NEW YORK - Mike Hargrove tucked the lineup card into his equipment bag at Yankee Stadium yesterday, holding it as a keepsake, since he was fairly certain he had just managed his final game with the Orioles.
With a 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees, the Orioles closed out their sixth consecutive losing season, and Hargrove kept the clubhouse doors closed for a few extra minutes so he could gather his players and coaches together one last time, to offer them thanks.
Hargrove finished his speech, and the team broke into spontaneous applause.
He composed himself and went into the visiting manager's office to address the media, where he sounded like a man resigned to his fate.
"I've enjoyed my time as an Oriole," Hargrove said. "Hopefully, it's not at its end, but I've enjoyed my time as an Oriole. Things haven't worked out as well as we had hoped they would, but I think a lot of good work and a lot of progress was made, especially this year. So I feel very good about that."
Hargrove took the team flight back to Baltimore, and Orioles vice presidents Jim Beattie and Mike Flanagan - the two men controlling his fate - drove back together.
The Orioles had hoped to meet with Hargrove today, but plans changed when they learned that Hargrove's father-in-law had passed away this weekend. Hargrove and his wife, Sharon, are scheduled to travel home to Ohio today, so they can gather their family and fly to Texas for Wednesday's funeral.
Hargrove lost his mother earlier this season, and feeling sensitive to his family's state of mind, Orioles officials told Hargrove they would check with him this morning to determine whether they should go forward with the meeting.
"With the recent loss of a family member, we just want to make sure it's the appropriate time," Flanagan said. "If he wants to wait until he gets back from Texas, we would honor that."
All signs still point to that meeting leading to Hargrove's dismissal when it is held. In four years with the Orioles, Hargrove's record is 275-372.
The team has not made a formal offer to keep Hargrove, but during some informal discussions this season, he told the Orioles he wanted to sign a new, three-year contract. At the time, Hargrove indicated he was reluctant to do a one-year extension at his current $1.25 million salary.
Asked yesterday if he would now consider a one-year extension, Hargrove said: "I would have to look at that. I would really have to look at that. It has to be a fair deal. So, yeah, I'd look at it, but I'm not sure."
Told that he may soon have options to manage somewhere else, he said, "That's exactly right. ... And I may not."
With all six major league coaches also holding contracts that expire Oct. 31, some quiet animosity materialized late in the season, as the staff grew restless waiting for Beattie and Flanagan to address everyone's future.
In 10 years with Angelos at the helm, the Orioles have never fired a manager or general manager during a season. If Hargrove was upset with the process, he hid those feelings yesterday.
"Whether I'm here or not, I'm excited about the future for the Orioles," Hargrove said. "I don't wish anybody ill will, I really don't. There's too many good people involved with this effort and this organization to wish anybody ill will.
"I think people that know me know I'm not that way. I can be a vindictive son of a gun. But I don't have any ill will toward anybody involved with the Orioles."
On the field, the Yankees (101-61) were having an entirely different day.
They will open the playoffs against the Minnesota Twins tomorrow, so manager Joe Torre allowed his players to have a little extra fun in the season finale.
Torre, whose team locked up home-field advantage throughout the postseason Friday, let starting pitcher Roger Clemens serve as the manager, with fellow starting pitcher Andy Pettitte serving as bench coach.
This time, Alfonso Soriano hit a two-run homer off Orioles starter Eric DuBose (3-6) in the third inning, giving the Yankees a 2-1 lead, and the Orioles managed just three hits over the final seven innings.
Clemens went to remove Yankees starter David Wells (15-7) with two outs in eighth inning, and the two wound up hugging on the mound. Wells waved his cap to the crowd of 42,394, as he walked back to the dugout, and the Orioles didn't seem to think any of it was in bad taste.
They had their own issues, after finishing the season at 71-91. All season long, players have voiced their empathy for Hargrove and the staff.
Brook Fordyce, who had been benched last season before regaining his starting catcher's job this year, said the team applauded Hargrove's speech yesterday "because he was sincere."
Fordyce added: "I told him, `I don't care if they fire you now; you're one of the better people that I've met.' And I don't say that to all people. He's right up there with guys the likes of [Orioles pitcher] Pat Hentgen, who I respect a lot.
"We didn't see eye-to-eye on a lot of things, but [Hargrove] handled the situation as a human being, and that's all you can ask. He treats everybody fairly, so if people have a grudge with Skip, it's basically their fault."
Hargrove's voice cracked a bit when the questions kept coming about his emotions.
"If I don't come back, then we have nothing to hang our heads about," he said. "We went out and did our jobs, and if the Orioles want to make a change, then that's OK. I mean, really. I'm OK with it."
There was a pause toward the end of the media session, and then Hargrove added, "From the pit of my stomach, and the guts of my heart, I feel like I did a really good job this year. And I feel like everybody else did too."