- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 18, 2002

TORONTO Most major league teams head into the final two weeks of July nervously, knowing very well how much can change in the days before the trading deadline.

The Baltimore Orioles, on the other hand, came to SkyDome as relaxed and loose as ever, knowing they had a three-game winning streak to their name and a general manager who appears to like his club as is.

Perhaps it would have helped had there been a little more anxiety in the Orioles' clubhouse, because at times during last night's 7-1 loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, they looked like they didn't even realize a game was going on.

"We didn't show up, plain and simple," said manager Mike Hargrove, whose team was coming off a two-game sweep of the American League West-leading Seattle Mariners. "None of us showed up."

Hargrove can only hope his players show up for tonight's game, even if he doesn't. The Baltimore manager will attend a memorial service in Cleveland for longtime Indians trainer Jimmy Warfield, who died Tuesday after suffering a brain hemorrhage. Hargrove, who spent 21 years in Cleveland as a player, coach and manager, will hand over his duties to bench coach Sam Perlozzo and rejoin the Orioles for tomorrow's home game against the Chicago White Sox.

Hargrove didn't feel the need to address his team after last night's debacle but did speak with right fielder Gary Matthews Jr., whose lack of hustle and awareness in the second inning led to an inside-the-park home run.

With one out and one on, Ken Huckaby, Toronto's backup catcher, lofted a sinking liner to right field. Matthews made a sliding attempt to catch the ball along the foul line, missed it, then stood up and watched it sit in fair territory for several seconds. He finally began to walk casually toward the ball, eventually picking it up and throwing to cutoff man Luis Lopez.

"I'm going to be honest: I thought it was foul," Matthews said. "I slid so far on the turf and hit the wall that I just assumed it was foul. I never even checked. It was just a bonehead play."

All the while, the slow-footed Huckaby was chugging around the bases, knowing well that he had hit a fair ball. By the time Matthews threw to Lopez and Lopez relayed home, Huckaby had scored standing up.

"At the time it's not funny," Matthews said. "It puts you in the hole by two runs. But at the end of the night, you can't help but laugh at it."

Matthews wasn't the only Oriole without his head in the game. Geronimo Gil led off the third by tapping a roller just foul down the first-base line. The rookie catcher took a couple of steps out of the batter's box but made no attempt to run. The ball rolled fair on the SkyDome turf, struck first base and was picked up by pitcher Roy Halladay. Halladay (11-4) casually stepped on the bag and retired Gil, who never made it more than 10 feet out of the batter's box.

"On this turf, it's obviously going foul, but you know with the English on it, it was sizzling," Hargrove said. "You could hear it spinning on the bench, and you knew it had a chance to curve back fair."

There was other misfortune for the Orioles on this unusually sticky, 91-degree night north of the border. Melvin Mora, who became the regular shortstop when Mike Bordick went on the disabled list Monday with a fractured kneecap, was charged with an error when he booted a first-inning grounder and threw wildly to first.

It was Mora's second error in as many days after Orioles shortstops had gone 73 straight games without a miscue, and he had trouble coming up with a few more grounders before the game was finished.

The sloppy play appeared to have an effect on Baltimore starter Jason Johnson, who labored through a 5⅓-inning outing that was his shortest in five starts. Johnson (3-7) was tagged for three home runs: Huckaby's inside-the-park affair, Vernon Wells' three-run shot in the fifth and Josh Phelps first career blast in the sixth, though Johnson was hardly to blame for the first one.

Johnson, like fellow rotation mates Scott Erickson and Sidney Ponson, has been discussed as possible trade material heading into the final two weeks of the month. Vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift made a point yesterday of saying he has received inquiries about all three right-handers. But Thrift also said he would have to be "overwhelmed" with another team's offer to pull the trigger.

With his team playing consistent ball Baltimore failed to reach .500 for the fourth time since May 11 Thrift does not appear to be looking to make any major changes, which could mean a quiet couple of weeks.

"I think you have to build on what we have now," he said. "We feel good about the parts that we have assembled."

Notes The Orioles and the city of Fort Lauderdale, Fla., have agreed to extend the team's spring training lease for two more years, ending recent speculation that the club would leave crumbling Fort Lauderdale Stadium in 2003.

The Orioles' short-term future in Fort Lauderdale (where they have trained for seven years) had been in doubt since a large chunk of the 40-year-old stadium's roof collapsed earlier this year. But the team has agreed to pay up to $150,000 of the expected $250,000 cost of repairs and to add a $1 surcharge on each ticket and car parked at the stadium.

The club is also working on developing a plan with the city to build a new complex on the current site, though it has not ruled out leaving Fort Lauderdale when this new extension expires in 2005.

The Orioles recalled outfielder Luis Matos to take the roster space previously held by Bordick. Matos, who hit .214 in 31 games with Baltimore last year, broke the hamate bone in his left wrist March12. Upon coming off the DL, he was sent to Class AA Bowie, where he hit .277 in 24 games.

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