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Like all else, 'Noah' McKean's patient plan gets all wet


When he walked into Memorial Stadium at 3 o'clock yesterday afternoon, more than anything else Jim McKean wanted to say two words -- "play ball."

Almost six hours later, at 8:45, the chief of the umpiring crew assigned to work the series between the Orioles and Boston Red Sox had no choice but to surrender to the elements.

Last night's postponement, the second in a row for the Orioles and Red Sox, meant rescheduling a doubleheader this afternoon, on what was supposed to be an off-day for all concerned. Everybody involved wanted to play last night, all for different reasons.

The Red Sox would have rathered played two and had a day off before continuing their chase of the Toronto Blue Jays with a weekend series in Milwaukee. The Orioles, suddenly taking a beating from the weather, would have liked to salvage the advance gate (about 25,000) by at least playing one game.

McKean and his crew (Ken Kaiser, Vic Voltaggio and Jim Joyce) were looking forward to a chance to get home on their last off-day of the season. But, in the end, after a wait of 3 hours and 40 minutes from the scheduled 5:05 start, one factor ruled the day.

"You have to take the most logical way out," said McKean. "Common sense has to enter into it. If we were going to start, we had to try and play a doubleheader because that's what was scheduled. You can't just play one and then say the field was unplayable for the second game when you just finished playing for three hours.

"There are a lot of variables to be taken into consideration," said McKean. "If we had started at 10 o'clock, we could've been on the field until 5 o'clock in the morning -- and that's without extra innings."

It didn't make any sense to McKean to risk playing until daylight (would you call that a night-day doubleheader?), so when the expected break in the rain front didn't materialize he had no choice.

"I'm known as a guy who will wait," said McKean. "I don't have anywhere to go -- let's play if we can. I'll play in Noah's Ark if it's possible. I have that reputation.

"But there were three factors involved -- the time factor, a bad [weather] forecast and a pennant race. I'm not going to warm a pitcher up in the rain. And I don't want to have to start a game, have it go three innings, and have a manager lose a pitcher for one turn."

In the case of the Red Sox that latter point was doubly meaningful because the pitcher in question was Roger Clemens, the staff ace who could've lost one of his final three starts had play started last night.

As it turned out, McKean's decision was proven to be the correct one. "We weighed all the possibilities," he said. "We were in constant contact with [American League president] Dr. [Bobby] Brown."

The decision to play or not, or how long to wait, was entirely up to McKean, which is always the case the last time teams are scheduled to meet. The American League's 1 a.m. curfew is also waived in these instances, so McKean could've waited as long as he thought was practical.

Almost four hours, he decided, was more than long enough. "The unwritten code is you wait two hours and then start thinking about a decision one way or the other," said McKean.

"If we had tried to play two games we could easily have been on the field until 5 o'clock in the morning. If we had played one, we could've been there until 2, and had to come back and play again in 10 or 11 hours.

"You take the most logical way out," said McKean. "I'm not going to have the teams on the field at 5 a.m. and I'm not going to take the chance of losing a pitcher in the middle of a pennant race. That's a consideration you'd give to any team in the Red Sox's position. You try to do what's fairest to both sides. In this case, I think almost four hours was long enough to give the Orioles a chance to get their gate, and they were good about it.

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