Life for the Orioles slipped into another phase yesterday. The morning after playing the Cleveland Indians in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series, they filtered into the clubhouse and played post office.
Large cardboard boxes were dragged in front of lockers, filled with clothing, equipment and other personal belongings, and taped shut.
Randy Myers was writing his address on one shipment when former Oriole Al Bumbry greeted him with a box of baseballs. Bumbry needed the closer's signature and apologized for not doing it sooner.
"I counted the chickens before they hatched," he said. "I thought you guys would be around here another couple of weeks."
Talk about a sore subject.
Rather than head to Florida for the World Series, where this wire-to-wire season was supposed to connect, the Orioles were going home, scattering in all directions and wondering how many would meet back at the same place.
Myers was departing for Vancouver, Wash., eager to resume a busy off-season schedule that gets him out of the house by 7: 30 a.m. and sometimes doesn't end until hours after sundown. Scott Kamieniecki was off to Flint, Mich., saying he wanted to get reacquainted with his wife and play dad to his two sons. Both pitchers are free agents. Neither is sure what the future holds.
Mike Mussina changed into an old T-shirt and shorts and hustled to the weight room, joking that he had been picked up by the Indians, and would be pitching games 1, 4 and 7 of the World Series. Chris Hoiles, wearing overalls and a cap turned backward, targeted a date in November for his first hunting trip. Hitting coach Rick Down spoke of the phone call he's supposed to receive in the middle of next week from the Toronto Blue Jays, who want to interview him for their vacant managerial position.
The conversations flowed easily and without the pained expressions that were worn the previous night after the Indians' 1-0, 11-inning victory that stamped their ticket to Miami. But the residue of disappointment and frustration remained.
"I think we're feeling a little bit of everything," Hoiles said.
Armando Benitez and scout Carlos Bernhardt were early arrivals at Camden Yards, gathering their belongings for the trip to San Pedro de Macoris in the Dominican Republic. For both men, the journey would be longer than usual. Benitez lost twice in the series, giving up a home run to Tony Fernandez in Game 6 to seal the Orioles' fate. Bernhardt, a father figure to the young reliever, suffered with every pitch.
"He's doing fine. It's no problem," Bernhardt said, assuredly. "I don't have a problem with Armando. He's grown a lot. Anybody can make mistakes and he's learned from them. I don't worry about him now. He's not a kid anymore, he's a man."
Hoiles won't be going home to Bowling Green, Ohio, until he's able to "tidy up" his townhouse in Timonium. Expecting to be left unprotected in the November expansion draft, the catcher's not sure whether he'll still be an Oriole next year.
"I hope I am, but anything could happen," he said.
Like so many of his teammates, Hoiles will be replaying the sixth game in his mind for a long time, "and the whole series, for that matter," he said. "Everything seemed to go their way and go against us."
"I believe in fate," said reliever Alan Mills, "but the [heck] with fate. I want to see the World Series."
He'll be watching it on television again this year. So will Rafael Palmeiro, if the images don't prove too disturbing.
Palmeiro brought his two sons to Camden Yards, sending them JTC off to the batting cage while he packed. There wasn't a more solemn Oriole from among the group that showed up yesterday, his repeated failings with runners on base still gnawing at him.
"It's going to be hard to forget this one," he said. "Last year, we got beat [by New York]. This year, we gave it away. This is hard to swallow."
Bernhardt said he called Benitez on Wednesday night after the Orioles had been eliminated and posed a question: "Did you learn from this?"
"He said, 'Yes, I got beat without my best pitch, my fastball.' I told him that's part of the game. We're all human. We can make mistakes. You've just got to be ready for next year," Bernhardt said, his voice lowering.
"I wish I could say next day, but it's got to be next year."
Pub Date: 10/17/97