One of baseball's longest fuses reached its end yesterday, the explosion sending bubble gum flying onto the field and a manager storming into his office.
Lee Mazzilli's first career ejection in 230 games with the Orioles came in the sixth inning of a 4-2 victory over the Colorado Rockies, one batter after Rafael Palmeiro's two-run homer gave them the lead.
Weren't the fireworks scheduled for the first game of the series?
Palmeiro has 560 lifetime home runs, three behind Reggie Jackson for ninth place on the all-time list. Mazzilli has one early exit, and it was dramatic.
"It surprised me," shortstop Miguel Tejada said, "because he never does that."
The man certainly knows how to leave a room.
Chris Gomez pulled a 1-1 pitch from Rockies starter Jeff Francis down the left-field line, the ball coming within a few inches of the pole. Replays showed that it stayed foul, but protests came immediately from Mazzilli and third base coach Tom Trebelhorn.
Players in the dugout watched in disbelief, first at the call, then at Mazzilli's reaction. Criticized privately within the clubhouse, and in print, for not showing enough emotion - most notably when he stayed in the dugout after a disputed balk call on Steve Kline that cost the Orioles a game in May - Mazzilli charged third base umpire Chris Guccione and vented.
"From my angle, I thought it was fair," Mazzilli said. "I thought it hooked around the pole. I'll have to look at it again. It was only off by an inch or 2."
A brief conference among the umpires didn't change the ruling, or Mazzilli's mood. He became locked in a heated exchange with crew chief Charlie Reliford, bringing the ejection and a louder ovation from a crowd of 45,945 at Camden Yards that clearly enjoyed seeing his less tolerant side.
"When your manager goes at it like that, it fires up everybody," said Tejada, whose single in the first inning gave the Orioles a 1-0 lead.
As he reached the dugout, Mazzilli grabbed a blue tray filled with gum and flung it over his shoulder, sending pieces scattering in the grass. A bat boy tried to clean up the mess but gave up after a few handfuls.
"It was just there," Mazzilli said. "I couldn't lift 5 gallons of Gatorade. I wouldn't even try that."
Taking the field for the next inning, with the Orioles' lead holding at 3-2, Melvin Mora bent down and took two pieces of gum before heading to third base.
"The only thing I can say is he threw my gum away. I had to pick it off the floor and eat it that way," Mora said, grinning. "But that's a good thing. I loved it. This is a playoff team. We enjoyed that more than anything."
Smiles couldn't be suppressed in the dugout, players looking straight ahead or turning away so Mazzilli might not notice. Larry Bigbie patted him on the back as he passed. Mazzilli's son, L.J., burst into the clubhouse cheering.
"Sometimes you have to argue, and this was the right time," Mora said. "That's good for us. Sometimes you need protection from the manager.
"We were [angry] in the beginning, but after that, we were laughing because he threw my gum away. But it had plastic around it, so I don't care."
Neither did Gomez, part of the non-chewing sector of the team.
"I saw how much the ball was hooking and just hoped it would get to the pole before it hooked too much," he said. "I didn't know either way. I wasn't surprised it was foul.
"He felt strongly about it. That was a run. If I was manager, I'd feel strongly about it, too."
Asked what caused the ejection, Mazzilli smiled and said, "I can't tell you what I did."
Was it something he said?
"It wasn't Happy Father's Day."
It was a happy ending for the Orioles (41-27) who moved 14 games above .500, tying their season high, after going 5-1 on the homestand. Rookie Hayden Penn improved to 2-0 by making it through the sixth inning for the only time in five major league starts. He got two outs in the seventh and left with two runners on base.
Kline struck out Eddy Garabito, who had six hits in the series, pumped his fist and walked through the pile of gum. Penn's lead was intact.
"What is he, 20?" Rockies manager Clint Hurdle said of Penn. "The discipline, the command of his changeup, the velocity of his fastball. He's got depth and sharpness to his breaking ball. Very good-looking pitcher."
Preston Wilson homered off Penn in the fourth, and Garabito's run-scoring single in the fifth gave Colorado a 2-1 lead. But Palmeiro erased it with one swipe of an 88-mph fastball from Francis (5-5), the ninth overall pick in the 2002 draft.
"For me, it was great. For our team, it lifted us up," Palmeiro said. "The momentum shifted our way."
Mazzilli just made sure it didn't spin in the wrong direction, like a certain fly ball.