TORONTO -- Long after the Orioles lost to Toronto, 3-2, last night, after second baseman Roberto Alomar was ejected and spat in the face of umpire John Hirschbeck, they clinched at least a tie for the wild-card berth.
Seattle, which was the closest pursuer to the Orioles, lost 8-1 to Oakland late last night, reducing the Orioles' magic number for winning the wild-card race to one. Their magic number against Chicago is also one, because the White Sox won last night.
The Mariners can only beat out the Orioles for the final American League playoff spot if they defeat Oakland today and tomorrow, then beat the Cleveland Indians in a makeup game Monday, while the Orioles lose their final two games against the Blue Jays. Then Seattle would have to win a one-game playoff at Camden Yards Tuesday.
The only way the White Sox can catch the Orioles would be if the Orioles would lose their next two games and the White Sox won their final two and won a one-game playoff in Chicago.
The Orioles lost last night in spite of Brady Anderson's 49th homer, which tied a club record Frank Robinson set in 1966.
Alomar presumably will be on the field today, and if the Orioles play the Indians in the divisional series scheduled to start Tuesday. But he may be facing a suspension at some point for spitting in Hirschbeck's face.
Alomar took a called third strike in the first inning, and angry at the call, he began yelling at Hirschbeck as he returned to the dugout, pausing once to emphasize his point. Hirschbeck said later he warned Alomar to quit squawking, several times. On replay, the pitch to Alomar appeared to be well outside of the strike zone. According to Alomar, Hirschbeck
yelled something at him when he was in the dugout, and Alomar responded, "Just pay attention to the game." It was after Alomar's retort that Hirschbeck booted him, with a wave of his right arm.
"I warned him twice at the plate, once going away, once in the dugout, at least three warnings," said Hirschbeck.
Orioles manager Davey Johnson ran out of the dugout, Alomar close behind him, and Johnson and Alomar began screaming at Hirschbeck. Johnson tried to stay wedged between player and umpire, to prevent any physical contact, but as Alomar got close to Hirschbeck, he jerked his head forward and, replays showed, spat in the umpire's face.
Alomar acknowledged spitting. "I'm not going to lie," Alomar said. "He called me a name, and I called him the same name back. They can do anything to you, but you can't do anything to them. I've never seen anyone miss a pitch so far outside." Alomar continued to swear at Hirschbeck as he left the field, while the umpire yelled at Johnson and pointed to the left side of his face -- the spot where Alomar appeared to spit on him. Never before, Hirschbeck said, had a player spat at him. "He spit all over my face is what he did," said Hirschbeck. "In my eyes, everywhere. Twenty-one years, never [before]."
Crew chief Jim McKean said a videotape of the incident is being sent to the AL office.
The last time Alomar was ejected, July 8, 1995, Hirschbeck was the umpire who tossed him. Alomar said he "used to respect" Hirschbeck, but suggested that the umpire's demeanor has changed since he lost a young son, John, on March 7, 1993, to a rare disease called adrenaluko dystrophy.
"I think he got problems with his family after his son died," Alomar said. "I know that's something real tough in life for a person. I don't know, he just changed personality-wise. He just got more bitter."
Johnson said he thought Hirschbeck overreacted, and baited Alomar. "He was very sensitive," said Johnson. "Overly sensitive, to me. Emotions are very high, it's a critical time of the year. When [Alomar] went back to the dugout, I don't think he should've thrown him out."
Phyllis Merhige, AL vice president, said last night that she could not immediately recall a player being suspended for spitting on an umpire. She has not seen the play, and she didn't want to speculate on any penalty.
Merhige would not rule out the possibility that a suspension stemming from an incident in the regular season would lead to loss of time in the postseason.
Hirschbeck's wide strike zone remained consistent, and the Toronto pitchers capitalized. Paul Quantrill shut out the powerful Orioles' offense for 2 2/3 innings, before he threw a running fastball that Anderson blasted over the right-field wall.
The Blue Jays had struck first, in the second inning, when Ed Sprague doubled and John Olerud singled.
Toronto moved ahead, in a bizarre third-inning rally. Erickson walked Alex Gonzalez leading off the inning -- only the fourth walk allowed by Erickson in his six September starts. One out later, Gonzalez stole second.
After Felipe Crespo's single, Carlos Delgado popped out, the second out of the inning, but Joe Carter, behind in the count no balls and two strikes, reached out and poked a fastball away to right field for a single, and Gonzalez scored the lead run.
Erickson then hit Sprague on the right forearm with a pitch, loading the bases. Incredibly, Erickson drilled Olerud on the right knee, forcing across Crespo with the second run of the inning. The Orioles scored a run in the ninth on a double by Eddie Murray, but fell short.
Johnson said: "Scotty looked at times like he had no idea where he was throwing the ball."
Erickson said: "I wasn't too good tonight. I was a little strong. My control wasn't there."
The AL office will soon rule if Alomar's loss of control will cost him, as well.
Pub Date: 9/28/96