O's pick up season with loss

Gonzalez's 2nd HR lifts Jays to 8-5 win

Johnson spared loss

September 19, 2001|By Joe Strauss | Joe Strauss,SUN STAFF

TORONTO - On an evening that shared its most powerful moments before the first pitch, the Orioles and Toronto Blue Jays resumed their seasons at SkyDome last night. The Blue Jays won, 8-5, before a respectful crowd of 18,604 as the Orioles suffered their ninth consecutive loss, but neither the thrill nor the pain was the same.

Manager Mike Hargrove had mentioned during a pre-game interview how he felt good that things were back to normal. He paused before correcting himself.

"It's not back to normal," he said. "It's back to a routine."

The Orioles rallied from deficits of 3-0 and 5-3 before ultimately being beaten by three eighth-inning unearned runs - a combination of third baseman Cal Ripken's backhand error and Blue Jays shortstop Alex Gonzalez's two-out three-run homer off rookie reliever Jorge Julio (1-1).

The home run was Gonzalez's second of the game and the Blue Jays' fifth. The first four came against starting pitcher Jason Johnson, who allowed 10 hits in his first start in exactly two weeks.

Ripken helped elevate the night with a home run in the top of the eighth one inning after second baseman Jerry Hairston had pulled the Orioles within 5-4 on another bases-empty shot.

"It puts in perspective the game itself. A ballplayer never wants to say `win or lose' but tonight's game seems small," said reliever John Wasdin, one of three pitchers to appear during the Blue Jays' two-run sixth inning.

The loss was the Orioles' 15th in 16 games and demands that they finish at least 8-11 to avoid their first 100-loss season since 1988. But last night wasn't for counting wins and losses as much as for acknowledging larger causes.

As with every other major-league team, the back of each Orioles jersey was adorned with an American flag in place of the Major League Baseball symbol.

The usual pre-game mixing and glad-handing between players waited until shortly after 7 p.m. when the teams mingled and then assumed their places along both baselines. Oriole stood next to Blue Jay, ballplayer next to ballplayer, first sharing a handshake or an embrace but finally sharing a somber, poignant ceremony that brought the sparse SkyDome crowd to its feet and many of its number to tears.

Accompanied by bagpipes and the Canadian and American colors, a Royal Canadian Mounted Police color guard marched onto the field. A moment of silence lasted three minutes and was followed by a mournful playing of "Amazing Grace."

"It was good to do that," said shortstop Tony Batista. "It showed that we are all together as ballplayers and as human beings."

During the playing of the United States' national anthem, Blue Jays pitching coach Mark Connor stood with an American flag raised in his right hand. The Canadian anthem was followed by singing of "God Bless America."

"I don't necessarily enjoy pre-game ceremonies, but I liked that one. It was time to feel good about Canada being your friend and neighbor and that we're all in this together," said Hargrove, adding, "I'd like to do that again. Not for that reason, but I'd like to do it again.

"They did it real nice ... the whole thing," said catcher Brook Fordyce. "When the game started, it stayed real quiet for a while. And it should have. Nobody seemed to really make any noise until Cal came up."

Last night's observance provided power to a disturbingly unique week. Monday's charter flight to Toronto included bomb-sniffing dogs scouring the team bus before boarding at BWI Airport. Canadian police and another team of dogs went through the plane before the team deplaned. Only then were the Orioles allowed an uneventful trip through customs.

A security agent typically assigned to the team in Baltimore accompanied it to Toronto, an unusual but not unprecedented move.

"It's a sign of the times," said Wasdin. "It's the way things are going to be. If that had happened before, guys would have been yelling and screaming, moaning and groaning. Now it's understood what measures need to be taken. It's part of travel nowadays."

Though in a foreign land, the traveling party found a country sharing its grief. The Canadian government has ordered its flag flown at half-staff. A week ago booked full, the Eaton Centre Marriott is at 30 percent occupancy.

The Orioles thankfully experienced no immediate personal loss in the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on four commercial airplanes, the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. However, regardless of nationality, each member felt its impact, perhaps none more so than Johnson.

A priest within the Mormon Church, Johnson had no desire to pitch last Friday's game against the Boston Red Sox before commissioner Bud Selig announced postponement of the weekend schedule. Johnson admitted Sunday that the week's events had shaken him and his wife, Stacey, and restored a perspective that would follow him the rest of the season. That said, he did not express misgiving about taking the ball last night as his team's best starting pitcher.

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