It started out to be a beautiful afternoon at Oriole Park, but it turned ugly in a hurry. The game between the Orioles and Seattle Mariners turned into a brawl yesterday when tempers flared and a 60-man free-for-all erupted in the seventh inning.
The fight lasted nearly 20 minutes. It began with a pile of bodies on the mound and spilled over into a series of smaller skirmishes around the infield. By the time the game resumed, seven players and Mariners manager Lou Piniella had been ejected by the umpiring crew, and Mariners pitcher Chris Bosio might have sustained a season-threatening injury.
Bosio, one of the players ejected, apparently refractured his left collarbone nine days after returning from a month on the disabled list with the same injury. His condition will be re-evaluated today.
Several other players sustained cuts and bruises. Orioles reliever Mark Williamson required facial X-rays after he was slammed face down in the dirt at home plate; he suffered a bloody and swollen nose and a scrape on his chin. Catcher Jeff Tackett sustained a cut under his right eye. But no Orioles players were injured seriously enough to miss tonight's game against the Oakland Athletics.
Manager Johnny Oates also was shaken up during the melee but said he was suffering from just minor back and abdominal soreness.
The fight erupted after Orioles starting pitcher Mike Mussina hit Mariners catcher Bill Haselman on the left shoulder with a high fastball in the seventh inning -- the pitch in apparent retaliation for a pair of earlier pitches thrown by Bosio behind hitters.
Haselman charged the mound and tackled Mussina, causing both benches and bullpens to empty. There were several times that the situation appeared under control, but a series of smaller fights erupted around the periphery of the main confrontation.
The umpiring crew eventually restored order, then ejected three Orioles players and four Mariners. Rick Sutcliffe, Alan Mills and David Segui face fines and possible suspensions for their parts in the brawl. So do Haselman, Bosio, Norm Charlton and Mackey Sasser of the Mariners.
"Everyone was going at it," said acting crew chief Durwood Merrill. "We thought they were the most combative. Those were the guys who were prolonging it."
Piniella was ejected later for arguing the decision by the umpires to allow Mussina to stay in the game after throwing the pitch that triggered the incident. Piniella protested the game -- which the Orioles eventually won, 5-2 -- because Mussina was not ejected, but he isn't likely to convince American League president Bobby Brown to overrule the umpires' decision.
Did Mussina hit Haselman intentionally? Piniella said afterward that one of his players said that Mussina told him he was instructed to do so. Mussina denied that, but Oates refused to comment. It is common practice in baseball for a pitcher to hit a batter in retaliation for an earlier purpose pitch, but no one is likely to admit to it for fear of severe disciplinary action from the league.
The length and intensity of the brawl left open the question of why on-field security personnel did not intervene to assist the umpires, but stadium and police officials said that security acted properly in manning the perimeter of the field to discourage fans from joining the fight.
"Their job is to protect the people in the stands," said Roy Sommerhof, Orioles director of stadium operations. "It is not their job to deal with on-field personnel. They are supposed to make sure that the crowd doesn't come on to the field . . . to make sure everything is calm and cool in the stands."
That part of the operation was a success. No one ventured onto the field, and no arrests were made. Merrill indicated that there was an offer of help from some security personnel, but the umpires instructed them not to intervene.
"You don't want security personnel out there with guns on," Merrill said. "People are pushing and pulling at each other. You don't want the possibility of an accident."
Baltimore Police Sgt. Carl Gutberlet confirmed that the umpires declined several offers of assistance from security personnel during the course of the brawl.
"Our responsibility is to keep the fans from entering the field until told otherwise by the umpires," Gutberlet said. "We take our cue from the umpires. We asked the umpires five or six times if they wanted us to get involved. They said: 'No, just keep the fans off the field.' We wouldn't interject without their approval unless it got to the point where it became serious -- for instance, a player swinging a bat."
The brawl didn't reach that point, but it didn't miss by much. Baltimore Police Lt. Phil Farace, the ranking officer at the ballpark, said that stadium police remained in an alert status around the stadium until after the game ended and the Mariners were safely on the way to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. Security personnel were redeployed in the stadium tunnels after the game to ensure that there were no post-game incidents.