Win, protest help sweep away sting of bad call

THE BALTIMORE SUN

NEW YORK -- They're even now.

Even in the series, if not quite even in justice.

Who wrote the script for the final two outs yesterday?

Certainly not the umps.

And certainly not Joltin' Jeff Maier.

First, Rafael Palmeiro leaned into a camera well and caught a foul pop-up without fan interference.

Then, Armando Benitez retired Tino Martinez on a medium fly to right, with the catch made by none other than Tony Tarasco.

The only way it would have been more perfect is if Benitez and Tarasco had combined to retire Derek Jeter, the way they almost did in Game 1.

Orioles 5, Yankees 3.

And now the American League Championship Series moves to Camden Yards.

"Hope we can win a third one," general manager Pat Gillick said.

"Two in a row isn't bad, is it?" owner Peter Angelos said, jokingly.

Oh, those wacky club officials could muse about their "sweep" afterward, but their mood would not have been as lighthearted if the Orioles trailed two games to none.

The split at Yankee Stadium took the sting off the disputed Game 1 defeat, and the protest they filed with the league yesterday provided another form of catharsis.

The protest is clever and cunning, just what you'd expect from a team owned by the most celebrated attorney in Baltimore.

It has no chance, but who cares?

Just like the umpires who turned the Roberto Alomar incident into a crusade, the Orioles aren't about to drop their vendetta.

American League president Gene Budig blew it when he suspended Alomar for only five regular-season games.

And umpire Rich Garcia blew it when he failed to see Maier reach over the wall and interfere with Derek Jeter's potentially catchable fly ball.

Two controversies that resulted from poor judgment, if not outright incompetence.

Two controversies that compromised the integrity of the game, spoiling the celebration of baseball that is supposed to occur every October.

Bobby Bonilla, of all people, starkly defined the absurdity of Jeter's homer, asking, What would have happened if it was hit by an Oriole?

"I guarantee you George Steinbrenner would have had that kid on the Throgs Neck Bridge, dangling -- and let's leave it at that," Bonilla said.

Garcia, naturally, received a huge ovation from the Yankee Stadium crowd when he took his position in left field yesterday.

But here's the biggest disgrace:

He signed autographs before the start of an inning.

Let's hear Richie Phillips, head of the umpires' union, talk about the dignity of the umpires now.

The fans at Camden Yards should be all over Garcia, who works third base tonight, all over the entire umpiring crew, all over the Yankees.

Who's going to stop them, the commissioner?

Tarasco actually received an apology yesterday -- not from the league, but from Jeff Maier's father, who left a message on his answering machine at the Orioles' hotel.

"It was cool," Tarasco said. "I don't have anything against the kid. If it was me, I might have leaned out more trying to catch it."

Tarasco smiled.

"Maybe I'll sneak back into 'The Rosie O'Donnell Show' with a giant mitt and try to catch him."

See, the problem is bigger than the kid, just as the problem with Alomar was bigger than his indefensible act of spitting on umpire John Hirschbeck.

The problem is the sport's lack of leadership.

Anarchy would be a step up right now.

Some fans think the umpires are out to get Alomar and, by extension, the Orioles. Plate umpire Larry Barnett practically broke into a victory jig calling out Alomar in Game 1. And then Garcia blew the call on Jeter's homer.

"Fans are fans -- they're going to think that," Garcia said.

No, they only think that because the umpires fueled the Alomar hysteria, with no one -- not Budig, not commissioner Bud Selig -- attempting to stop them.

So it was that Angelos, Gillick, assistant general manager Kevin Malone and farm director Syd Thrift marched into Budig's office yesterday, seeking their measure of justice.

They met with Budig for 45 minutes, then drafted their protest during a four-hour meeting in a conference room at the league's Manhattan offices.

They finally arrived at Yankee Stadium in the top of the first inning, walking the final block to the park after their taxi got caught in traffic.

Their protest is based on section 3.11 of the American League rules.

"No decision rendered by [the umpire] shall be reversed, except [if he is] convinced that it is in violation of one of the rules."

The Orioles contend that Garcia is convinced -- he admitted he blew the call.

Whatever, it looked like the issue might surface again yesterday when Cecil Fielder lofted a pop-up into right-field foul territory in the ninth.

"I was wondering where Richie was," manager Davey Johnson cracked.

On the other side of the field, mercifully.

Palmeiro reached into a camera well and made the catch.

"My teammates said the photographer in the booth was trying to get the ball," Palmeiro said. "They weren't going to get it this time."

They're even now.

Even in the series, if not in justice.

"Justice would be if there was a Game 7 with the Yankees and I had to pinch-hit in the ninth and ended up hitting a game-winning home run," Tarasco said.

No, justice would be if all that happened, and Joltin' Jeff Maier reached over the wall, and Garcia missed him again.

Pub Date: 10/11/96

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