Fans are denied dazzle Time after time, hopes disappointed

October 05, 1997|By Dan Rodricks | Dan Rodricks,SUN COLUMNIST

Twice before the last slices of soft sunlight disappeared from the grass and Camden Yards slipped into the shadows, the Orioles had their chances, and the fans begged for early runs.

They got to the edge right in the first inning. It was a beautiful thing -- B. J. Surhoff batting with the bases loaded.

With a full count, Surhoff slashed a hard grounder back to the mound, where the gum-chewing Seattle pitcher named Fassero batted the ball down.

For a moment he lost the ball, and the crowd shrieked.

In the next instant, he looked to the sky, in the next to the ground, in the next Surhoff was out at first.

The screams stopped. The inning was over.

Orioles fans sat back in their seats.

Then, in the third inning, with the wide shadows of the Camden Yards roof creeping high on the ivy wall in center field, the home crowd went to the edge again.

The Orioles managed to get two runners on base -- Brady Anderson and Roberto Alomar.

Again the crowd begged for an early and big score on the perfect autumn day, a snappy end to the playoff with Seattle. No baseball on Sunday.

But again this Fassero slipped out of a mess.

When Geronimo Berroa struck out, the crowd released a painful "Ohhhhhh," the kind of awful sound emitted from the lips of men kicked in the stomach.

Then, as Anderson sprinted home in an effort to scramble out of a rundown between third and home, there was another electric Camden scream, followed by a moan.

Cal Ripken Jr. came up with two out, and the crowd did its slow build -- hands clapping, feet stomping; men, women and children howling.

Two balls, two strikes.

Ripken's gloved fingers played flute on the bat handle. The bat rocked on his shoulders. He struck out on a low sucker pitch.

Orioles fans sat back in their seats.

This Fassero had escaped another mess. He never stopped chewing gum.

'Sharp all the way through'

And right there, with Ripken going down and tossing his bat toward the dugout and Fassero sprinting merrily toward his, the high hopes for an early Baltimore strike flattened into the sober reality that Seattle's pitcher was having a special day.

Fassero got his groove back.

"Yeah, he was pretty clean," said an Oriole fan named Dominic Hunter.

He and his wife, Janice, had come to Baltimore from Mount Airy, hoping to see this playoff end with an Oriole sweep.

"Pretty much through most of the game, Fassero was pretty clean. You could tell he was going to be sharp all the way through."

Orioles fans had their moments of joy -- watching Ken Griffey Jr. picked off at first base, Arthur Rhodes holding off the Mariners with elegance, striking out slugger Edgar Martinez in the eighth.

And a few times, emotions swelled to their early-inning levels -- as when Rafael Palmeiro whacked one to the warning track, when Chris Hoiles cracked a deep drive to Griffey in center, when Anderson knocked one into the floodlights to the wrong side of the yellow foul tower in right.

Orioles fans were dying for some dazzle, and all they got were teases. All they got was this sharp, gum-chewing pitcher named Fassero.

At one point in the seventh, Fassero looked up from the serious business of containing the Orioles. He seemed momentarily distracted by the silence in Camden Yards.

He looked over his left shoulder toward the stands, then over his right, as if wondering where all the Baltimore fans went.

They were still there; they just didn't have much to say.

Relief and disapproval

Until Terry Matthews, the Orioles relief pitcher, came in from the bullpen. They booed Matthews' selection.

They booed harder when the Mariners' Jay Buhner sent one 392 feet into the crowd below the Coca-Cola sign.

And they booed even harder when Paul Sorrento sent one sky-high and into a hole below the Giant supermarket sign in left-center.

Matthews strolled toward second base, making a wide, slow circle before coming back to the mound. Not a pretty picture, that.

The last time Orioles fans went to the edge was in the ninth inning.

This time, Fassero walked Berroa, then almost comically, maybe exhaustedly, he put his hands on top of his head as his manager came to the mound to order relief.

Relief was Heathcliff Slocumb. Fassero walked to the dugout, still chewing gum.

The scoreboard flashed hot yellow: "It's Time To Rock The Yard." Music and sound effects gave the crowd a rush.

The Bird danced on the dugout. Palmeiro singled. The crowd crackled. Fans waved orange rally towels. Ripken rolled his hips at the plate, rocked the bat on his shoulder and swung hard.

Pop up, first base.

Now Surhoff again. Two balls, two strikes. He slapped one hard to the first baseman, Sorrento, who grabbed the ball, raised it in his bare hand to wave the pitcher off and tagged the bag himself. Two outs.

Hammonds up. The crowd squeezed out to the very edge again.

Hammonds swung and the ball bounced into the left field corner for a double. Two Orioles scored.

The Mariners led now, 4-2, and with Harold Baines coming up, there was at Camden Yards the anxious moment that makes baseball in October exquisite -- a veteran slugger with a chance to change a game.

But Baines popped up and, as the ball tumbled down out of the darkness, Orioles fans stood in their seats; some of them turned their backs and walked to the exits before the ball hit a Mariner's glove.

Depressed? No Oriole fan interviewed after the game went for that word.

Disappointed? OK, disappointed.

"Don't worry," Dominic Hunter said on his way out of the ballpark. "They're gonna win [today.]

"They're gonna come out looking for blood, and they're gonna win. They want to finish it off."

Pub Date: 10/05/97

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