Seattle takes punch out of Orioles' pop 5-1 loss drops team game behind Chicago in wild-card race

No gain on Yankees

Bonilla, Rodriguez bats are confiscated

September 02, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

SEATTLE -- Batgate swirled in Seattle last night. The bat of Orioles right fielder Bobby Bonilla was confiscated, to be checked for cork, and he thought the move brilliant. Alex Rodriguez's bat was confiscated, and he found it flattering. Seattle manager Lou Piniella called the whole episode "distasteful."

Orioles manager Davey Johnson didn't like it, either, but not because of the gamesmanship. He was upset because the Orioles lost. Immediately after Johnson had home plate umpire Ted Barrett confiscate Rodriguez's bat, the Mariners shortstop got another from teammate Ken Griffey and hit a three-run homer, and Seattle went on to win, 5-1.

It was the fifth time this year the Orioles had a chance to improve their record to 10 games over .500, and the fifth time they failed. The Orioles (72-64) fell a game behind the Chicago White Sox in the wild-card standings, and they missed a chance to gain a game on the New York Yankees, who lost to California, 4-0.

The whole series, Piniella and Johnson had been engaged in a battle of mind games, changing pitchers and hitters, trying to get the slightest edge. Johnson got the best of Piniella on Friday and Saturday, but Piniella took the showdown to another level last night.

Bonilla homered in the second inning, his fourth homer of the series, giving the Orioles a 1-0 lead. After he singled in the fourth inning, Piniella went to Barrett and asked him to confiscate Bonilla's bat and check it for a foreign substance -- cork, rubber balls, whatever. Not having an X-ray machine available, the umpires have no choice but to secure the bat in their dressing room until after the game.

Piniella later told reporters that he'd done that before. "The bottom part of it just didn't look right," Piniella said.

At first, Bonilla smiled as he stood at first. But realizing that he wouldn't get his bat back the rest of the game, he began questioning first-base umpire Rick Reed furiously, becoming more and more animated. He is certain, too, that Piniella only did it to mess with his head.

"Absolutely," he said. "Come on . . . Actually, I thought it was pretty clever. I said, 'That Lou. Leave it to him to think of something."

But he wanted to keep using his bat. "I believe I should have the right to finish with it," he said. "If they find something wrong with it, I'm suspended. If they don't, I'm out [his bat] for the game. What kind of rule is that?

"I think I should be compensated for it," Bonilla continued, half-joking. "Suspend Lou or something like that, if they don't find any cork."

Finally, play resumed, but the Orioles would not forget.

Seattle catcher John Marzano singled with one out in the fifth and Orioles left-hander David Wells walked Rich Amaral. Rodriguez, already with 10 hits in the series, began walking toward home plate to hit.

Johnson yelled to Barrett -- check Rodriguez's bat for cork. Quid pro quo. You confiscate our hottest bat, I'll confiscate yours. Piniella wasn't surprised. Barrett said, "Once they pulled Bonilla's bat out, they knew [Johnson] would protest somebody's bat."

Rodriguez, incredulous, started to ask Barrett how the Orioles could ask for his bat before he even hit. But he dropped the argument, handed over his bat, and turned back to the dugout to get another from his source, Griffey.

About a month ago, Rodriguez started using Griffey's bats, and Griffey, waiting in the on-deck circle, flipped him the one he held in his hands. Then Griffey began chiding the Orioles' dugout, yelling aloud. "You want mine, too?" Griffey said.

No one seemed to answer, but several Orioles began smiling. Johnson was not among those.

Wells got two strikes on Rodriguez, but try as he did, he could not finish off the Mariners' shortstop. He threw an impossible inside fastball, and Rodriguez flicked his wrists through the strike zone and barely got a piece of the ball. Wells came back with a slider down and in, and Rodriguez dropped his bat head and nicked the pitch. Rodriguez fouled off five two-strike pitches, and eight pitches into the at-bat, Wells had shown Rodriguez his best stuff, and Rodriguez was still at the plate with a bat in his hands -- Griffey's bat.

Wells attempted jamming Rodriguez with a fastball and the phenom knocked it over the wall in left-center field. Rodriguez began circling the bases, and Griffey grinned and shook his head and stared at the Orioles' dugout. Rodriguez was on his way back to the bench. Seattle led, 4-1, and the game was effectively over.

"I definitely did it to mess with Alex's head," Johnson said. "It didn't work, but I did it."

Rodriguez said, "I thought it was flattering. I've been watching Davey Johnson manage for years. Me, a shortstop, using a corked bat?"

Rodriguez was asked if he thought about pointing to his biceps after hitting a homer, as Albert Belle did in the AL playoffs last year. "I don't have biceps, that's the first problem," Rodriguez said. "Second, that's not my style. I don't want to show up anybody."

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