Disputed homer beats O's


After one of his most heated displays of rage in four years as Orioles manager, Mike Hargrove admitted the umpires might have been right last night.

And plate umpire Tim Tschida, who had taken the brunt of Hargrove's wrath, said he couldn't blame the veteran manager for being upset.

The play in question had deflated the Orioles like few others this season.

Aaron Boone hit a three-run homer in the ninth inning off Jorge Julio, pulling the New York Yankees back for an eventual 6-4 victory before a sellout crowd of 47,850 at Camden Yards.

Boone crushed the ball several rows up into the left-field stands, and replays later showed it clearly sailing past the fair side of the foul pole.

But to the astonishment of nearly everyone else in the ballpark, third base umpire Jeff Nelson called the ball foul.

"It's very difficult in a full park to separate the ball from the clutter," Nelson said. "That's not an excuse. But it's hard. I missed it. But that's the challenge of a pole bender."

Yankees manager Joe Torre ran out of the dugout to contest the call, and the four umpires held a brief meeting before Tschida overruled Nelson and called it a home run.

"I'm glad they got it right ... or I might have done something stupid," said Boone, who had gone homerless as a Yankee since getting traded from the Cincinnati Reds on July 31.

Julio, who blew a save for the seventh time in 36 chances this season, looked beside himself, hopping toward the umpires to complain.

Hargrove charged from the dugout toward Tschida, demanding an explanation.

Tschida said Nelson didn't see it, but the other three umpires had seen it go fair.

"So you change it, and you take the heat," Tschida said. "Better to look bad and get the call right."

Later, Hargrove agreed. But the initial lapse in judgment couldn't have come at a worse time.

The Orioles trailed most of the night, with Roger Clemens out-dueling Jason Johnson in a pitcher's duel. Bernie Williams hit a two-run homer in the third inning, and New York's lead stood until the Orioles rallied for two runs in the eighth.

Even that had been dramatic. B.J. Surhoff started the rally with a one-out double. It looked like he re-injured his strained left quadriceps muscle on the play, but after removing Surhoff for a pinch runner, Hargrove said he'd be fine.

Jay Gibbons tied the game with a single off Yankees left-hander Jesse Orosco.

Larry Bigbie put the Orioles ahead, 3-2, with a run-scoring double in the right-center-field gap.

Julio said he had plenty of time to get ready, and he came into the game with 29 saves in 35 chances this season. But Jorge Posada hit a one-out single, Nick Johnson walked, and Boone followed with his controversial home run.

"[The umpires'] job is to get the call right," Hargrove said. "They felt they got it right, and I know, I've heard that the replay shows it was fair. I'm glad they're doing their jobs, and I'm glad you can trust them because they're good umpires. It's just, at that time, it was a little too much to take."

Hargrove stood there berating Tschida before drawing an ejection. He stormed back toward the dugout, throwing his cap toward the plate and then throwing a rectangular batting weight toward the mound.

"I don't expect him to take that lying down," Tschida said. "He's been a good manager for a long time, and that hasn't changed."

Of course, the drama wasn't finished.

Alfonso Soriano gave the Yankees an extra cushion with another home run off Julio, who has given up just six homers all year.

That looked a little bigger in the bottom of the ninth, when Jack Cust connected for his third homer in nine days, a bases-empty shot off Yankees closer Mariano Rivera. The Orioles kept fighting back, as Brook Fordyce and Luis Matos singled, and made it into scoring position.

But Rivera retired Jose Leon and Gibbons to pin down his 25th save in 30 chances.

It was the Orioles' fifth consecutive loss and dropped them a season-high 16 1/2 games back of the Yankees.

Hargrove pulled his team together after the game and told them not to hang their heads.

"I really believe in a loss like that, there are valuable lessons to be learned," he said. "Believe me, you don't like to lose. This sticks just dead in my throat, but for a club that's trying to build and gain confidence, tonight was a very good step, even with the way it turned out.

"We come back against [Clemens], one of the great pitchers of all time. Against a team that's been in the World Series for the last - it seems like - 30 years. We fought them tooth and nail and took the lead into the ninth inning."

And they still lost. That's why the call was a little tough to take.

Orioles tonight

Opponent: New York Yankees

Site: Camden Yards

Time: 7:05

TV/Radio: Ch. 13/WBAL (1090 AM)

Starters: Yankees' Sterling Hitchcock (1-3, 4.98) vs. Orioles' Pat Hentgen (4-6, 4.50)

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