CHICAGO — It was two hours before the Baltimore Orioles were scheduled to continue their crawl through the dark side of baseball history.
A man with a microphone thrust it at Manager Frank Robinson and asked what he tells his players when they report for work in the wake of yet another loss.
"Well," Robinson said, "all I can really say is, 'I'm glad to see you guys showed up again.' "
Finally--but not inevitably when you consider how bad this team seems to be--the Orioles did more than merely show up.
They won a regular-season game for the first time since Oct. 4, the final day of the 1987 season.
They won a game of any type for the first time since March 28, when they defeated the New York Yankees, 7-0, and then lost their final five exhibition games, a fitting tuneup for the 21-game losing streak that ended Friday night.
For a team batting .200 overall and .132 with runners in scoring position, they won, it seems, the only way they could have.
Mark Williamson and Dave Schmidt did not permit the opposing team to score.
All the Orioles needed was a run, and they did much better than that.
After scoring three runs or fewer in 18 of their 21 losses, they defeated the Chicago White Sox, 9-0, to leave Gene Mauch and his 1961 Philadelphia Phillies burdened with the longest losing streak in modern major league history--23 games.
The Orioles emerged with an American League record for consecutive losses and a major league record for consecutive losses at the start of a season.
No longer, however, will they have to instruct hotel operators to disconnect their phones or be hounded by members of the national media or hear themselves called the Zer-O's.
Even a partisan crowd of 14,059 at Comiskey Park was clapping for the beleaguered Orioles in the ninth inning.
The final out sent camera crews onto the field to record the high-fives. There was champagne available in the clubhouse, but few Orioles sampled it.
"We're relieved but trying to keep it in perspective," the victorious Williamson said. "It's not like the seventh game of the World Series."
The hard reality is that the streak is part of history now, but the Orioles are 1-21 and 15 1/2 games out of first place in the American League East. The hard reality is that the 95 losses of last year may seem modest before 1988 is over.
Said Terry Kennedy: "I know we're 1-21. I know we have to win two out of three in 20 straight series to get to .500. That's about 11 weeks. No one has to tell me we have our work cut out."
Now, at least, the Orioles will be free of some of the pressure.
Surrounded by the media in a scene generally reserved for the World Series, Cal Ripken Jr. said:
"You like attention and publicity, but not for this reason. You want it for doing well and winning. I'm glad this part of it is over."
Said Schmidt: "I realize that we've been setting records that have been on the books for a long time, but it's just baseball. I don't even think the World Series belongs on page one (of the newspaper.) There's war in the Middle East, war in Central America, trade bills, a Presidential race . . . and there we were, right next to all of that.
"I mean, it hurt to take the abuse from the media that we have. It hurt to have fans call us names and to have to answer the same questions every day. We're professionals. We take pride in what we do.
"It's been a tremendous burden, but I think we handled it well. No one snapped. There was no sniping. It was unbelievable to think we could lose that many in a row, but hopefully now we can play the way I know we can."
Robinson, 1-15 as the Baltimore manager, held a team meeting after the final out and thanked his players for having continued to give their best amid the mounting frustration and pressure.
"No club in the history of this organization has gone through anything like this," he said. "They showed their character. They were a class act. I appreciated that and told them so."
Now, he said, they just have to take it a day at a time. The task remains ominous. The Orioles are 6-42 since Sept. 7. Williamson, a converted reliever who allowed only 3 hits in 7 innings Friday night, had not won since Aug. 28. Williamson's six wins since last year's All-Star break are more than any other pitcher on a once-proud staff.
When the Oriole bus got caught in rush-hour traffic Friday night, Robinson said, "I'm surprised the White Sox didn't send a police escort for us."
Eddie Murray, who had only 4 homers in his last 68 games, hit a 2-run homer in the first inning to start the rout.
Ripken Jr., shaking the slump that had helped paralyze the Baltimore offense, had a homer, double and two singles to extend his hitting streak to 10 games. Left fielder Pete Stanicek, just up from the minor leagues, had a double and single and scored twice.
Said Jim Fregosi, his manager: Anyone who has been around the game and has experienced what losses do to a team has to have empathy for the Orioles. They needed a win, but not at our expense."
The win was not without its negative aspect. The Orioles couldn't have expected otherwise. Billy Ripken was beaned by John Davis as he squared to bunt in the seventh inning, Ripken was carried off the field on a stretcher and suffered a slight concussion. He will be on a day-to-day basis.