just hoping he could catch the ball. I couldn’t even throw my curveball because he couldn’t do anything back there, I just had to throw fastballs on the outside part of the plate. I decided to shorten my move — it was not cheating — because we knew they were going to run because Lenny was back there. [Manager] Bobby Cox was going crazy in the other dugout.”
Martinez threw to first baseman Eddie Murray and picked off Bonnell.
“The first move on Bonnell wasn’t even a good one, but he took off for second,” Martinez said. “The next batter, [Dave] Collins, walked. Everyone thinks I walked three guys in that inning, and picked them all off. I didn’t; I only walked one. Collins was really fast. I made a dummy move, then on the second move, I picked him off. The fans were going crazy.”
The next hitter was Willie Upshaw.
“He hit a ground ball to Lowenstein, but he had the range of a dime. He couldn’t get to it,” Martinez said. “Bobby Cox was screaming at his first-base coach [John Sullivan] to keep Upshaw’s foot on the bag. He was screaming that he would send the first-base coach back to the minor leagues if Upshaw got picked off. Willie barely took a lead. I was wondering, ‘How am I going to pick this guy off? I’ve never picked off two guys in an inning, how am I going to do three?’
“I made the best pickoff move I’ve ever made. The ball was in Eddie’s glove. Upshaw didn’t even move. He wasn’t breaking for first, or for second. He was just standing there. All hell broke loose in the ballpark. I looked at Cox. He had destroyed the cooler in the dugout. I couldn’t believe it.”
In the bottom of the 10th, Cal Ripken homered to tie the score, then, appropriately, Sakata hit a walk-off three-run homer to win it. When the Orioles closed Memorial Stadium after the 1991 season, they brought back dozens of players to commemorate it. The players ran onto the field and stood at their primary positions. Sakata went behind the plate. The fans got it. They cheered and laughed.
“People always ask me all the time, ‘How about those three pickoffs?'” Tippy said. “First question, every time.”
Other baseball notes for May 31
In 1970, Walt Williams had five hits in one game. He had one of the best nicknames ever, No Neck Williams, because he had no neck.
In 1920, Edward Bennett Williams was born. Brilliant lawyer, demanding owner of the Orioles. At the podium the night the Orioles won the 1983 World Series, general manager Hank Peters celebrated the win. Williams, seconds later, whispered in his ear during the trophy ceremony, “I’m worried about next year.”
In 1962, Joe Orsulak was born. Good player, really good hitter, high school pingpong champion in three states. He once beat Cal Ripken 24 straight games of pingpong. “He wouldn’t leave until he won,” Orsulak said. “He won the 25th game at 2 o’clock in the morning. Then he went home.”
In 1981, Jake Peavy was born. Good pitcher, great guy. He used to yell at himself on the mound: “I try not to yell, I try not to swear, but at seven o’clock every night, I turn into someone different.” Dear friend and teammate Adam Dunn once said, “We used to do an over-under on when he’s going to yell at himself for the first time in the game. I usually set it at about 5½ pitches. He is a clown.”