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Here's how the O's lost 21 in a row to start 1988

MLB.com @JPosnanski

Game 1: April 4, 1988
Milwaukee 12, Baltimore 0

Hope is the most important part of Opening Day. Without hope, it is just another baseball game -- the first game in a long … long … long slog of games, where the only thing you know for sure is that nothing special will happen.

There wasn't much reason for Baltimore Orioles fans to hope as 1988 began. The club lost 95 games in '87, and that team utterly folded at the end. The Orioles won seven and lost 24 after Sept. 1 -- the worst baseball almost anyone in Baltimore could remember. O's manager Cal Ripken Sr. had been with the organization for more than 30 years. Even he could not remember worse.

Game 1: April 4, 1988
Milwaukee 12, Baltimore 0

Hope is the most important part of Opening Day. Without hope, it is just another baseball game -- the first game in a long … long … long slog of games, where the only thing you know for sure is that nothing special will happen.

There wasn't much reason for Baltimore Orioles fans to hope as 1988 began. The club lost 95 games in '87, and that team utterly folded at the end. The Orioles won seven and lost 24 after Sept. 1 -- the worst baseball almost anyone in Baltimore could remember. O's manager Cal Ripken Sr. had been with the organization for more than 30 years. Even he could not remember worse.

But as Washington columnist Tom Boswell so famously wrote, time begins on Opening Day. Hope, too, and so 52,395 fans were there at Memorial Stadium to watch the Orioles take on the Milwaukee Brewers. "A club that lost 95 games a year ago," wrote Baltimore Sun columnist John Steadman, "was being welcomed back with an all-is-forgiven demonstration of public loyalty."

The Brewers then won, 12-0. The O's committed two errors, hit two batters, threw two wild pitches and allowed Paul Molitor to steal three bases -- including home.

A different kind of baseball season had begun in Baltimore.

Game 2: April 6, 1988
Milwaukee 3, Baltimore 1

Brewers pitcher Chris Bosio made it clear that the one Orioles player he worried about was Jeff Stone. He might have been trolling. Stone is a fascinating baseball figure and a big part of our story.

Stone was fast. Crazy fast. He stole 123 bases at Class A Spartanburg. Baseball America said that Stone was a sure thing to win a batting title someday. He was called up to Philadelphia mid-season in 1984, and though he played sporadically until September, he hit .362 in 51 games, stole 27 bases. It was thrilling enough that the Phillies predicted another Stone Age (this was an actual slogan).

It didn't work out that way. Stone really liked swinging at pitches. And even with his speed, he didn't really have much of a clue about playing the outfield. Stone kicked around with Philadelphia for three more years, begging all the time for the team to trade him so he could get a real chance. Finally, just before the 1988 season, the Phillies did trade him … to Baltimore.

"I remember they had a guy named Jeff Stone," Jon Miller told MLB Network for their special, "The Other Streak." "He didn't know how to play the game."

Stone went 0-for-4 on Opening Day and 0-for-4 again in the second game. Six of his eight outs were routine ground balls to the right side of the infield. He was, despite his blazing speed, the easiest out in baseball.

"The guy I was worried about most was Jeff Stone," Bosio told reporters after the game. "That is his first name, right?"

Game 3: April 8
Cleveland 3, Baltimore 0

"All you need to know about the 0-3 Baltimore Orioles," Tim Kurkijan led off his story in the Baltimore Sun, "is that they're hitting .143, they have been outscored, 18-1, and that unforgettable run scored 16 innings ago on a single, a balk and two groundouts to the second baseman."

"Somebody's going to get pay for this," Orioles designated hitter Larry Sheets said. "Somebody's going to get shellacked."

Stone moved to 0-for-11 with three more ground-ball outs.

Game 4: April 9
Cleveland 12, Baltimore 1

Well, this was a classic. Three Orioles errors. Sheets got picked picked off. Two balks. At one point, with Indians runners on first and second, O's pitcher Mark Williamson wheeled and tried to pick off the guy on second. Nobody was covering. The pickoff play had been called for first base.

"I had a brain lock," Williamson said.

Stone went 0-for-4, only once getting the ball out of the infield.

"I don't know what's worse," O's catcher Terry Kennedy said. "Watching it or playing in it."

Game 5: April 10
Cleveland 6, Baltimore 3

This was the day that Sandy Lyle hit an amazing shot out of the sand on 18 to beat Greg Norman and win the most unlikely of Masters. The Orioles gathered around the television to watch it after losing a nondescript game to the Tribe. They clearly bonded with Lyle. He was an underdog. They were underdogs. Lyle proved everyone wrong. They would prove everyone wrong.

"We're not even done with the first round," Scott McGregor said, carrying the golf analogy just about as far as it could go.

Stone got his first hit of the season … on a line drive, no less. That made him 1-for-19 with 14 ground-ball outs.

"We hit the ball better today," Cal Ripken Sr. said with some pleading in his voice.

Reporters could see the losing begin to weigh on Ripken Sr. He had come into the year so excited to not only be managing the only team he ever loved, but two of his sons -- Cal Jr. and Billy -- were joining him. Now something awful was happening, and he could not quite fathom it nor figure out how to stop it.

"Every day since I've been here," Bill Ripken said of his father, "I came in and looked around and he was in uniform."

"We'll be all right," Cal Sr. said in what sounded like a prayer.

Game 6: April 11
Cleveland 7, Baltimore 2

Before the game someone -- probably Ripken Sr. himself -- wrote on a chalkboard in the clubhouse: "Relax and have some fun."

The Orioles did neither.

Rick Schu did hit the team's first home run of the season, but that was Baltimore's entire offense. Another hitless day made Stone 1-for-22.

After the game, O's general manager Roland Hemond met with owner Edward Bennett Williams. "I think he's being patient," Hemond told reporters, who asked if changes were coming.

When asked about Ripken's future as manager, Hemond said, "Everyone knows he's an amazing man."

Game 7: April 12
Kansas City 6, Baltimore 1

The Orioles fired Cal Ripken Sr. before the next game.

It was a terrible day. Ripken Sr. had to appear in court in the morning to plead guilty to a drunk driving charge. It was one of the lowest and most humiliating moments of his life. Hemond forgot that was the court date until he came to the ballpark and saw Ripken in uniform filling out the lineup card.

"I felt terrible," Hemond said.

Hemond fired Ripken anyway. He had already hired a new manager. At the least, Ripken Sr. made it as easy as possible.

"Why," Ripken Sr. asked reporters, "should I be bitter toward someone who for 31 years has treated me outstanding?"

It was the fastest firing in baseball history. Nobody thought it was right, but then nobody quite thought it was wrong either with the way the team was playing.

Billy Ripken quietly switched his jersey number to 7, his father's number, mainly because, "I could not bear to see anyone else wearing it." Cal Ripken Jr. spoke a few cliches about baseball being a business but generally kept to himself.

Frank Robinson became the new manager of the Orioles.

"I'm realistic enough to know that I wasn't just going to just come in here and wave a magic wand," the Hall of Famer said.

Robinson did move Stone out of the leadoff spot to the bottom of the lineup, where he went 0-for-2 with a strikeout and a groundout. He was 1-for-24. This wasn't much worse than Ripken Jr., who was 2-for-25.

"I wasn't given any instructions to win now," Robinson said. "I think they'll give me five games, anyway."

Game 8: April 13
Kansas City 9, Baltimore 3

While all baseball fans of a certain age remember the Orioles' 1988 baseball season, few remember that the Atlanta Braves also got off to an amazingly awful start. They dropped to 0-8 on this same day, losing, 4-0, to the Astros. There was talk about a Bizarro World Series between the O's and Braves.

Stone got a pinch-hitting appearance and flew out to center. Ripken Jr. went 0-for-3. The team's batting average through eight games was .176.

"I've never seen anything like it," Robinson said. "We don't even hit the ball hard. It's a little hard to believe."

Game 9: April 14
Kansas City 4, Baltimore 3

This is the Jeff Stone Game. You could argue that every game of the amazing streak was at least partly a Jeff Stone Game; he was truly a Baltimore touchstone in April 1988.

But this was the crescendo. The Orioles had tied their season high by scoring three runs, and they were actually tied going into the ninth inning, even though Stone had gone 0-for-3 with two strikeouts and also had been picked off. The Royals had scored their three runs in impeccable style, one on a balk, the next two on errors.

In the ninth inning, poor Mike Boddicker -- who started the game and pitched great but luckless baseball -- struck out the first two batters looking for his eighth and ninth of 10 K's for the game. After Boddicker allowed a ground-ball single to Jim Eisenreich, Frank White hit a fly ball to left field. Stone seemed to have a beat on it, and then he lost the ball in the lights and fell to his knees. The ball scooted by him for an error that led to the winning run.

As soon as the game ended, Stone raced over to Boddicker to apologize.

"A lot of good players have lost the ball in those lights," Boddicker told Stone in an effort to make the outfielder feel better.

Game 10: April 15
Cleveland 3, Baltimore 2

The Orioles led going into the eighth inning. They blew it. Nobody even the heart to say after the game, "Hey, at least we're playing better."

Ripken Jr. looked entirely lost. He wouldn't talk about it publicly -- the obvious agony he was in with the losing streak and the cold way his father was fired and everything else -- but he was completely gone. Ripken Jr. went 0-for-3 for the game, the sixth straight game he'd gone hitless. He was hitting .057 for the season.

The Braves also lost to go 0-9.

Game 11: April 16
Cleveland 1, Baltimore 0

Orioles hitters went 0-for-12 with runners in scoring position, so that wasn't great, but at least this one took more than nine innings to decide. The game was scoreless after nine innings, and after 10.

In the 11th, a walk, a passed ball, another walk and a Willie Upshaw single sealed the O's fate.

"I've been telling them to pitch a shutout," Baltimore pitching coach Herm Starrette said of his starters. "Now I'm going to have to think of something else."

Another hitless day for Ripken Jr., though he did hit a line drive that might have been a home run on another day. On this day, it died in the wind and cold. Ripken's batting average fell to .047.

Things were so bad that Robinson seriously considered giving Ripken a rest the next day. Think how monumental that would have been. Ripken Jr. had played 915 games in a row, which is a lot. But it was less than halfway to Lou Gehrig's consecutive game streak of 2,130. Robinson though it might be good for the shortstop to get his head straight; all of it was so clearly getting to him.

Ripken Jr. wasn't the only one at a loss.

"I won't know what to say when we win one," Robinson told reporters. "I probably won't believe it."

The Braves lost to the Dodgers, 7-4, to fall to 0-10, so the race to the bottom was still on … but not for long.

Game 12: April 17
Cleveland 4, Baltimore 1

This was the sixth straight loss for the Orioles under Robinson, and everybody knew that Baltimore had fired Ripken Sr. after his sixth straight loss.

"I'm not answering the phone tonight," Robinson said. "I'll pick up and say, 'Mr. Robinson's not in.'"

Things got even worse for Ripken Jr. with another 0-for-4 game; He was now hitting .047.

"At least tomorrow's an off-day," Robinson said. The O's had scored three or fewer runs in every single game of the season.

"It reminds me of the Deadball Era," Hemond said. "Except I wasn't born then."

To make matters worse, the Braves finally won, beating the Dodgers, 3-1. The entire stage belonged to the 0-12 Baltimore Orioles.

Game 13: April 19
Milwaukee 9, Baltimore 5

The headline in the Baltimore Sun the next day was "OOOOOOOOOOOOO's."

There are 13 of those O's, if you don't want to count.

"It's laughable at times," Kennedy said.

The Orioles committed four errors, had two passed balls, missed two signs, misjudged a fly ball and made a baserunning blunder.

On the bright side, Ripken did hit his first homer of the season; the off-day actually did seem to do wonders for him.

Game 14: April 20
Milwaukee 8, Baltimore 6

Just when the offense picked up, the pitching went bad. Boddicker lost his ninth straight decision going back to September the year before.

The 14th straight loss set the Major League record for most to start a season. When pinch-hitter Carl Nichols was asked how it felt to be a part of history, he shrugged. "I only got one at-bat," he said.

Game 15: April 21
Milwaukee 7, Baltimore 1

Brewers announcer Bob Uecker: "The President will call when the Orioles finally win a game. Unfortunately, it will be someone like President [Manuel] Noriega [of Panama]."

O's pitcher Scott McGregor: "If we tried to go out and lose 15 in a row, we couldn't do it."

Robinson: "We need for someone to go out there and shut someone down. Then we would probably lose, 1-0."

One highlight of this game: The Brewers had three consecutive broken-bat singles in their big inning. "There were splinters everywhere," McGregor said. "This is the most unbelievable thing I've ever seen in my life."

For fairness, we should say here that Stone was heating up -- he had a two-hit game and had gone 6-for-11 in his previous three games. That will be the last of the Stone highlights, unfortunately.

Game 16: April 22
Kansas City 13, Baltimore 1

Here was the game that finally made the famously competitive Robinson blow up. He had been so careful to stay positive; that was obviously a conscious choice. Robinson had managed twice before -- in Cleveland and San Francisco -- and both times he was let go mid-season and told that he was too tough and too intense.

Well, Robinson was famously tough and intense. But he heard the criticism and spent his first few games trying to stay positive and loose. Robinson refused to say the losing streak was embarrassing. He refused to criticize his players other than to say they were pressing. Robinson joked around quite a bit.

Video: Look back at the 1988 Orioles' start to the season

Not after this one. A couple of game highlights:

Every Royals player had a hit before any Orioles player did.

O's starter Mike Morgan allowed six runs and did not get an out; all five of their pitchers gave up at least one run.

"This was not a professional baseball game as far at the Baltimore Orioles are concerned," Robinson barked. "It's embarrassing. … We're accepting losing, and I'm not going to accept losing."

Robinson screamed at the team for 15 minutes after the game; reporters could hear the yelling through the door.

Game 17: April 23
Kansas City 4, Baltimore 3

The Orioles did play a bit better, but their luck was as bad as ever. In the ninth, with the score tied, Bo Jackson hit a fly ball that would have been routine on another night. This time, it got caught up in the wind and kept blowing until it finally smashed against the wall for a triple. Jackson scored the walk-off run on Kurt Stillwell's single.

"I used to think one win wasn't very important," Orioles center fielder Fred Lynn said. "One win now would be like putting on a World Series ring."

Game 18: April 24
Kansas City 3, Baltimore 1

The Royals' Danny Tartabull admitted feeling pressure when he came up in the sixth inning and the score was too close.

"When you play the Orioles," he said, "you play harder than you've ever played in your life, because you don't want to be the first."

Tartabull hit a two-run homer. Royals ace Bret Saberhagen took it from there. The Orioles' lone run came on a Ripken Jr. homer. He had, in fact, gotten hot after the off-day. From April 19 (after the day off) to May 8 -- 17 games in total -- Ripken Jr. hit .527 with six homers and a 1.000 slugging percentage.

Ripken Jr. getting hot didn't matter. The O's staff starting to pitch better didn't matter. Nothing mattered. Celebrities kept calling Robinson to offer condolences and well-wishes. The singer Jerry Vale, New York Yankees owner George Steinbrenner and numerous players called, as did President Ronald Reagan.

"I know how you feel," President Reagan said.

"All due respect, Mr. President," Robinson told him, "nobody knows how I feel."

Game 19: April 26
Minnesota 4, Baltimore 2

Lynn would remember this game's lineup being picked out of a hat; it wasn't. But the Orioles did decide to lead off Lynn for the first time in more than a decade, because he had four home runs against Twins starter Frank Viola (who would win the American League Cy Young Award that year).

And it worked: Lynn homered on the third pitch of the game to give Baltimore a lead that lasted until the bottom of the sixth. But that lead went away with homers from Kent Hrbek and Randy Bush.

Stone (now hitting .143) was part of a potential rally in the ninth, after he and Kennedy drew back-to-back walks. Stone was then doubled up on a line drive in what the papers called his fourth baserunning blunder of the season.

"I don't know what you do," Robinson said.

Game 20: April 27
Minnesota 7, Baltimore 6

The national media contingent following the Orioles was now overwhelming. It was like a playoff atmosphere, but with laughter. The O's scored three runs in the top of the first, leading several of those newly arrived sportswriter to remark: "What's the big deal, this looks like a perfectly good team to me."

The Twins tied it up in the fourth, and then scored three runs in the eighth to pull away -- the last run was a classic of 1988 Orioles baseball: A walk, a balk, a bunt single and a throwing error.

The O's did score two in the ninth to make it look close.

"I like the way we fought back," Robinson said.

Stone went 0-for-2 to drop his average to .137. The Orioles finally sent him down to the Minors. They would release him at the end of the season.

Legendary O's manager Earl Weaver was asked what he would tell his players to do if he was still running the team. He had an easy solution. "Win two of three from now on," he said, "and you're in the playoffs."

Game 21: April 28
Minnesota 4, Baltimore 2

For Game 21, Hemond put on an old suit. In 1983, he was general manager of the Chicago White Sox, who shocked everybody by winning the AL West (and, fittingly, losing the Orioles in the playoffs). On the day the White Sox clinched, Hemond was wearing a suit that was doused with champagne after the game. The White Sox kept the suit on display at the stadium.

When the losing streak got bad enough, White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf decided to take it out of the display and send it Hemond for luck.

"It even fits," Hemond told reporters. "Well, I've lost some weight during this thing."

Loss No. 21 in a row was fairly nondescript. The Orioles did commit two more errors and blew an early 1-0 lead, but this one was memorable for being so unmemorable.

"It's out of hand," Twins center fielder Kirby Puckett said of the streak. "It's nothing to laugh at.

* * * * *

On April 29, the Orioles finally broke what will forever be the longest losing streak to start a season by crushing the White Sox, 9-0.

For one day, everything went right for the 1988 O's. Well, not everything. Bill Ripken got hit in the head with a scary pitch and suffered a concussion. But he said he was happy the team won, at least.

Hemond was wearing his lucky suit when the Orioles won. There was a mock celebration after the game, with several O's pouring cranberry juice on each other. Hemond avoided the cranberry juice. He walked out into the crowd in his champagne suite, and he was not exactly happy, but certainly he was feeling better than he had during a month of losing. Hemond ran into a crowd of Orioles fans.

"Some fan asked if he could throw beer on me," Hemond told reporters. "I said, 'Ah, go ahead.'"

Joe Posnanski is a columnist for MLB.com.

Baltimore Orioles