Game call leaves storm of doubt

Decision questioned

O's play twice today

September 30, 1999|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

A leftover pennant race that involved the visiting team, the presence of two marquee starting pitchers, an ultimately misleading weather forecast and the ability to manufacture two gates in one day led the umpiring crew to postpone last night's game against the New York Yankees as a befuddled crowd sat dry at Camden Yards.

The unexpected decision was urged by Orioles chief operating officer Joe Foss and seconded by crew chief Durwood Merrill after checking Orioles groundskeeper Paul Zwaska's regional radar. The radar showed an approaching mass of rain. What it didn't predict is that the rain would stay west of Camden Yards, leaving the place dry -- and empty -- as of 10 p.m.

As a result, the teams will play a split doubleheader at 1: 05 and 7: 05 p.m. today. Tickets for last night's game are valid for the afternoon makeup only.

Merrill said he was notified by a local meteorologist that a heavy rain would arrive at Camden Yards by 8: 30 p.m. and continue through this morning. Merrill waved off the game to the Yankees dugout at about 7: 25 p.m. and an announcement was made over the public address nine minutes later. Fans, managers and even front-office personnel who expected baseball were instead left bewildered. The home team is typically responsible for calling any major-league game before it starts. But because the season is in its last month, that decision rests with the crew chief.

"I know right now we look like idiots because it's not raining," said Merrill minutes after the announcement was made.

Orioles manager Ray Miller seemed to distance himself from the decision, saying he had no input before learning of it. "It's rain. It's not my call," he said.

Merrill cited the scheduled starts by the Orioles' Mike Mussina and Yankees' Roger Clemens as a mitigating factor. Had both pitchers begun the game only to be interrupted by any sizable delay, they probably would have been unable to resume.

"You're a little shocked when you call a game and it wasn't raining," said Merrill. "But when you consider the circumstances -- that you would get in only three innings or four innings with one team possibly leading -- I think it's the thing to do."

Mussina went through roughly half his warm-up routine before being told to sit down 20 minutes before the game's scheduled 7: 05 p.m. start. At that time a drizzle fell and the tarp was placed on the field.

"Either way I've got one more start," said Mussina, who chuckled over the decision. "I pitch tonight. I pitch tomorrow. It's pretty much the same."

The field remained covered even after the rain stopped shortly after 7 p.m. The decision had already been made to postpone the game.

"I took exception with Durwood," said Yankees manager Joe Torre, whose players remained in uniform even after the preliminary decision was made in hopes of a reversal. "He came in here at 6: 45 and said, `It's raining lightly. By 7: 30, if it's still raining, I'm going to bang it because we don't want you hanging on all night.' And I agree with that. I don't want to warm up a pitcher. But by 7: 30 it wasn't raining and he called the game. I talked with Joe Foss and he agreed with the decision. They were sure it was going to rain within the hour and not stop."

"How can you call a game when it's not raining? You don't call a game on a weather report," saidYankees shortstop Derek Jeter. "We would have been in the seventh inning by the time the rain came."

Jeter apparently had better instincts than the local meteorologists. Camden Yards remained dry more than 90 minutes after the game was called, certainly enough time to play the minimum five innings for a game to become official.

Torre was even less enamored by the Orioles' decision to play a split doubleheader. "I like baseball. I also like ice cream, but I don't want to eat a gallon of it," he said, adding, "I can understand it because they sell out every game."

With his team's magic number at two for clinching its third division title in four years, Torre could remain more diplomatic than Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella was two years ago when a game was called at Zwaska's recommendation. After his team's early lead had been scrubbed, an agitated Piniella said, "Tell that guy if he wants to sit in front of a radar then go to the airport."

Torre was at least struck by a twinge of nostalgia. In 1996, he learned between games of a split doubleheader that the Yankees had clinched the American League East over the Orioles. The Yankees went on to win the World Series over the Atlanta Braves in Torre's first year as the team's manager.

Pub Date: 9/30/99

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