Healing Orioles ready for season's final kick

Team returns to field tomorrow in Toronto

September 17, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

Still unsure when their season's last game will be played, the Orioles depart tonight for their next one.

Major League Baseball resumes its season today, six days after the games were stopped by terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon. The Orioles travel to Toronto tonight and will open a three-game series against the Blue Jays tomorrow night at SkyDome.

While players gathered yesterday to discuss making a collective donation to relief efforts, the mundane preparations for the season's final three weeks resumed.

Manager Mike Hargrove modified his rotation by naming Jason Johnson, Calvin Maduro and Josh Towers as his starting pitchers for the Blue Jays series.

Johnson was scheduled to start Friday night's game against the Boston Red Sox but asked that Hargrove push back his start so it would not fall on the national day of prayer. The point became moot Thursday when commissioner Bud Selig postponed all weekend games.

"It's not going to make it easier to go out and pitch, but it's given me a sense of what really matters. If I pitch great, or if I pitch not as well as I wanted to, it's not going to affect me as much as it might have earlier in the season," said Johnson, among the players who endorsed the team's decision to cancel Friday's scheduled workout. "It's just tough to think about what happened. [Not pitching] was a matter of respect. It was a day of prayer and mourning. I felt I should be doing the same thing as everybody else."

Hargrove didn't announce his starters for Friday's and Saturday's home games against the New York Yankees, but rookies John Bale and Rick Bauer would seem the most likely choices.

The last six days have allowed the Orioles to heal physically. Bale was bothered by forearm stiffness before games were suspended but is now deemed fit to pitch. Outfielder Chris Richard has been cleared to hit but is unable to throw because of a sore left shoulder. Outfielder Mike Kinkade may be activated from the disabled list, as pain in his left shoulder and right wrist have eased. Third baseman Cal Ripken's lower-back stiffness eased enough to allow him extra batting practice yesterday.

"We're probably in better shape now than in several weeks," Hargrove said.

Hargrove said that the club likely will be without utility starter Melvin Mora for the rest of the season because of a strained elbow ligament. First baseman David Segui's painful left knee has not improved since the stoppage, leaving his status day-to-day.

Yesterday afternoon's two-hour workout at Camden Yards offered a less somber atmosphere than Thursday and Saturday, yet no one was ready to forget the reality of the times.

"It was so uncomfortable Thursday because it was so recent," said relief pitcher John Wasdin. "People are still in shock, but it's like coming back from the All-Star break in the baseball sense because you're stiff from the long layoff. I'm glad baseball made the decision to start up on Monday. It's sinking in every day. You realize the work being done in New York and Washington is so much more important than the work we're doing now."

Said catcher Brook Fordyce: "I think people are over their shock. It seems the Bush administration is getting the answers it needs. People are supporting us. We have an idea who did it. That makes you feel things are under control a little bit."

Flying six days after the tragedy remains unnerving to some players. Others believe security measures taken since the attacks have removed much of the reason for apprehension.

"The fact it happened is scary enough. But at least the country doesn't seem to be in a state of chaos. There is a sense of order," said Fordyce, who said two of his friends were working in the lower floors of the World Trade Center when last Tuesday's attack occurred. Both escaped injury.

Club officials hope to learn this afternoon how seven games postponed from Tuesday through yesterday will be rescheduled. The Orioles have made clear a preference to play their season finale Oct. 6 against the Red Sox rather than Oct. 7, the last day at every other host ballpark. A conflict with the Ravens, who have a 1 p.m. kickoff Oct. 7 at PSINet Stadium against the Tennessee Titans, has caused the club to seek relief from Major League Baseball and the Ravens.

Major League Baseball could allow the Orioles to condense seven games into six days by rescheduling their first makeup for next Monday, currently a universal day off.

Failing a date change to Oct. 6 or - even less likely - Oct. 8, the Ravens could help by agreeing to advance their 1 p.m. kickoff to noon. Such a move also would necessitate the blessing of the NFL and its network television partners. A modified Ravens-Titans game time would not eliminate a scheduling conflict, but it would at least allow the Orioles to start an Oct. 7 game at 8 .m. instead of 9 p.m.

The Orioles have planned a ceremony to honor Ripken about 60 minutes before game time. Camden Yards likely would open to fans two hours before the ceremony.

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