Ahh, "Stan the Man Unusual". "Fullpack". What more appropriate subject could I find for the first Vintage Friday the 13th?
*Cue spooky music*
The idea of a late-inning reliever, or closer as they've come to be known, is to strike fear in the hearts of opposing batters. Think of Don Stanhouse's contemporaries, burly, sneering fireballers like Al Hrabosky ("The Mad Hungarian") or Goose Gossage. Then look at Don up there with his goofy perm and creepy-uncle mustache, to say nothing of his overstretched stirrups. The only people who feared Don Stanhouse were the hometown fans and manager Earl Weaver, who dubbed him "Fullpack" because that was how many cigarettes he smoked in the dugout while watching the pitcher land himself in another jam. My father's voice is still filled with disgust any time Don's name comes up in conversation. So George Sherrill likes to make things interesting with a leadoff walk from time to time? Pfft, that's nothing, says Dad. If you'd seen Don Stanhouse pitch...
Tonight the Orioles will turn back the clock to one of the all-time horrors in team history, as they welcome the Pittsburgh Pirates to Baltimore for the first time since the 1979 World Series. A season that was filled with so much joy and magic, that appeared headed to a storybook ending, was keelhauled by a marauding band of brigands in hideous yellow and black polyester, to the nightmarish soundtrack of blowing whistles and Sister Sledge. Earl Weaver, Doug DeCinces, and Scott McGregor will be on hand as the Birds put on their throwback threads and try to exorcise the demons.
It's easy to look back at the '79 Series and chalk it up to a big, team-wide choke. The O's were only the fourth team to ever blow a 3-1 lead in a seven-game World Series format, and the offense sputtered to the tune of two runs total in the final three games. But if not for Don Stanhouse, there may not have even been a Game Five. Brought in after Tippy Martinez allowed a single to Bill Robinson to lead off the ninth inning, ol' Fullpack was entrusted to preserve a 2-2 tie until such a time as the O's bats could conjure up some Orioles Magic. Rick Dempsey caught pinch runner Matt Alexander trying to steal, Bill Madlock flied out to Al Bumbry, and Stanhouse was one out away from taking care of business.
Instead, the wheels came off. Ed Ott singles. Phil Garner walks. Pinch hitter Manny Sanguillen singles to right, and the Pirates have the lead. They would win 3-2, their only win in the first four games. Stanhouse would bring his gasoline act to Pittsburgh, turning a 4-1 deficit in Game Five into a 7-1 mountain in the span of an inning with three hits, two (intentional) walks, and an errant pickoff attempt.
As a final grim curtain call, Don was the third of five O's pitchers used by a desperate Earl Weaver in the disastrous ninth inning of the deciding game. Tim Stoddard and Mike Flanagan had collaborated to turn a 2-1 deficit into 3-1, but with a runner on first base an one out, things seemed manageable. Nope. Stanhouse gave up a single to his first and only batter, Tim Foli, before Earl Weaver decided he'd seen enough of the righty for one lifetime. The Martinez brothers hit the next two batters, forcing in the fourth Pirates run, and the damage was done. The Pirates were World Champions.
Don Stanhouse's final Series line: 0 wins, 1 loss. 2 innings pitched, 3 earned runs on 6 hits and 3 walks (that's a 4.50 WHIP for you statheads) with no strikeouts. A 13.50 ERA.
Don Stanhouse did not return to the Orioles in 1980; the Dodgers foolishly signed him to a free-agent deal, only to release him twenty-five innings into his L.A. tenure. For some ungodly reason, the Birds brought Fullpack back for Earl Weaver's curtain call season in 1982. It proved to be Stanhouse's swan song as well (5.40 ERA in 26.2 innings).
Now that's what I call scary.