Rain perils Sox hopes, Bird plans


Last night's Orioles-Red Sox postponement was more than just another unwanted rainout. Both teams face some potentially unpleasant ramifications.

For the Orioles, they mostly fall into the nuisance category. For the Red Sox, they mean much, much more as they try to maintain their starting rotation and regain momentum as they chase the Toronto Blue Jays to the wire.

The Red Sox dropped to two games behind the American League Eastern Division leaders last night, when the Blue Jays beat California, 3-0, in 10 innings.

With more weather uncertainty in store tonight, there is a real possibility the Orioles and Red Sox will have to utilize their off-day tomorrow to complete the series. If that happens, the Red Sox would be pressed to find an extra starter down the stretch, when they face the Milwaukee Brewers (7) and the Detroit Tigers (3) in the final 10 games of the season.

Beyond that scenario is the possibility that this current series might not be concluded if the rain does not stop. If that should happen, and the game(s) could decide the division title, the Orioles and Red Sox would have to play here on Oct. 7.

That, of course, would be the day after the "final" game at Memorial Stadium, which is already a sellout.

Orioles manager John Oates admits that such a possibility would affect his starting rotation. "That's a tough one," he said initially, when asked how he would handle a possible makeup game. "It's something that would have to be discussed."

Oates has set his rotation for the rest of the year to give Bob Milacki, his most consistent starter, the honor of pitching the last game at Memorial Stadium. But if the rain persists, and if the Orioles have to extend their season one more day, Oates will make adjustments.

"In all fairness to the Toronto Blue Jays, we'd have to pitch either Milacki or [Mike] Mussina," said Oates. "We wouldn't be experimenting on Oct. 7.

"Actually, it wouldn't create a great problem. I could just hold Milacki back a day. But when would you decide whether to pitch him Sunday or Monday?

"I want Milacki to start the last game, but that won't be my No. 1 priority [if it's possible a game would be played on Oct. 7]. If we're playing a game on Oct. 7, we've got to put our best team on the field."

Like everybody else, Oates is hoping developments in the next 24 hours eliminate the possibility of the season being extended one day. "Rain doesn't do anybody any good at this time of the year," he said.

"When you get to this point you want to play every game [as scheduled]. You want rainouts on Aug. 3 when it's hot, you're tired and your starters need a break, you don't want them at this time of the year.

"On the other side [the Boston clubhouse], I know they don't want a rainout. They don't want to play doubleheaders and have to change their rotation.

"It's just like the farmers. The rain's too late to do any good now."

But when it rains, dreary thoughts tend to surface. And in that regard, Oates' decision on whether to hold Milacki back for a possible makeup game pales in comparison to the front office's dilemma if the rain persists.

Plans for the final weekend, and especially the last day, are very elaborate. The possibility of playing a "real" final game the day after the season is supposed to end would present a logistical nightmare, not to mention rendering the game of Oct. 6 insignificant to the historians.

It's a possibility, however, that won't go away before the rain.

* Since the last three dates of the season are essentially sold out only scattered tickets remain for Oct. 4 and 5), the Orioles have expanded their rainout policy for the current series against the Red Sox.

Rain checks can be exchanged for tickets tonight (or tomorrow if there is another postponement) -- or for tickets other than Opening Day during April and May of next year.

Ticket holders living more than 75 miles from Baltimore can obtain a cash refund by mailing their tickets to the club -- with a return address outside the 75-mile radius.

* Two players currently on the Orioles' roster have been honored the system's top minor-league players of the year.

Chito Martinez is the recipient of the Clyde Kluttz Award, given to the top position player in memory of the former director of minor-league personnel. Mike Mussina is the winner of the Palmer Prize, given to the top pitcher in honor of Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.

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