Umpire ejects Johnson

Jays reject O's, 5-2

Starter tossed from game after hitting Hudson with pitch in sixth inning

`Worst judgment call I've seen'

He had allowed double, single, homer in sixth

Orioles lose third in row

August 26, 2002|By Roch Kubatko | Roch Kubatko,SUN STAFF

If the Orioles were playing their last home game of the 2002 season, Jason Johnson would have appreciated a little more time to savor it.

They filed into the clubhouse after yesterday's 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays at Camden Yards, uncertain whether they would be returning next week and confused over Johnson's ejection in the sixth inning. Three straight defeats, their starting pitcher's forced exit and the approaching strike date colored their mood in dark shades.

Johnson was tossed after hitting Toronto's Orlando Hudson behind the right shoulder. Plate umpire Pat Spieler didn't issue a warning but assumed Johnson was aiming at Hudson after allowing a double, single and two-run homer to the first three batters in the sixth.

It wasn't the kind of work stoppage the Orioles' player representative had in mind, but perhaps it was an appropriate symbol of what may lie ahead.

"That's probably the worst judgment call I've ever seen in my life," Johnson said after falling to 0-7 lifetime against the Blue Jays. "I wanted to go inside and the ball got away from me and hits the guy, and I get blamed for it. The umpire makes a stupid call, and that's his fault.

"He said, `It's because you hit him,' and I said, `Yeah, I hit a lot of people. Who cares? I'm trying to establish the inside corner.' I apologized to Orlando Hudson and said, `Look, it wasn't intentional,' and he said, `I understand, Jason. You were trying to set the inside corner.' Apparently even the guy I hit knows I'm trying to establish the inside corner, and the umpire doesn't."

Spieler was unavailable to comment.

Johnson, who retired the first 10 batters he faced, rushed toward Spieler with his arms extended and later slammed his right hand against the dugout door before reaching the runway that leads to the clubhouse. Manager Mike Hargrove returned to the dugout area after arguing with Spieler and leaned on the protective fence for several seconds, his back turned to the plate, as John Stephens entered from the bullpen.

"We've been trying to pitch Hudson in the whole time," Hargrove said. "He's been moved back off the plate three or four times. It was probably the right call to make, but it was the wrong call because Jason wasn't throwing at him."

Johnson's first pitch to Hudson was inside. The second hit him, and Johnson was gone in a flash. Now an entire team waits to find out if the season's final month will do the same.

The Orioles are 63-66 as they prepare for a three-game series in Texas that begins tomorrow. If the schedule holds true, they'll fly to Anaheim on Thursday night, play three games against the Angels and begin their next homestand on Sept. 3. But the players strike could be four days old when the Camden Yards gates are supposed to open again.

"If this is the last home game we have this season, it'll be a crying shame," Hargrove said, "but I can't carry that thought into a game. We've got a job to do. Personally, I think we'll be playing after Aug. 30, but I've got no control over that. I'm going to do my job as well as I can, and I expect our players to do the same thing."

The clubhouse emptied almost two hours before the game, as players gathered in the weight room to discuss union matters. Catcher Brook Fordyce wondered if they would be locked out upon returning from Anaheim but didn't intend to start packing his belongings as if the season were ending.

"I won't do anything different," he said, "but we'll have a few questions, like, `Are we allowed back in if we strike? Can we get our personal stuff here?' "

Syd Thrift, the Orioles' vice president for baseball operations, said the players would have access to the clubhouse.

Irritated by the inconsistent tone of the labor negotiations, which appear encouraging one day and futile the next, Fordyce said: "At this point, you'd just rather have both sides be quiet and get a deal done or don't get it done. A lot of people's emotions here are going off what they read."

Hargrove met with the team after the game, addressing the strike date for the first time and his hitters' tendency to chase bad pitches while trying too hard.

"It was more of a learning session than anything else," Hargrove said. "As I was sitting there formulating my thoughts during the game, I thought I may as well mention that, if [the potential strike] is a distraction, it shouldn't be, because it's pretty much out of their control. Hopefully we have 33 games left instead of three, but be sure to go out and make these the best we've had all year."

Yesterday ranked far below. The Orioles fell to 3-9 against Toronto this year, including 1-5 at home. They failed to score in the first inning after Justin Miller walked the bases loaded, but went ahead in the third on a run-scoring double by Chris Richard.

Johnson (4-10) was hurt twice by third baseman Tony Batista's inability to make plays, both scored hits, which led to runs. Batista couldn't backhand a ball from Ken Huckaby in the fifth, and rookie Eric Hinske stroked a two-out single that gave Toronto a 2-1 lead. A grounder from Vernon Wells in the sixth deflected off Batista's glove and rolled into shallow left field to score Carlos Delgado before Josh Phelps' homer.

Will these be the final images at Camden Yards in 2002?

"I'd be very surprised if this isn't settled because of the damage that will be done, the immediate damage to the owners because fans will be annoyed and the long-range damage to the union," said hitting coach Terry Crowley. "They've taken the stance that they're doing this for future players. If there are empty ballparks, the future players are going to be hurt bad."

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