Orioles blew it long before umpires did

July 05, 1998|By JOHN EISENBERG

NEW YORK -- If the Orioles had held up their end of the AL East race, we'd have a bonfire on our hands today.

We'd have a controversy set to linger for weeks, fans ready to riot, a league president on the hot seat, rival players swollen with emotion.

We'd have yet another steamy chapter in the Yankees-Orioles rivalry, baseball's best in recent years.

If the Orioles had held up their end of the AL East race this season, umpire Marty Foster's bad call in the ninth inning of the Yankees' 4-3 victory yesterday would have resonated for the rest of the season.

As it is, with the Orioles now 11 games under .500 and a stunning 29 games behind the Yankees in the loss column, who cares?

What difference does it make that the umpires put on a brutal display in the ninth inning, hurting the Orioles' chances of rallying to tie the game?

Even if they'd come back to win, the Orioles would still be so far out of the playoff hunt that they'd need to hire a private detective to find it.

They'd still stand alone as baseball's biggest disappointment of 1998.

Oh, sure, it was a galling ending for the Orioles in any circumstances, a blatantly blown call that surely ruined more than a few holiday barbecues around Baltimore.

If you got so steamed that you turned your grill over, hot coals and all, you're probably not alone.

Getting royally jobbed in Yankee Stadium is always about as low as it gets.

But let's face it, you can only get so upset when you're on the verge of falling 30 games out in the loss column by the All-Star break.

That's even worse than any blown call.

Not that the Orioles were wrong to howl. Seldom is a judgment call this obviously incorrect.

With none out and Jeff Reboulet on second and Brady

Anderson on first for the Orioles, Chris Hoiles laid down a sacrifice bunt that Yankees closer Mariano Rivera fielded and threw to third baseman Scott Brosius, attempting to force Reboulet. The throw beat Reboulet and Foster raised his hand, signaling an out. But Brosius never caught the ball. It hit the heel of his glove and bounced away. He clearly never had possession.

No matter. The call stood. Reboulet was out.

"Just terrible," Orioles manager Ray Miller said.

Orioles third base coach Sam Perlozzo was ejected for arguing. So was Miller after Ken Kaiser, the chief of the umpiring crew, refused to allow him to appeal to the home plate umpire, who, Miller reasoned, may have had a better view.

And then, typical of this season and this team, the Orioles' Rich Becker grounded into a double play to end the game.

"It's not right," Miller said. "Not for baseball. Not for my club. Not for the Yankees. There shouldn't be any gifts. There's no Santa Claus during the baseball season."

Yes, there is. Santa let the Yankees out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning of a one-run game, and he's going to get away with it. Miller's planned protest to American League president Gene Budig has about as much chance of succeeding as the Orioles have of catching the Yankees.

"We're just going to have to live with it," Reboulet said.

In the end, the Orioles were upset not with the call itself so much as Kaiser's refusal to seek out an umpire who might have had a better view.

Miller looked up this passage in the rulebook and read it to reporters after the game: "Umpire dignity is important, but never as important as being right."

Kaiser put dignity ahead of being right in this case, no doubt about it. That's the definition of bad umpiring.

But understand, one umpire is never going to overrule another's judgment. They don't work that way.

When he met with reporters after the game -- Foster wasn't made available for questions -- Kaiser said he wouldn't even look at a replay.

"We're the best in the world and we do our best to get them all right," he said. "It was [Foster's] call and he made it. No one is going to change his call."

Too bad egos and vanity had to get involved. You won't see a more obviously wrong call all season.

But again, what difference does it make? The Orioles long ago took the steam out of any potentially major controversy. Losing streaks tend to do that.

If the Orioles and Yankees had been battling for first, as expected, the call could have turned into Jeffrey Maier II. It would have been fun to watch Budig swell up like a toad under the pressure.

At the very least, maybe Miller will pull an Earl Weaver today and get ejected while presenting the lineups to the umpires before the series finale. That'd be fun. A little theater.

But that's the most we can expect. In the end, Budig will just release one of his nine-page "statements" that lulls everyone to sleep. And, with nothing at stake, the controversy will vanish.

Much like the $69 million Orioles vanished this season, long before a bad call cost them so dearly yesterday.

Pub Date: 7/05/98

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