Baseball takes back seat on Orioles' ride home

July 23, 1992|By Jim Henneman | Jim Henneman,Staff Writer

CHICAGO -- It wasn't the time for talking baseball.

There was no inclination to reflect on late-inning losses, blunders on the basepaths or rally-killing double plays. Blown saves, slumps and a disheartening conclusion to an otherwise successful road trip had been rendered meaningless.

The Orioles couldn't think, or talk, about baseball following a rain delay in the third inning of yesterday's game. That's when utility infielder Tim Hulett was stunned by the news his 6-year-old son, Sam, had been struck by a car and that he should return to Baltimore immediately.

Who could be concerned about a two-game losing streak when a young life was hanging in the balance?

After the 7-5 loss to the Chicago White Sox, the Orioles wandered aimlessly around a somber clubhouse. Their thoughts were about a teammate and his family, not baseball.

All they knew was that young Hulett was in extremely critical condition at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Player representative Storm Davis was on the phone, trying to learn whatever he could. He merely shook his head when asked if he had any additional information.

Others were equally distraught as they threw equipment into their bags in preparation for a long plane ride home. There were a few acknowledging glances, but nothing was said.

It's doubtful there has ever been a quieter clubhouse.

In his office, after struggling through a two-minute post-game briefing, manager Johnny Oates put his head on the desk in his office and cried.

Catcher Rick Dempsey approached a group of writers and whispered, "Is there any more news?" Told there wasn't, he spun and walked away, revealing the emotions of having been a father for 21 years rather than a professional athlete for the last 25.

Players and coaches alike sat in front of their lockers, staring blankly into space. None had ever experienced such a feeling after a baseball game. No loss ever hurt this much.

Oates vainly tried to answer questions, some from members of the media who initially were unaware of the tragedy that was occupying his every thought. "You'll have to excuse me," he explained, "but my mind is not all here right now."

Shortly thereafter he raised his hand, calling a halt to the awkward session, and broke down, unable to control his emotions any longer.

On this day it didn't matter that the White Sox used an eighth-inning rally for the second straight game to score a come-from-behind win. Neither was it important that the Orioles were unable to hold three different leads. Or that Gregg Olson (1-4) not only suffered his fourth blown save, but took the loss.

It was a day that started drearily and got progressively worse.

A 46-minute rain delay and four early runs by the White Sox restricted Mike Mussina to only three innings, the shortest outing of his 30 career starts.

"When he went back out there [after the rain delay] I didn't think he had the same arm speed," said Oates. "There's no point in taking a chance -- I almost didn't send him back out there at all."

A tying two-run homer by nemesis Frank Thomas in the third inning was the indicator that influenced Oates to remove Mussina. He had no reason to regret the move when Alan Mills pitched four solid innings (one hit) before hitting Shawn Abner with a pitch to start the bottom of the eighth.

That was omen enough for the Orioles, because it was the third straight time in which a hit batter late in the game was part of a winning or tying rally. But, in reality, they had already swung and run their way out of enough opportunities to put the game away.

The Orioles hit into five double plays -- including one, astoundingly, when Glenn Davis smoked a double to left-center field after Cal Ripken had opened the fifth inning with a single.

When Davis' drive caromed off the top of the fence, third base coach Cal Ripken Sr., not thinking shortstop Craig Grebeck could execute the relay, waved Cal Jr. into an easy out at home plate. That misjudgment was compounded when Davis tried to salvage something from the play by trying to advance a base -- and was an even easier out at third.

Three innings later, after Leo Gomez (three runs batted in, six in the last two games) drove in the lead run with a sacrifice fly, the Orioles had another dose of misfortune. Bill Ripken tomahawked a double down the left-field line with two outs and Joe Orsulak appeared to score easily. But the ball bounced over the fence and he had to return to third base and Jeff Tackett hit a checked-swing bouncer for the third out.

When Mills hit Abner after getting ahead in the count, it started a procession of baserunners similar to the eighth-inning parade the Orioles had seen the night before, when the White Sox scored eight times for a 10-7 victory.

Before Olson could get anybody out, the White Sox had the final score in place. A handle-hit single by Vance Johnson, who immediately stole second, a pinch-hit ground ball double down the first base line by Tim Raines and Grebeck's single to center did the damage.

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