Border call again gets better of O's Devil Rays win, 2-1, as Smith's RBI single scores Stocker in 9th

Baines' double disputed

Benitez surrenders two-out game-winner

August 12, 1998|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- A scarred team didn't need this, not now. Still trying to heal themselves from a fall-down first half, last night the Orioles took a knife in the back.

Batting in place of likely Hall of Fame third baseman Wade Boggs, rookie Bobby Smith sliced a two-out, ninth-inning single off Armando Benitez (4-3) to score Kevin Stocker and propel the Tampa Bay Devil Rays to a 2-1 win before 26,472 at Tropicana Field.

Benitez's mistake was only the second-biggest of the game.

A sixth-inning smash by designated hitter Harold Baines that instant replay, the Orioles' bullpen and the bleacherites in left-center field knew to be a home run was instead ruled a double by the four-man umpiring crew. The lost run grew so large that it may have helped burst a season.

The Orioles have lost 57 games but few have exacted a greater emotional toll. Properly called, Baines' hit might have allowed the Orioles to maintain needed momentum against the Boston Red Sox. Instead, the Orioles lost, the Red Sox won and the difference between the two swelled to nine games, 10 in the loss column.

"You hit a ball out of the park and it comes back for a double. It's the difference between a 2-1 win and a 2-1 loss," said manager Ray Miller.

Instead of working with a lead, the Orioles carried a tie into the ninth inning, where they lost when Benitez couldn't put away an overmatched rookie.

The four-man crew's no-homer ruling became especially significant given the Orioles' poor swings against an expansion pitching staff, especially starter Julio Santana. The Orioles finished with three hits, two by Baines. The bottom of their order continued a skid that leaves the Nos. 6-9 hitters 0-for-24 in this series. They have scored seven runs the past three games.

On Monday, Miller complained to American League supervisor of umpires Marty Springstead about short tempers and arrogance among some crews. He made no such accusation last night. Still, the call crushed him.

"That was big," he said later, clutching a shrinking cigar.

"It was gone. No doubt," said reliever Pete Smith, who along with the rest of the Orioles' bullpen had the perfect angle from the left-field corner. Bullpen coach Elrod Hendricks became enraged, waving his arms to no avail.

Baines circled a finger over his head, giving the signal for a home run. Miller did also. However, none of the four who mattered saw it that way.

"I was trying to change their minds," said Baines, who did not actually see the ball land. "None of them were saying anything. You've got to say it was a home run. But they made their decision."

No heated exchange occurred between Miller and the crew. Three of the four umpires conferred but none said the ball had cleared the fence.

"Any time we go out there we want to get the play right. But there are going to be times when you can't tell," said apologetic crew chief Jim McKean. "You can't be absolutely sure. We were 200 feet away. The players were up. The people were up. It was a tough call to make, given the situation. I didn't see it hit anything. Ray Miller asked me to ask the other umpires. He was very fair. He knew it was a tough call to make. We did everything we possibly could to make the right call."

The loss leaves the Orioles breathless. Suddenly it doesn't matter that they are 23-7 since the All-Star break. They dropped 10 losses behind the wild-card-leading Red Sox with only 44 games remaining.

Miller is beyond frustration. He has lost similar calls in Anaheim, Boston and at Camden Yards. He's still waiting for one to break his way.

"I know it's not intentional, but sooner or later somebody's got to be smart enough to do something in all these ballparks, including ours. Put some kind of thing -- a net like they have in Chicago, or something -- where fans can't reach out and the ball stays there for a home run. The guy who hit it has 300 home runs in his career. He knows if it's a home run," said Miller.

Miller also suggested a fifth umpire, instant replay anything.

"That's five times this year I've had home run calls go against me," he said. "Then you come in and everybody says it's very obvious on the replay."

Baines wasn't the only robbery victim. Scott Kamieniecki gave his most capable performance of the season -- six innings, six hits, one run -- but left with no decision. Afterward, he gave in to the fatalism dogging his team.

Kamieniecki could be excused. He was denied the chance at his first win since April 18. In his third start since spending two months on the disabled list with a herniated disk, he tied his second-longest appearance of the season. His only sin was a fourth-inning home run ball to Rich Butler, who entered with one RBI in his last 35 games.

"It's the story of the year right there," he said. "It seemed like a microcosm of the year."

For the second time in three days, controversy settled on Baines, a grossly underrated hitter because of his unassuming personality.

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