HOUSTON - The Orioles reacted with surprise and disappointment yesterday to the news that Chicago Cubs slugger Sammy Sosa had been caught using a corked bat.
"It's a shame for Sammy, and it's a shame for baseball," Orioles manager Mike Hargrove said. "It casts a shadow on all of us, I think."
There was one upshot for the Orioles, however. They are scheduled to play a three-game series against the Cubs at Camden Yards, beginning Tuesday. Assuming Sosa gets suspended, he might have to miss that series.
Of course, that's better news for Hargrove and his players than it is for the team's marketing department. With attendance lagging, the Orioles have been promoting those games as grand opportunities for Baltimore fans to get a rare look at Sosa.
It was supposed to be the highlight of the Orioles' interleague schedule, even though ticket sales for each game have been less than 30,000 to date.
"If Sammy used a corked bat, he should pay the price, and he understands that," Hargrove said. "He's not trying to sidestep that. And if he just so happens to be suspended when they play us, that's good for us."
Hargrove was Albert Belle's manager with the Cleveland Indians when Belle was caught using a corked bat on July 17, 1994. Belle received a 10-game suspension, which was later reduced to seven games.
"I wasn't really aware that [Belle] was using a corked bat," Hargrove said. "I heard rumors that he might be, and I had a couple conversations with him and said obviously if that was the case, he needed to get rid of them ... and obviously he didn't listen to me."
One member of the Orioles' traveling party said there's probably at least one player on every major league team using a corked bat, so he hoped Sosa's punishment would be stiff enough to get players to stop doing it.
Baseball took a big hit last year with the steroid issue, and this was another black eye.
All those naysayers - those who say, `They are all on steroids, the strike zone is too small, the ballparks are too little, the balls are juiced' - it gives them another arrow to shoot," said Houston Astros first baseman Jeff Bagwell.
"That's why I'm saying it's unfortunate. You shouldn't generalize the game because of one incident like that."
Hargrove and Bagwell said Sosa's accomplishments should not be diminished because of Tuesday's revelation. Yesterday, the commissioner's office said it found no cork in the 76 bats it confiscated from Sosa's locker.
"I know he didn't hit 500-and-something home runs because of a corked bat," Bagwell said. "He did it because he's worked hard and he's got a good swing with power."
Hargrove, Johnson meet
One day after Orioles pitcher Jason Johnson pointed to irregular rest between starts as a reason for his rough performance in Tuesday night's 11-6 loss, Hargrove and pitching coach Mark Wiley met with the pitcher to clear the air.
The Orioles have gone 11 times through the starting rotation without skipping a pitcher, forcing several pitchers to pitch on more than their usual four days' rest. After making his third straight start with five days' rest, Johnson said it was getting "ridiculous."
"As the fifth starter, Jason's the one who gets dropped out of the rotation to make sure everybody else stays on [four days' rest], so I'm not sure where Jason was going with that," Hargrove said. "I think it all goes back to Jason's frustration level. He was unhappy that he didn't pitch well and we scored enough runs for him to win, and I think Jason understands he was his own worst enemy."
Around the horn
Rodrigo Lopez (strained left oblique muscle) pitched five strong innings in his second start at the Orioles' extended spring training facility in Sarasota, Fla. Hargrove said Lopez likely will make one minor-league rehabilitation appearance but should be ready to rejoin the roster soon. ... The Orioles have added Joe Altobelli, Storm Davis, Al Bumbry and Dan Ford to the list of participants for their 1983 World Series reunion, scheduled to coincide with the June 27-29 series against the Philadelphia Phillies.
Opponent: Houston Astros
Site: Minute Maid Park, Houston
TV/Radio: Comcast SportsNet/WBAL (1090 AM)
Starters: Orioles' Omar Daal (4-5, 4.52) vs. Astros' Roy Oswalt (3-4, 3.29)