- The Washington Times - Friday, May 4, 2001

BALTIMORE Say this about the Baltimore Orioles: They may have wasted a rare opportunity to beat the New York Yankees last night, but they sure created a buzz around Camden Yards, one that had been noticeably absent since Hideo Nomo's no-hitter for Boston on the second day of the season.

The 40,218 who came out to get a glimpse of Mike Mussina in Yankees pinstripes three days before the ex-Orioles ace takes the mound were instead captivated by Jeff Conine's game-tying grand slam and a controversial play at the plate that resulted in New York taking back the lead, Baltimore manager Mike Hargrove getting ejected and the Yankees pulling off a 7-5 victory.

In the end, Orioles starter Chuck McElroy best summed up yet another fortuitous win for a franchise that has made a habit out of pulling out games like this.

"A lot of good things went their way," McElroy said. "There's no use crying about it."

The primary call in question occurred in the top of the sixth, only a matter of minutes after Conine's slam tied the game 5-5. Rookie Chad Paronto (1-1), who had allowed a run to score in only one of his six outings thus far, came in to relieve McElroy. Although he gave up a one-out double and subsequent stolen base to Alfonso Soriano, he seemed to get out of the inning when Joe Oliver hit a shallow line drive to left field.

Brady Anderson made the catch on the run and fired a one-hopper to the plate, missing Soriano by a step. Anderson, third baseman Cal Ripken and shortstop Mike Bordick all instantly began waving their arms to indicate they thought Soriano left the bag early.

"That's the way we saw it, the way Bordy saw it and the way Ripken saw it," Hargrove said. "The one person who needed to see it that way was the umpire, and he didn't see it that way."

Paronto appealed to third, only to have home plate umpire Charlie Reliford signal Soriano safe, setting off an uproar in the stands and on the field. Hargrove stormed out of the dugout and got right in Reliford's face, only to be ejected for the second time this year.

Because third base umpire Dana DeMuth was busy making sure Anderson had caught the ball, Reliford was left trying to keep an eye on Soriano and still make the call on the play at the plate.

"I kind of saw it as soon as I caught it," Anderson said. "It looked like he was already off. But I don't think it was an easy call. In less than about five seconds, [Reliford] had to do three separate things."

The hubbub around home plate put a damper on what had turned into an emotional Baltimore comeback thanks to Conine's heroics. Trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the fifth, the Orioles loaded the bases with no outs off rookie left-hander Ted Lilly.

But Melvin Mora, batting second for the second straight night, struck out looking at a breaking ball and Bordick, batting third with Delino DeShields getting a day off, popped out to first for the second out.

Facing a 2-2 count, Conine drilled Lilly's curveball 431 feet to straight center field for his fourth career slam and Baltimore's first of the season.

The reaction from the Camden Yards crowd third largest of the year was as if the Orioles had just won the game in the bottom of the ninth.

"We had some momentum, we were back in the game, the crowd got back in the game," Conine said. "It was a good opportunity to hopefully get ahead and go on to win."

The good feelings were short-lived. The Yankees scored twice off Paronto, and the Orioles managed nothing against relievers Ramiro Mendoza (2-0) and Mariano Rivera, who earned his seventh save.

Making what was likely his last appearance in the rotation with Sidney Ponson scheduled to come off the disabled list in time to start next Wednesday at Tampa Bay, McElroy was his usual self. He did not allow a hit in the first two innings, then gave up five runs over the next three.

His biggest mistake appeared to be Scott Brosius' third-inning, two-run homer that came on an 0-2 pitch. McElroy's sinker, though, was down around Brosius' knees, leaving the Baltimore left-hander shaking his head as the Yankees took a 2-1 lead.

"You tip your hat to him," McElroy said. "He hit a tough pitch."

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