The Orioles front office planned the festivities surrounding Eddie Murray's 500th home run a month ago; from the streamers at first base, to thevideo clips on the scoreboard, to the graphics of Murray's face on thescoreboard.
The players, coaches and manager did not have that luxury.
Those Orioles eagerly anticipated the game when Murray would become the15th player in history with 500 home runs and the third player in history with500 homers and 3,000 career hits.
But no one knew when that day would come. So, at 11: 47 Friday night, whenMurray sent a line drive over the groundskeepers shed in right field and intothe bleachers, the celebration that took place was truly spontaneous.
So spontaneous that Scott Erickson dropped a plate of food to join theon-field bedlam and Rafael Palmeiro was inspired to herd his teammates on thefield like a bunch of teen-agers in the College World Series.
The players and coaching staff rose from the bench, walked to the dugoutsteps and watched the ball's flight. Then everyone greeted Murray at homeplate.
"When he hit the ball, I was pretty sure it was going out," Cal Ripkensaid yesterday. "I just wanted to see the ball go all the way out. I think insome weird way we've all been anticipating it and expecting it. With the raindelay, and it seemed like it wasn't a full house because of the weather, youlowered your guard for just a minute and didn't think it would be thatparticular at-bat.
"All of a sudden it happened so quickly, I don't think a lot of peoplewere thinking about it. It was a big home run for the team [tying the game],but my immediate reaction was 500 home runs."
Brady Anderson sat on the bench for a few seconds to preserve the momentin his memory. Anderson wanted to have the ability to recall the pitch, thesituation and Murray's home run trot. He also wanted to give Murray his spaceand sensed the slugger wanted to get the celebration over with.
But by the time Murray rounded third base, a mass of Orioles had gatheredat home plate.
"I think Rafael jumped off the bench right away," Anderson said. "He wasthe first one that really knew. He went on the field first and was telling us,'Let's go.' We didn't know what we were supposed to do on a 500th homer. Doyou run out like a college game or just wait for him on the bench? We allwould've run out there eventually, we just wanted to make sure it was out, youknow."
Palmeiro and Bobby Bonilla sent Ripken on his victory lap after breakingLou Gehrig's consecutive-games streak a year ago. This time Palmeiro wasalready on the top step before the ball had reached the warning track andBonilla was the first player waiting for Murray at home plate.
"It was a historical moment and I just reacted to the moment," Palmeirosaid. "When he hit it, I knew it was going out. I tried to organize thecelebration. I tried to get the guys out there. I thought I was prettysuccessful."
Erickson was the last Orioles player to join the huddle. He and injuredoutfielder Jeffrey Hammonds were in the clubhouse when Murray hit the homerun. Erickson sprinted by Hammonds, who couldn't run as well with his soreknee.
"I was in the clubhouse," Erickson said. "I was starving. I droppedeverything and sprinted to the field. We were watching it on TV. As soon as hehit it, I dropped my plate all over the floor. Better late than never. I gotto home plate before [Murray] did, or at least it was close."
Orioles manager Davey Johnson was Hank Aaron's teammate in Atlanta when hebroke Babe Ruth's all-time home run record, and Johnson said only thatexperience rates higher than what transpired at Camden Yards Friday.
Detroit Tigers starter Felipe Lira bears the distinction of throwingMurray his 500th home run. Lira was jogging around the warning track yesterdayafternoon while Murray was waiting by the cage to take batting practice.
Lira stopped when he saw Murray and came over to congratulate him. Theyshook hands, exchanged a laugh, then parted ways.
"It was a horrible pitch -- a split-finger that did nothing," Lira said ofthe pitch that became home run No. 500. "That's a big number to be next to myname. If I throw that pitch 100 times, 99 would go out. He got me."
For Murray, yesterday was just another day at the ballpark. He rarelyspoke about or promoted his charge to 500 homers or 3,000 hits, and now thathe's reached the milestones, Murray still doesn't have much to say.
"Basically, I'm just glad it's over," Murray said before last night'sgame. "It's no big thing. You just go back to playing and hopefully we'll winsome games. You just go about your business."
The business of hitting 500 home runs and compiling a Hall of Fame career.