Orioles, Mariners hope to play two after cave-in


SEATTLE -- Orioles manager Johnny Oates, during a recent conversation with third base coach Jerry Narron about the virtual impossibility of a postponement at the Kingdome, told Narron, "The only way a game could get canceled would be if the roof falls in."

A day after Oates' ominous words, a piece of the ceiling did fall and the second game of the Orioles-Mariners series was postponed last night, the first postponement in the 18-year history of the building.

"Little did I know when I said that it would actually happen," Oates said.

At about 7:35 p.m. EDT, or about a half-hour before the gates were to open to the public, a loud crashing sound echoed through the playing field. A 32-by-48-inch tile had come crashing down about 20 rows behind home plate.

The 3-inch-thick tile -- made of wood fiber encased in rubber and weighing about 15 pounds -- had fallen 180 feet.

A little less than two hours after the first tile fell, two more dropped to the empty seats. Gerry Lytle, project superintendent for Pacific Components, Inc. -- the firm doing the roof renovation -- said the pieces were pushed out by his crew after they were left hanging by the first fall.

No one was injured and players continued taking batting practice until the postponement was announced less than an hour before the scheduled 10:05 p.m. EDT start.

The teams, which were not scheduled to meet in another series this season, tentatively planned to play the game as part of a doubleheader starting today at 3:35 p.m. EDT, pending approval of inspectors.

If the inspection were to delay today's start by an hour or more, the teams would be able to play only one game, said Orioles assistant general manager Frank Robinson.

The Orioles play a day game tomorrow in Oakland, Calif., which rules out a twi-night doubleheader.

"They don't know if they'll be able to make the visual inspection in time to play today," Robinson said.

Lytle said engineers installed extra bolts in the affected area of the roof late last night and were expected to decide this morning whether the facility would be safe for play.

The roof renovation has been taking place since September, he said.

Orioles pitcher Mike Mussina said he turned around after hearing the tile crash.

"It was huge, at least as big as this table," Mussina said, pointing to a long table in the clubhouse. "It probably would have killed somebody."

The ceiling tiles are held together by a tongue-and-groove method and a stainless steel clip. They recently were tested by drilling holes and doing a 250-pound pull test, according to King County officials who said the leaking likely led to the damage.

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