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Surhoff nears end of year, and maybe Orioles career, too

As the Orioles began the season's final home series last night, B.J. Surhoff had no idea whether it also would be his last one with the team.

Signed to a minor league deal in February that included a spring training invite, Surhoff will be a free agent again with no assurances that he'll remain in the organization.

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The only certainty for Surhoff, 39, is his desire to put off retirement. "I'd like to play next year," he said before last night's game against Toronto. "I'm almost positive I will. But I'll see what the offseason brings."

Surhoff started again at first base last night, filling Jeff Conine's old spot. He is batting .297 with five homers and 39 RBIs, but leg and back injuries have limited him to 85 games.

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"I've been happy with the way he's performed," said manager Mike Hargrove. "I haven't been happy with the amount of time he's had to miss, but that's not his fault.

"I think he can still play. How he fits in with what the Orioles are doing next year, that hasn't been determined yet."

The emergence of Larry Bigbie, who is 14 years younger, could push Surhoff out of Baltimore. Also a left-handed hitter, Bigbie would have to play himself off the team next spring.

The outfield also should include Luis Matos in center, and the team has serious interest in Montreal right fielder Vladimir Guerrero, whose arrival would move Jay Gibbons to first base. If Melvin Mora isn't traded, he could play all three outfield positions. And Tim Raines Jr. has jumped back into the picture after a productive season in the minors and a late call-up.

Surhoff lumped himself with "all the other unanswered questions" in the organization.

"I don't know how high I am on their priority list," he said. "They have to decide who is going to manage the club first. They have to decide who the coaches will be. And they'll move forward from there."

Surhoff didn't want to leave the first time, when the Orioles traded him to Atlanta at the 2000 non-waiver deadline. His family still lives in Baltimore, making this the ideal place to finish his career. But he's prepared to move on if necessary.

"Yes, I'd like to play again," he said. "Am I going to limit myself to here? No."

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Bonds due here next year

Barry Bonds will be coming to Camden Yards next season as part of the Orioles' interleague schedule.

The Orioles play a three-game weekend series against the San Francisco Giants beginning June 11 before traveling to Los Angeles and Colorado. They also will see Philadelphia's new stadium during a three-game series that begins July 2.

Bonds, who made his only appearance here during the 1993 All-Star Game, began last night needing four home runs to reach 660 and tie his godfather, Willie Mays, for third on the all-time list.

The Arizona Diamondbacks will visit Baltimore for the first time, and the Atlanta Braves will make another trip after playing host to the Orioles this summer.

The season includes a later start next year, with the first game scheduled for April 5 against Boston at Camden Yards. The teams will play a four-game series without the usual day off after the opener.

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The Orioles end their season with a 10-game homestand against Detroit, Toronto and Boston. The final game is Oct. 3.

Stormy aftermath

Thursday's hurricane-shortened tie game against the New York Yankees will be made up on Friday as part of a twi-night doubleheader in the Bronx beginning at 4:05.

Hurricane Isabel knocked out Hargrove's cable Thursday night but not his electricity, making him one of the lucky few in the Baltimore area.

"I got to spend some quiet time with my book," he said.

Matt Riley, who lives in Edgewater, noted how downtown Annapolis was flooded. "The area's pretty messed up," he said. "The water's up to your knees."

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Driving across the South River bridge, Riley said he spotted a few cars below him. "They were in the Chesapeake Bay," he said. "I looked down and could see them in the water."

Bench coach Sam Perlozzo, who lives in Cumberland during the offseason, assumed his house made it through the storm without any damage.

"My neighbor didn't call," he said, "so it must still be there."

Fans unable to reach Camden Yards last night because of the flooding and street closings can exchange their tickets for either of the two home games this weekend, or any April 2004 home game other than Opening Day, subject to availability.

Last night's post-game fireworks were postponed until tonight.

Ainsworth activated

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The Orioles activated pitcher Kurt Ainsworth from the disabled list yesterday and put him in the bullpen.

Ainsworth hasn't pitched since May 30 because of a fractured shoulder blade. The Orioles acquired him from the Giants in the Sidney Ponson deal.

Meanwhile, reliever Rick Bauer will throw on the side before tonight's game, and if the tendinitis in his right shoulder has cleared, he expects to be available tomorrow.

"I should be able to pitch the last week of the season," he said.

O's top HR seasons

50 - Brady Anderson, 1996

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49 - Frank Robinson, 1966

46 - Jim Gentile, 1961

43 - Rafael Palmeiro, 1998

39 - Rafael Palmeiro, 1996

39 - Boog Powell, 1964

39 - Rafael Palmeiro, 1995

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38 - Rafael Palmeiro, 1997

37 - Albert Belle, 1999

37 - Boog Powell, 1969


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