- The Washington Times - Saturday, July 21, 2001

BALTIMORE Forced to postpone a scheduled game for the third straight night because of efforts to extinguish a train fire near Camden Yards, the Baltimore Orioles are beginning to run out of available days for makeup games and are exploring other ways to ensure they complete their 162-game schedule.

With cleanup crews still unable to ensure a safe environment in the ballpark area, the Baltimore City Fire Department informed the Orioles yesterday afternoon that their scheduled 7:05 game against the Anaheim Angels would have to be postponed. It will be made up as the second game of a day-night doubleheader tomorrow, with the originally scheduled 1:35 p.m. game remaining in place and the makeup scheduled for 7:35 p.m.

"This is a very, very serious accident," said Joe Foss, Orioles chief operating officer. "There are concerns about chemical spills. There are concerns about the integrity of the tunnel. [The fire department] doesn't want to have any public safety issues put in jeopardy. So they are very much directing when they feel the area is safe for our fans to come back."

The Orioles and Angels continue to hope they will be allowed to play tonight's 7:05 contest, but given the meticulous approach the crews are taking to extract several potentially hazardous train cars from a 1?-mile tunnel in downtown Baltimore, the team faces an increasing possibility that all remaining games in the homestand will have to be postponed, canceled or moved to another location.

"I think there is a likelihood we could play these games in out-of-town ballparks if this pattern continues," Foss said. "That is a very viable alternative. It's certainly one that I'm not predicting, and I certainly hope it does not come about, and we have not honestly looked that far into losing the whole weekend. We're of the opinion right now that we're going to play [tonight]."

If conditions do not improve enough to allow the teams to do so, day-night doubleheaders could be held tomorrow and Monday. But if the cleanup project continues beyond that point, Major League Baseball would have to look into the possibility of having the teams play extra games next weekend, when the Orioles make a scheduled three-day trip to Anaheim.

Neither the Angels nor the Texas Rangers, who had two games postponed at Camden Yards this week, will make another scheduled visit to Baltimore. Playing the games at Camden Yards would require one-day trips, but there are only a handful of common off days for the teams.

All three are scheduled to be off Aug. 13, Aug. 27 and Sept. 17. A makeup game on the September date would require two cross-country flights for the Rangers or Angels. That is unlikely to be approved. The August dates offer more feasible travel possibilities, but makeup games on both dates would leave the Orioles with one day off for the entire month.

The Orioles made an intriguing request to MLB to play the Rangers in Baltimore on Oct. 1, the day after the regular season ends. That would allow retiring star Cal Ripken to play his last game at home rather than New York's Yankee Stadium.

But MLB denied that request, primarily because that date is typically reserved for games that determine which teams will qualify for the postseason and because it would also require a cross-country flight.

"I've requested it," Foss said. "But I'm not optimistic."

Given all three teams' sub-.500 records, none of the postponed games figures to have a significant impact on the final standings, leading one to believe they don't need to be made up. However, canceled or relocated home games would cost the Orioles millions in lost revenue. Foss said the team takes in an average of $1 million to $1.5 million per home game.

Possibly forced to play less than the standard 81 home games this season, the Orioles are looking into such options as insurance claims and even legal action against CSX, the company that owns the derailed train and the tunnel.

Though officials would not permit the playing of last night's game, the Orioles did hold an hour-long afternoon workout with all but a handful of veterans participating. Three straight nights off gave several players a chance to rest, including first baseman David Segui, who has been out since Sunday with a sore left knee.

Manager Mike Hargrove will not shake up his pitching rotation, meaning Josh Towers Wednesday night's scheduled starter would pitch tonight against the Angels. Jason Johnson and Willis Roberts would start the two games tomorrow, with Jose Mercedes in line to pitch the series finale Monday afternoon.

No one inside the Orioles' clubhouse could recall going through an extended stretch of postponements like this. In his 28 years as a player, coach and manager, Hargrove has been through extended rainouts and snowouts, "but I've never been chemicaled out," he said.

Players have been left as much in the dark as the general public when it comes to postponements. Many arrived at the ballpark the last two days expecting to play only to find out the games were off.

"It's really strange, but there must be something wrong," said rookie outfielder Jay Gibbons, who has been walking to the ballpark along with teammate Chris Richard each day because of the massive traffic backups around downtown. "I guess they just want everybody to be safe."

As for the unpopular possibility of losing off days or being forced to move scheduled home games to the road, Hargrove said, "You do what you have to do. If that's what it takes, we'll do it. You hate to give your off days up, but you realize it's part of the deal."

The team is urging fans holding tickets for last night's postponed game to attend tomorrow night's game. However, those unable to attend the makeup game may exchange their tickets in advance for any Monday through Thursday game the rest of the season, subject to availability. Fans with tickets to either of the postponed games against Texas (July 18 and 19) are asked to hold them until makeup dates are announced.

Despite the threat of more postponements, the team will continue to hold its annual Orioles Wives food drive tonight and tomorrow. Fans are encouraged to bring nonperishable food items to any of the three scheduled games, with proceeds benefiting the Maryland Food Bank.

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