Perfect game, imperfect year

Baseball: As if Orioles fans hadn't endured enough in 1999, another Yankee glory salts the wounds.

July 20, 1999

EVEN YOGI BERRA, known for witticisms so absurd they're brilliant, would be at a loss to explain the bizarre summer Baltimore baseball fans continue to endure.

On Sunday, David Cone of the rival New York Yankees pitched a perfect game, retiring all 27 batters he faced. He threw just 88 pitches. Because any mistake can undo a perfect game, the feat has been accomplished in the major leagues only 14 times this century.

Mr. Cone's milestone was made more dramatic by the presence of Yankee greats from the past, who participated in ceremonies in honor of Mr. Berra. As if the sun-washed scene in the Bronx was not divine enough, Don Larsen, who pitched the only perfect game in a World Series, in 1956, shook Mr. Cone's hand before the game.

Juxtapose that sublime experience for Yankees fans with the tragicomedy at Camden Yards, where the Orioles' management is apparently groping for a way out of its relationship with moody slugger Albert Belle.

The team wished the star outfielder could reach two goals this season: help restore the Orioles to winning form and repair his own reputation for petulance.

He hasn't succeeded in doing either.

Instead, team officials recently found themselves investigating an unpleasant exchange between Mr. Belle and some fans in the bleachers.

Perhaps they were searching for leverage that might free them of his long-term contract.

Orioles diehards, who instinctively regard the Yankees as the enemy, can be forgiven for feeling like the gunslinger in an old Western movie who has just lost the duel, his steed -- and the girl.

Pub Date: 7/20/99

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