At 6:40 p.m. last night, Orioles owner Peter Angelos was informed that the rival New York Yankees had traded for 1994 Cy Young Award winner David Cone and slugging outfielder Ruben Sierra.
"Looks to me as if the Yankees are trying to win this division, don't you think?" Angelos said.
By 7 p.m., the Orioles had traded minor-league outfielders Alex Ochoa and Damon Buford to the New York Mets for All-Star slugger Bobby Bonilla and a player to be named. Bonilla, 32, told Orioles officials that he planned to drive here today and be in the lineup for tonight's game against the Chicago White Sox.
The trade injects a major power hitter and a six-time All-Star into the middle of the Orioles' lineup. Bonilla, a switch-hitter batting .325 with 18 homers and 53 RBIs for the Mets, likely will play right field and bat cleanup.
"He fits the bill for what we were looking for -- a pure power hitter, a switch-hitter," said Orioles general manager Roland Hemond. "I think he'll be an asset."
An expensive asset. The Orioles will be responsible for approximately half of Bonilla's $4.7 million salary this year and all of his $4.5 million next year. Ochoa is considered to be the Orioles' best position prospect and Buford is a solid defensive outfielder who will join the Mets today.
But the Orioles get a hitter who should bolster their offense, the weakest part of the team. Only three AL teams have scored fewer runs.
"I'm pretty excited about the whole thing," Bonilla said. "Being able to participate in the pennant race is what you think about and dream about as a kid. . . . I'd love to be able to participate with the Orioles in the postseason. It's a beautiful thing. I'm really juiced about it.
"There's definitely going to be a little adjustment period [to the American League]. But I'm looking forward to grabbing [Cal] Ripken, [Rafael] Palmeiro and [Harold] Baines on the side and trying to find out everything I can about the pitchers. I'm really looking forward to the challenge."
Getting Bonilla was a challenge for the Orioles. About two weeks ago -- about the time that catcher Chris Hoiles went on the disabled list -- talks with the Mets became serious. But New York general manager Joe McIlvaine stated emphatically that he wanted Ochoa, and the talks stalled.
The Orioles offered outfielder Mark Smith, then reliever Armando Benitez, and McIlvaine continued to insist on Ochoa. On Sunday, the trade seemed dead.
But Thursday evening, Angelos heard that the Yankees were closing in on a deal for Cone, and he watched the Orioles lose, 2-1, failing to score after loading the bases with none out in the sixth. After the game, Angelos told Hemond to get Bonilla.
At about 4 p.m. yesterday, Hemond called McIlvaine and said the Orioles were willing to include Ochoa, and, at that point, the deal was imminent. They worked out the details: The Orioles will not have to pay any of the $1.5 million still owed on Bonilla's commercial endorsement clause, and the Mets provided a list of six players -- four pitchers and two outfielders -- from which the Orioles can choose a player, probably sometime in the next week. The player may be a pitcher with major-league experience and could join the Orioles immediately.
Nobody in the Orioles' clubhouse knew about this, though. They had heard about the Yankees dealing for Cone and Sierra, and they fretted. "If they got both of them, that would be a serious power move," pitcher Ben McDonald said. "That's a move to take the pennant."
Reliever Jesse Orosco said, "That's tough. They really jumped up and made a move to win the division. As far as our team, if they [Hemond and assistant GM Frank Robinson] could get some added power, that would be great."
They did. Hemond gathered the media at about 7:25 p.m., somewhat breathless, and announced the deal. He said that this was probably the biggest swap he had made in the midst of a pennant race.
At that moment, Orioles manager Phil Regan, who said last weekend that his team could not win the division without acquiring another hitter, had no idea the deal was done.
Robinson called the Orioles' dugout, but bench coach Chuck Cottier answered the phone; Regan was on the field giving his lineup to the umpires.
Well, Robinson said, tell him we just traded for Bobby Bonilla.
"All right!" Cottier said. "Did we? Yeah!"
When Regan walked back to the dugout, Cottier told him the news and Regan's face spread into a wide grin.
The trade was posted on the JumboTron over center field minutes before Mike Mussina threw his first pitch, and the early arrivals at Camden Yards roared in unison.