Yanks plan no bean counter in rematch N.Y.'s Strawberry: 'I think it's over'

June 15, 1998|By Peter Schmuck | Peter Schmuck,SUN STAFF

NEW YORK -- It has been four weeks since the Rumble in the Bronx. The bruises have healed. The suspensions have been served. And now the New York Yankees are coming to Camden Yards.

The ugly bean brawl that spilled into the Orioles' dugout at Yankee Stadium on May 19 created bad feelings on both sides, but there probably will be no resumption of hostilities when the Orioles and Yankees face off in their second head-to-head series of 1998.

"I think it's over," Yankees outfielder Darryl Strawberry said. "I think it was just the heat of the moment. Baltimore, they've always had a classy organization and a classy ballclub, and we've always had a great rivalry. It was just an unfortunate incident. I hope we can put it behind us."

Strawberry was suspended three games for punching Orioles reliever Armando Benitez during the bench- and bullpen-clearing altercation, which began after Benitez hit first baseman Tino Martinez between the shoulder blades with a sizzling fastball -- apparently with intent.

Benitez, Alan Mills, Graeme Lloyd and Jeff Nelson also were suspended for the roles they played in the 10-minute brawl.

The Orioles have since accepted responsibility for the incident, and Benitez has apologized publicly for his actions, overtures that appear to have defused a potentially volatile situation.

"The problem that led to the fight, I think, was an isolated incident that involved one person on the Baltimore side," Yankees manager Joe Torre said. "From the things that I heard and the phone call I got from [Orioles manager] Ray Miller, I think they were sorry about what happened. I don't think it was a team thing. I'm not saying it's forgotten. It's not forgotten. But, hopefully, [a more civil] rivalry can continue."

Such as it is. The Yankees have run away with the American League East race, and the Orioles have all but faded into the woodwork, making this particular series more about pride than playoff considerations. If fallout from the fight figured to inflame passions in the Yankees' clubhouse, it was not evident as they prepared to close out a rain-shortened weekend series against the Cleveland Indians yesterday at Yankee Stadium.

The Yankees, particularly the ones who were in the middle of the melee, seem more than willing to give peace a chance.

"For me, I've forgotten about it," said Nelson, who attended Catonsville High. "It's always been a big rivalry with the Orioles. I think maybe the last [series] might have upped the tempo a little bit. I think that makes it a little bit more important series, but you can't hold a vendetta against them just because they started something. We took care of business on the field. I think the best way to get back at them is to beat them."

That's what the Yankees did during the first series, winning all three games to illustrate the difference in the caliber of the two teams, but they paid a price for the pounding they delivered in the series opener.

The purpose pitch from Benitez knocked Martinez out of the lineup for two games and may have contributed to a shoulder injury that would sideline him for nine days soon after the Orioles left town. If anyone would have good reason to carry some ill feelings into Baltimore, it would be the soft-spoken Yankees first baseman, but he is keeping his feelings to himself.

"I've answered enough questions about that," Martinez said. "If you want to talk about the series, fine, but I'm not going to talk about that."

Unfortunately, the series does not hold enough divisional significance for an extended conversation. The Orioles are focused on the second-place Boston Red Sox and the wild-card race. The Yankees are in little danger of finishing anywhere but at the top of the division, even though they are playing without injured stars Bernie Williams (sprained knee) and Derek Jeter (abdominal strain).

"Every series is a big series, no matter who you're playing," Nelson said. "I think these two weeks are the toughest part of our schedule. No matter how far back Baltimore is, they're still a tough team and it's still very early."

Clearly, the Yankees are trying to be conciliatory. They have a lot more to lose than the Orioles -- in terms of the impact of injuries and suspensions -- if the animosity between the teams bubbles up again. American League president Gene Budig has made it very clear that the price of on-field violence has gone way up.

It is just as obvious that the Yankees still regard Benitez as a loose cannon whose tantrum could easily have cost them one of their top hitters for a much longer period. Strawberry, for instance, is not going to apologize for blindsiding Benitez during the brawl.

"The whole situation was strange," Strawberry said. "It wasn't just that we went out after Benitez. He called us out. That's a whole different story. Guys are going to react to that.

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