NEW YORK -- The face of umpire Rich Garcia appeared in the Orioles' clubhouse minutes after last night's game, on two closed-circuit televisions, and players and coaches immediately became silent. They wanted to hear Garcia explain to reporters, in another part of Yankee Stadium, his ruling on a controversial play that proved pivotal in Game 1 of the American League Championship Series.
Garcia said that, as it happened, he didn't see 12-year-old Jeff Maier reach his glove over the glove of Orioles right fielder Tony Tarasco and knock the ball into the stands. He didn't see any interference on a play that turned Derek Jeter's deep fly into a game-tying homer in the eighth inning. He didn't see any interference on a play that may have turned the Orioles from Game 1 winners into losers.
But, Garcia added, he did see interference on the replay.
Garcia finished, and a couple of Orioles turned and walked away. Bench coach Andy Etchebarren shook his head in disgust.
Three innings after Garcia's controversial ruling, Bernie Williams bashed a high slider by Randy Myers over the left-field wall, and the Yankees won, 5-4. Technically, Game 1 is not over. The Orioles have protested the controversial play, manager Davey Johnson saying his understanding was that fans would not be allowed in the front of the right-field stands. AL vice president Phyllis Merhige said the Orioles must file a written protest within 24 hours, before the league will make a ruling.
Johnson, who does not expect to win the protest, said, "I'm protesting the fact that [the Yankees] did not have [security] there to prevent that from happening."
Game 2 of the best-of-seven series is today, with the Orioles' David Wells pitching against New York's David Cone. Garcia will umpire in left field, where he is sure to get a warm greeting from Yankees fans.
The Yankees trailed 4-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning, but the Orioles' lead was precarious. The Orioles hadn't played well, their defense giving away single runs in the first and second innings. Armando Benitez walked across a run with two out in the seventh.
Benitez struck out Jim Leyritz leading off the eighth. Five outs -- that's how many the Orioles needed to win, and take control of the series.
Jeter walked to the plate, having hit two singles to the left side, but when Benitez threw him a fastball away, Jeter lined a high drive to right. Tarasco drifted back to the wall, setting himself at the base of the 9-foot-high fence, then reached up, preparing to make the catch.
A glove flashed out from the stands above him. Jeter's drive bounced off it, a right-handed glove owned by the 12-year-old Maier, and skipped over the wall, like an eight-ball skittering off a pool table. Garcia, charged with calling all plays in right field, immediately signaled home run.
Tarasco jabbed a finger in the air, pointing to where the fan had reached out, and then rushed Garcia, mad with disbelief. Center fielder Brady Anderson ran over as well, as did Benitez and manager Davey Johnson -- a flock of Orioles gathered in the right-field corner arguing the call, as fans bombed them with debris, everything from cups full of soda to hot-dog wrappers.
Again and again, Tarasco demonstrated for teammates and other umpires how he had reached up, set himself to make the catch, and how the ball disappeared.
"To me," Tarasco said later, "it's like a magic trick, because the ball disappeared out of thin air.
"Merlin must have been in the house. It was like abracadabra."
Presto. Tie game.
As Johnson screamed at Garcia -- eventually, he would be ejected -- some of the Orioles' bench-warmers hustled to the clubhouse to watch a replay on television. They ran back and reported to those in the dugout what the Orioles already suspected: Maier clearly had reached out into the field of play and deflected the ball into the stands.
After the game, Garcia said he didn't see the fan reach out. But he added that he had seen the replay, "and I still don't think he [Tarasco] could catch the ball."
Tarasco was adamant, saying he was "absolutely positive" he was going to catch the ball. "I completely disagree with [Garcia]," he said.
Garcia said that if he had benefit of replay, he "probably would have called fan interference and I wouldn't have called the guy out, just from what I saw -- and I saw it only once. If I think the ball is going to hit the wall and the fan interferes, I can call fan interference and we will award bases we think the batter would advance."
Johnson looked stunned afterward, his voice slightly hoarse. "All I know, in watching my right fielder, he was under the ball and just on his tiptoes to catch it. If it would have hit the top of the wall, he would have jumped."
Yankees closer John Wetteland shut down the Orioles in the ninth. Mariano Rivera took over in the top of the 10th, and the Orioles never got a runner past second.
The way the fans were cheering, the way the music was blaring, the way Tarasco kept looking over at Garcia and then away, in disgust, it was as if the Orioles were waiting for the decisive blow.
Williams finally delivered it, leading off the bottom of the 11th. Myers, who usually pitches one inning at a time, pitched 1 2/3 last night, and he threw a high slider to Williams. "I wanted to get it down," Myers said later.
Williams launched it high and deep to left, and the Yankees fans roared when it fell.
The Orioles walked off the field slowly, catcher Mark Parent waiting at the top step of the dugout as a small army of riot police filed onto the field.
Anderson gave Garcia the benefit of the doubt. "It's a judgment call," he said. "It's a tough call."
Anderson was asked if it affected the outcome.
"It definitely made a difference," Anderson said.
Technician Jeff Nelson operates the videotape equipment for the Orioles, and he repeatedly ran back the play for anyone who asked, coaches, players, front office officials.
General manager Pat Gillick stood in front of the machine for 10 minutes, asking Nelson for one replay after another, from all different angles. "Slow it down," said Etchebarren. "Slow motion."
And Nelson slowed it down, frame to frame, and Gillick, bending forward with his hands on his knees, his face a foot or two away from the screen, saw the play again -- the glove flashing out, the ball caroming into the stands.
Gillick finally walked away and into Johnson's office. Nelson stood up, momentarily off duty. "I'm going to wear out that tape," he said.
As the Yankees and Orioles played out the final two innings, Maier, months away from his 13th birthday, talked to reporters, looking as if he had just hit a home run in the Little League World Series.
Will the Orioles be angry with him?
"I don't know why they'd be mad," Maier said. "I'm just a 12 1/2 -year-old kid trying to catch a ball."
Pub Date: 10/10/96