Vertical plane keeps Orioles flying as fan helps shove Rangers aside

May 05, 1992|By Ken Murray | Ken Murray,Staff Writer

So that's what the Camden Yards version of the green monster looks like. A seven-foot high wall -- modest by monster standards -- that swallows up leftfielders and home-run balls.

The Texas Rangers' Kevin Reimer got a cold introduction to the Orioles' wall of intimidation last night. He went up for Chris Hoiles' 360-foot shot in the seventh inning, got a not-so-friendly shove from behind, and came down only with a complaint.

Score it a grand slam for Hoiles instead of a sacrifice fly, and chalk up the Orioles' ninth straight win in their new playpen, 8-5, over the Rangers. The Orioles went for No. 10 in a row in a rare 12:15 p.m. start today.

Hoiles' home run, his seventh of the season, highlighted what is likely to be a running commentary about the leftfield wall at Oriole Park, where spectators are close enough to contest fly balls at the fence.

Last night, Reimer, the Rangers leftfielder, lost his battle with a fan and it cost Texas the game.

"It's a shame," said Texas manager Bobby Valentine, "but it's going to happen a lot in this ballpark. I thought coming in it could be a problem."

Valentine spent most of the Orioles' five-run seventh inning on the field either changing pitchers (he used three) or arguing with second-base umpire Ted Hendry over the home run. He had little success in either venture.

"I thought it hit Reim's glove," Valentine said. "It was over the fence, but if he brings it back, it's in play. I thought he brought the ball back in."

Not so, according to the rule book. Once Hoiles' ball broke the vertical plane and Reimer couldn't hold on, it was a home run, pure and simple.

"Clearly the glove was over the fence and the ball broke the plane," said Hendry. "There will be a lot of plays like that here."

Jim Evans, home-plate umpire and crew chief, reinforced the vertical plane rule. "Once the ball breaks the plane, there can be no spectator interference," he said. "If a fan reaches over onto the field, then it's a different story."

Even if the outfielder catches the ball, and the ball breaks the plane and then is knocked out of the glove by a fan, it is a home run, according to the rule.

Reimer had the ball in his glove momentarily, before it was jolted out from behind. The idea of having fans on the other side of the fence doesn't thrill him.

"It's OK to have them close on the sidelines," he said, "but I think they should leave some leeway so that won't happen, or make it a 10-foot wall so there's no question. There's going to be problem with that all year . . . or forever."

Orioles leftfielder Brady Anderson knows a little about the dangers of playing the wall. In the season-opening series against Cleveland, he tangled with one of his own fans and lost a chance at a home-run ball that sent the Orioles to their only home loss.

"Any time the ball goes up there, it's going to be a home run," Anderson predicted. "It's hard for an ump to get out there. It has to be a high home run for an ump to get close enough to make a judgment if you can catch the ball.

"On mine, the ball was never in my glove. The guy [fan] had his hands out, and my glove went into his hands and closed. The ball hit the top of the glove with the glove shut."

Hoiles certainly wasn't complaining after his second career slam boosted the Orioles into a commanding 8-3 lead. Tim Hulett's pinch-single had broken a 3-3 tie moments earlier. Hoiles' home run loomed large when Texas scored twice in the ninth. It was the Orioles' third grand slam in 11 games at Camden Yards.

As it was, Hoiles' heroics earned long reliever Alan Mills' second victory in three games for the Orioles since he was recalled from Triple-A Rochester. Mills replaced injured Mark Williamson on April 17.

He shut down the Rangers over five innings with two-hit relief behind struggling Bob Milacki. In 13 2/3 innings with the Orioles, Mills has allowed just one earned run and seemingly sewed up a spot on the roster.

"I'll take it," Orioles manager John Oates said of Mills' 0.66 ERA. "That's a keeper.

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