With one powerful swing, Roberto Alomar went from spit to shine.
Thousands of O's fans descended on Camden Yard last night to put aside Alomar's vulgar act against an umpire and praise him for a 12th-inning home run that delivered the Orioles into the American League Championship Series.
"O's Magic Spit Happens Bring on the Yankees," declared a huge bedsheet with the black letters, stretched between two poles in front of a makeshift stage last night in a parking lot at the north end of the warehouse at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"We live on Cleveland Street. We painted it in the middle of Cleveland Street," Richard Bateman, a 22-year-old machinist from nearby Pigtown, shouted over the din. "We had to stop traffic to paint it, and we walked it down here."
Gregory Outlaw, 48, an electrician from Bel Air-Moravia, helped Bateman with the banner and urged him to turn it around in view of the Orioles' bus. The bus finally arrived with a police escort at 11: 39 p.m., and, when the team took the stage as the theme from "Rocky" played in the background, the crowd chanted "Robbie! Robbie!"
As players stepped off the bus, the team threw signed baseballs to the crowd. Sam Kelly, 31, of Federal Hill caught one of them: "I never caught a foul ball, but I caught this one." More than a dozen were thrown into the crowd.
After a few comments from manager Davey Johnson, Alomar stood before the microphone as the crowd cheered wildly. He thanked the fans and his teammates before saying, "Now we have two more steps to go to the World Series." The Orioles will play the New York Yankees in Yankee Stadium beginning Tuesday for the American League pennant, with the winner advancing to the World Series.
After Alomar, Cal Ripken stepped to the mike. "I'm kind of glad we won. You know why? So I wouldn't have to explain my big base-running blunder." Ripken overran second base in yesterday's game in the 10th inning and was tagged out.
"We're looking forward to going to New York. We owe them all a little bit," Ripken said shortly before the rally ended at midnight.
Jim Stavropoulos, 39, of Parkville could barely contain himself, jumping up and down and holding his sign aloft: "Welcome to the O's Zone."
The car salesman at Doug Griffith Crysler Plymouth on Harford Road in Carney spent the afternoon watching rather than selling. "When Alomar hit that home run, the TV almost went out into the parking lot."
"Botton line: If Alomar is not there, we don't win tonight," said fellow salesman Ray Kirby, 34, of Brooklyn Park, puffing a victory cigar.
About a dozen people gathered at Baltimore-Washington International Airport to wait for the team to arrive. But they melted away when they learned that they couldn't get close to the players.
Earlier in the evening, from the Fells Point Fun Festival to taverns around the area, fans brushed aside talk of the Designated Spitter.
"Forget about what Alomar did before. It's all history," said Kevin Mead, a 24-year-old bartender from Arlington, Va., one of the fans swarming the Fells Point Fun Festival. "I figured he would win it. After all he's been through, I'm glad he's the hero. He should be the MVP."
"Alomar is the man," said Stefan Hoehn, 23, of Parkside, standing at Thames Street and Broadway. "I can't believe he did it all for the Orioles."
"Alomar can spit on us anytime. He's become a hero. He's put up with a lot, but no matter what, he won," said Andy Partridge, 32, a musician from Carroll County, sipping beer in Souris' Saloon on York Road in Towson, where he watched the game.
At Champion's Bar near BWI,Bob Nash, 24, of Fairfax, Va., played Foosball and nursed a beer as talk turned to Alomar.
"It's very ironic. A lot of people wanted him to sit out," said Nash. "I love situations like this. Had he not been out there, what would have been the outcome?"
Nash's friend, Matt Little, 23, also of Fairfax, brushed aside the whole issue: "The only people reminding him about it are people in the press and some fans from opposing teams."
At Fells Point, many walked between street vendors shouting for joy -- or, in the case of Fyl Mathews and Rich Marcinko, banging a $200 gong specifically purchased for the celebration.
"I just saw the gong last week and decided that it would be the perfect thing for when the Orioles won," said Mathews, a 29-year-old video cameraman from Mount Airy in Carroll County. "Earlier in the summer, I never thought they would make the playoffs, so it seemed like I had to do something special."
The Orioles' victory also marked what 24-year-old Brendan Marr called "the best birthday of my life."
After growing up in the shadow of Memorial Stadium, "I've been waiting for this for a long time," said Marr, who lives in Parkville.
Marr watched the game in the Thames Street Tavern and "went nuts after the home run and nuts again after the last out."
"Now I just need to find tickets to the championship series," said Marr, who attended both playoff games last week. "I'll pay just about anything."
"I think they'll go all the way," said Reggie Elliott, a 35-year-old high school principal from Washington. "They're on a mission. They won't be done until they win it all."
But the Orioles' fans also included some skeptics in Fells Point.
"It was great they beat Cleveland, but I think they're in trouble now," said Mitchell Brown, 14, of Pikesville, a freshman at Baltimore County's Carver Center for Arts and Technology. "They've played badly against the Yankees all year. I think they're going to lose."
Ed "Dutch Potters" Sampson, 44, a cook at Nabbs Creek Cafe in Anne Arundel County, threw back a beer at Shark's Tooth Bar on Crain Highway in Glen Burnie, where he watched all 12 innings.
Sampson said he always thought Alomar was getting a raw deal.
"And the Cleveland fans!" he finally said. "I always thought that Yankee fans were nasty."
"I'm glad we kicked their butt, because I'm tired of hearing about the Ravens," said Jenifer Hindle, 27, of Perry Hall, perched in Jerry D's Saloon on Harford Road.
Her friend, Jana Leonard, 39, of Parkville acknowledged she had her doubts about the O's.
"I thought we'd lose three straight games to the Indians, but today's game proved me wrong," she said. "Robbie won us the games, spitting or no spitting, and that's that."
Pub Date: 10/06/96