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Tight games leave emotions O'vershot Fans: Playoff worries have produced so much angst that some Oriole fans can't bear to watch.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

They'd suffered through the blown lead last Thursday, the agony of extra innings on Saturday and the two-run wild pitch on Sunday.

Yet there they were again Monday, punishing themselves with the latest installment in this playoff that seems scripted by Stephen King. And in the bottom of the ninth inning, with another disaster poised to leap from their TV screens like a madman with an ax, some could stand it no longer.

So D. Danard Smith poured himself a stiff drink. Julianne Pritchard yanked at her hair and covered her eyes. Bob Richardson, convinced it was all his fault, excused himself to feed the cat. Evan Steiner sought temporary asylum on the Golf Channel. Rania Webber curled into the fetal position. Tim Lordan agonized over whether the chair or the couch would be the luckiest seat. Still others left their homes altogether, if only to pace madly and gaze into the cool night sky, toward some other, calmer universe where nobody plays this game.

Finally, there was Ken Chodnicki, southbound on Interstate 83, listening to his car radio as pitcher Randy Myers gave up hit after hit to the Cleveland Indians, and the Orioles edged closer to extinction. Nervously he mashed the accelerator ever closer to the floor until his wife ordered him to slow down. He was doing 85.

It all turned out OK, of course. A collective sigh of relief rose from Glen Burnie to Ocean City. On Dunkirk Road in Rodgers Forge you could hear the noise out on the street from several houses at once. At the moment the last out was recorded a cheer even went up in, of all places, Jack Kent Cooke Stadium, where a crowd momentarily preoccupied by radios and mini-TVs was supposed to be watching the Washington Redskins play the Dallas Cowboys.

Yet, the cumulative impact of the previous four games left Andy Osman feeling so spooked that he couldn't bear to watch most of his taped replay of Monday's victory when he slipped it into the VCR yesterday at 1 a.m.

But perhaps it was Chodnicki, 37, who spoke for everyone yesterday. A guy who paces back and forth between an upstairs and a downstairs television when the going gets tough, he announced to his buddies that the last few days of baseball had worn him out. Done him in.

"I can't take it anymore," he said, snapping toothpicks and crumbling his Styrofoam plate at the Gallery at Harborplace, as if suffering through a flashback from one of the weekend games. "I can't do it anymore."

Can't stay away

Which means, of course, that he will be attending today's game at Camden Yards, screaming his lungs out. Because no matter how agonizing or unbearable the games become, the fans keep coming back for more.

Unless, that is, they deem it necessary to forgo watching for the good of the team. Which brings us to superstition. Eventually almost any fan begins to believe that his own actions are as important as those of the players.

That's why Chodnicki's wife won't be going to any postseason games. The Orioles are 0-5 when she has attended this season, he said, "so she's banned." But keeping her away from the ballpark isn't likely to do a bit of good unless Steve Wujek wears his red shorts.

Wujek, a scientist at Procter & Gamble at Hunt Valley, worried that the green shorts he wore during the Indians' streak brought the Orioles bad luck, so he changed into red ones for Monday's game, even after his 8-year-old son scolded him for wearing Cleveland's colors.

Bob Richardson, assistant manager of Border's Book Store in Towson, did his part Monday. "I thought if I left the room during the ninth inning, they would pull it out."

"If we're not doing well, I'll also change chairs," he said, which is the strategy followed by Baltimore accountant Tim Lordan, 30, who concluded that his sofa was the luckiest spot.

"If I don't get tickets to Wednesday's game, I'm on that sofa," Lordan said. "I might even bring the sofa with me if I do."

Some simply can't bear to sit through another moment of some games, no matter where they're sitting.

On the way home from Washington Saturday night, Susan and Joe Markowitz of Westminster were listening to the game on the radio when it got too intense for Susan.

"Turn it off," she said.

"Put it back on," she said two minutes later.

"I can't stand it," she said a few minutes after that. "Turn it off." And so on.

But at least they didn't have to work during the game. Such was the plight of Diane Davis, manager of the Downtowne Sports Exchange, a bar on Pratt Street. By the ninth inning Monday, she said, "I was jittery, a little nauseous. People were asking for another drink and I was almost ignoring them. I was like, 'Just let me see this pitch.' "

Even victory couldn't alleviate her stress. When she got to her Towson home she called a friend on the West Coast, staying up until almost 3 a.m. talking baseball.

Too excited to sleep

Sounds like what's been happening after every game to Tony D'Eugenio, owner of the Guilianova Groceria and Deli in Westminster. After 12-hour days that start with putting on the marinara sauce and soup stock at 6: 15 a.m., D'Eugenio usually goes home to a cold beer, dinner with his wife, Kay, and an early bedtime.

"But these damn Orioles, you know? I have never in my life been so stimulated," he said. Now he stays up for every game no matter how late. Afterward, win or lose, "It's like I just drank a gallon of coffee. Like I just got up in the morning."

No place is spared the tension, including Baltimore's more sophisticated establishments.

At Sotto Sopra, on North Charles Street, where the lights are low and the food is trendy, bar customers shouted at the television Saturday night as if they were in the Stadium Lounge. In the dining room, waiters were going table to table, offering score updates as they asked customers how their meals were.

Which brings us back to Ken Chodnicki and his pals, Osman (the guy who couldn't watch the replay) and Steiner (who fled to the Golf Channel).

They're a little worried about the economic impact of these games. Sure, maybe the restaurants and bars are doing OK, but forget it as far as everyone else is concerned.

"On Monday morning the entire town was grumpy," Osman said. "There wasn't a lot of work getting done because everybody was talking about Sunday's game."

As for this afternoon, Chodnicki said, "You might as well close the place down. When you look at productivity during this series, I think it's a net loss for the city."

Especially when people are worrying about things like what chair to sit in.

Pub Date: 10/15/97

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