The ball traveled 60 feet, tops, but it set in motion a torrent of reactions.
The wrong Alomar got a non-call from the umpires.
The Orioles got even for an injustice that occurred when Richard Nixon was in the White House.
The Indians? They thought they got jobbed, but they didn't.
All that came out of one play yesterday at Camden Yards: An eighth-inning grounder by B. J. Surhoff that traveled to the pitcher's mound.
It started out as a double-play ball that could have devastated the Orioles.
It ended up as the difference in the Orioles' 7-4 victory that gave them a 2-0 lead in their American League Division Series and put them one win away from a knockout of the favored Indians.
Baseball doesn't get any more maddening or ironic than this.
Rule books were searched, 27-year-old ghosts were summoned and the American League playoffs were turned upside down, all because of one little dribbler.
And then, to top it all off, there was Roberto Alomar's explanation for what happened: "Everyone makes mistakes."
No kidding, Robbie.
But Alomar wasn't defending his own, well-known "mistakes" this time; he was defending one made by his brother, Sandy, the Indians' catcher and the central figure in The Play.
It all started when Surhoff tapped a 1-1 pitch in front of the plate with the bases loaded, none out and the score tied, 4-4, in the bottom of the eighth.
"It was a double-play ball, for sure," Sandy Alomar said.
Indians pitcher Paul Assenmacher fielded it and tossed it to Alomar at home for one out, and then Alomar turned to throw out Surhoff at first and complete the double play.
Alomar was unable to see first baseman Jeff Kent, he said, because Surhoff was running inside the foul line, against the rules.
"Players do that sometimes to try to get an edge," Orioles catcher Chris Hoiles said.
"I don't know where I was running," Surhoff said. "I was just running."
Alomar tried to throw Surhoff out, but the ball bounced short of the bag and skipped by Kent. One run scored, and two more scored later in the inning.
The Indians argued that Surhoff should have been called out for interfering with the play.
"The guy was inside the line," Assenmacher said.
But baseball rule 7.09 (k) says interference is called only when a runner "interferes with the fielder's chance" to make the play, and that wasn't the case this time.
The throw was well inside the line, forcing Kent to stretch toward second base to try to catch it.
As much as Surhoff clearly was inside the line, he didn't force the error.
"[Surhoff's] being inside the bag has to prevent [Kent] from catching the ball," first base umpire Tim Tschida said. "In our judgment, it was just an errant throw."
Only a lenient call would have saved the Indians.
Roberto Alomar wouldn't expect one after spitting in an umpire's face last week.
But it was his brother, Sandy, who didn't get the break yesterday; the same Sandy who denounced Robbie's spitting incident as "a terrible thing my brother has done."
And Sandy didn't even argue the call yesterday.
"He made it fast, so he was sure," Sandy said. "I don't argue that. Maybe you have to hit [the runner] in the back to get that call, anyway."
Hoiles said: "And you don't even get it then sometimes. You don't get an interference call 90 percent of the time you think you should."
Orioles fans with memories know all too well that you don't always get the call even when you hit the runner. One of the most infamous plays in Orioles history involved such a non-call in Game 4 of the 1969 World Series.
The Mets and Orioles were tied in the bottom of the 10th when the Mets' Jerry Grote led off with a double and teammate J. C. Martin laid down a sacrifice bunt. Orioles pitcher Pete Richert fielded the bunt, threw to first and hit Martin, who was running inside the foul line. The ball bounced away and the winning run scored.
Orioles manager Davey Johnson, then the Orioles' second baseman, was covering first on that play.
"Martin was definitely in the line, and they didn't call it," Johnson said. "If you can't call it when it hits the guy in the middle of the back, then you have problems. But if you expect to get the call when it's about five feet from him, that's stretching your imagination a little bit."
Elrod Hendricks was the catcher on that play. He was the Orioles' bullpen coach yesterday.
"We argued like crazy," he said. "J. C. was so far inside [the foul line] that he was running on the grass. The ball hit him in the wrist. He interfered much more than [Surhoff] ever did today. And we never got that call."
Twenty-seven years later, someone else didn't get the call.
"Sandy should have drilled [Surhoff] in the back," Hendricks said. "He would have gotten the out, given the other guy a backache and not gotten the error."
Alomar said he did consider throwing at Surhoff to draw the interference call.
"I could have thrown at [Surhoff] or just held the ball," Alomar said. "I elected to take the risk. You don't have time to think. It's just instinct. I decided to throw the ball. I guess I made the wrong decision."
An interference call would have left the Orioles with no runs across, two outs and runners on second and third. Instead, they had one run across, one out and runners on first and third.
"That play was the ballgame," Hendricks said. "You never know what the call will be on that play. But it worked out for us."
Did it ever.
It gave the Orioles a lead they never lost.
It left the Indians wondering if they were destined to get any breaks in this series.
And it left the Orioles one win away from punching the big-shouldered Indians right out of the playoffs.
The text of the baseball rule that covers the play on which the Orioles scored the go-ahead run when catcher Sandy Alomar threw wide of first base on an attempted double play:
7.09 It is interference by a batter or a runner when --
(k) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line and, in the umpire's judgment, interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, or attempting to field a batted ball.
Pub Date: 10/03/96