Alomar applies clincher Orioles win 1st spot in playoffs since '83 despite spitting episode

September 29, 1996|By Buster Olney | Buster Olney,SUN STAFF

TORONTO -- The Orioles clinched their first postseason berth since 1983 yesterday when second baseman Roberto Alomar hit a 10th-inning home run to beat the Toronto Blue Jays, 3-2.

As the wild-card entry in the American League playoffs, they'll play the Cleveland Indians in a best-of-five-game series that starts Tuesday at Camden Yards.

But the achievement of the Orioles and Alomar was marred by confrontations between Alomar and umpire John Hirschbeck. In one of the ugliest episodes in baseball history, Alomar spit in Hirschbeck's face after being ejected Friday, and yesterday the umpire charged toward Alomar in the Orioles' clubhouse.

If the Orioles are to return to the World Series, which they won 13 years ago, they must defeat the Indians and then capture the best-of-seven American League Championship Series against the winner of the Texas Rangers-New York Yankees playoff.

Yesterday, the Orioles led 2-1 in the bottom of the ninth when Toronto third baseman Ed Sprague hit a homer off reliever Armando Benitez to tie the game.

Alomar, batting with two outs in the 10th inning, belted a fastball off Toronto left-hander Paul Spoljaric well over the wall in right-center. Randy Myers struck out Felipe Crespo to end the game, and the Orioles were reserved in their celebration on the field. In the privacy of the clubhouse, they became much more animated, spraying champagne and beer all over each other.

Alomar was asked if the incidents with Hirschbeck detracted from his joy. "I'm going to be happy, no matter what," he said. "It's a game-winning home run, and that puts us in the playoffs."

Alomar yesterday was suspended for five regular-season games the American League. Shortly after that announcement, however, Hirschbeck charged into the Orioles' clubhouse in a rage and threatened to kill Alomar after hearing comments Alomar made to reporters the night before.

Alomar had said that Hirschbeck's personality changed since the death of the umpire's son in 1993.

Alomar has appealed his suspension, which, if upheld, probably won't go into effect until the beginning of next season. AL vice president Phyllis Merhige said that Alomar's suspension will not affect his eligibility for the playoffs. Hirschbeck, scheduled to umpire third base yesterday, did not take the field, and will not umpire today in the final game of the regular season.

Hirschbeck called out Alomar on strikes in the first inning of Friday's game; television replay showed that the final strike was well out of the strike zone. Alomar complained as he walked back to the dugout, and Hirschbeck said later he warned Alomar several times to stop. According to Alomar, Hirschbeck told him that if the pitch was that close to the strike zone, he should have swung the bat.

Alomar said he yelled at Hirschbeck from the dugout, "Just pay attention to the game." Hirschbeck then ejected Alomar with a wave of his right arm.

Orioles manager Davey Johnson ran out of the dugout, Alomar close behind, and as they pursued the argument with Hirschbeck, Johnson tried to stay between Alomar and the umpire. Words between the two continued, and Alomar jerked his head forward and spit in Hirschbeck's face.

After the game, Alomar told reporters that Hirschbeck swore at him, referring to him with a common obscene epithet, something Alomar didn't think the umpire should do. Hirschbeck denied swearing at Alomar until after he was spat on.

Alomar said he didn't regret spitting, and then referred to Hirschbeck's umpiring since Hirschbeck's young son, John, died a rare disease called adrenoleukodystrophy.

Alomar said he "used to respect" Hirschbeck, adding, "I think he got problems with his family after his son died. I know that's something real tough in life for a person. I don't know, he just changed personality-wise. He just got more bitter. He kind of changed. In this kind of game, with the kind of pressure we have right now, he shouldn't throw me out of the game."

A small group of reporters went to the umpires' dressing room yesterday to ask Hirschbeck about Alomar's five-game suspension and to get his response to Alomar's comment about his change in demeanor.

Hirschbeck, who has another son with symptoms of the same genetic illness, apparently had not heard about Alomar's comments. When reporters repeated Alomar's statement referring to the death of his son, Hirschbeck became furious.

"He brings my son up, if I see him on the street . . ." Hirschbeck said, his voice trailing off. "That [expletive], to even bring my son up. I'd like to see him. To ever bring up my son."

Jim Joyce, another member of the umpiring crew, then told the reporters to leave, as Hirschbeck continued to rage.

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