- The Washington Times - Monday, August 26, 2002

BALTIMORE As he sat in the Baltimore Orioles' dugout during his team's 5-2 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays yesterday, manager Mike Hargrove formulated a postgame message for his players.
Hargrove clearly didn't like what he was seeing as his club was on its way to a third straight loss, and he felt some of his players' minds might have been someplace other than Camden Yards. Someplace like a New York City conference room, where negotiators for owners and players are struggling to forge a new collective bargaining agreement before Friday's strike date.
Hargrove didn't know whether the Orioles were letting the possibility of a pending strike get to them. But, as he told them later, "If this is a distraction, it shouldn't be. Because there's nothing they can do about it. It's out of their control, pretty much."
It was hard to overlook the fact that yesterday's game could be the last of the season at Camden Yards should a work stoppage drag on for more than a month. And Hargrove doesn't want his players especially the younger ones to let that prey on their minds.
He told them as much in a 15-minute postgame meeting that was not so much a chewing-out as it was a fatherly lecture.
"There are a lot of matters out of our hands," Hargrove said. "And the best thing we can do is concentrate on what we're trying to accomplish here right now.
"Hopefully, we have 33 games left instead of just three games left. But make sure to go out and make these the best [three games] that we've had all year."
A number of players, according to Hargrove, are putting too much pressure on themselves, especially at the plate Baltimore's batters managed a total of five hits yesterday, giving them 19 over the last three games.
And starting pitcher Jason Johnson, who absolutely dominated the Toronto lineup the first time through, fell apart the second and third times around, ultimately leaving the game amid controversy.
Johnson, who happens to be the Orioles' player representative, retired the first 10 batters of the game before the Blue Jays put together three hits and scored a run in the fourth. They duplicated the feat in the fifth, with one of the hits coming when third baseman Tony Batista misplayed Ken Huckaby's bouncer to his right.
Batista also was unable to haul in Vernon Wells' sharp grounder to his left in the sixth, a controversial single that brought home the Blue Jays' third run of the game, not to mention a showering of boos from the crowd of 30,812.
The negative reaction only intensified when Josh Phelps tagged Johnson's next pitch 400 feet into the Baltimore bullpen to make it 5-1.
"I saw Jason lose his focus today," Hargrove said. "He started off the first two or three innings and was just lights out. Then they got a little dink base hit here and dump one there, and you could see it was almost like he was gritting his teeth, trying harder and harder and not relaxing."
Ordinarily, Hargrove might have pulled his shaken starter from the game right then and there, but with the Orioles' bullpen in shambles at the end of an 11-game, 10-day homestand, he had no choice but to leave Johnson (4-10) in.
Orlando Hudson came to bat next, and when Johnson followed his scouting report by throwing ball one inside, few thought anything of it. But when his next toss plunked Hudson in the back of his right shoulder, plate umpire Pat Spieler immediately ejected the pitcher from the game.
Johnson, who insisted he had no intention of hitting Hudson, was livid, later referring to Spieler's ruling as "stupid" and "probably the worst judgment call I've ever seen in my life."
Spieler, a Class AAA umpire, was called up to work Saturday's doubleheader and was retained for yesterday's game after plate umpire Joe Brinkman was hospitalized Saturday because heat exhaustion. The four-man crew did not decide to name Spieler as yesterday's plate umpire until about 15 minutes before first pitch.
Asked what Spieler's explanation for the ejection was, Johnson said "because you hit him."
The pitcher's response: "Yeah, I hit a lot of people. Who cares? I'm trying to go inside. It's my fault that I hit him, but I'm trying to establish the inside corner. He said, 'Well, you hit him.' And I was like, 'Yeah, good comeback.'"
Though initially upset, Hargrove later said Spieler "made the right call," even though the manager knew Johnson did not throw at Hudson intentionally.
With their bullpen so overworked, the Orioles were forced to finish the game with three starting pitchers: John Stephens, Scott Erickson and Sean Douglass.
Stephens threw one inning on what would normally be his side-session day. Erickson, who lasted just 1⅔ innings in his last start Friday and already knew his next turn is being skipped over, made his first relief appearance since June18, 1997. Douglass was recalled from Class AAA Rochester before the game for the specific purpose of providing an available arm.
The Orioles placed outfielder Gary Matthews Jr. on the 15-day disabled list before the game and called up Douglass. Matthews has tendinitis in his right wrist, an injury that first occurred during a Thursday at-bat and was aggravated Friday night. Matthews was hopeful of remaining on the active roster, but doctors told him it will be at least 7-to-10 days before he can pick up a bat. He'll have an MRI today.
In successfully fielding Shannon Stewart's game-opening groundball, Mike Bordick set the major-league record for consecutive errorless chances by a shortstop. Bordick, who wound up making six clean defensive plays in the game to extend his streak to 434 chances, took the record away from Cal Ripken.

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