The opening of Camden Yards in 1992 marked the first year that I purchased at 13 game mini-plan with the Orioles. No longer would my trips to Baltimore be an ad hoc, when you can squeeze it in, affair. Now I would be sure of seeing at least a dozen or so Orioles games sprinkled throughout the season. One result of this was that I actually started to take an interest in the Orioles for their own sake. All during the 1970s and 1980s they had just been the team which, along with rthe Yankees, were always in the way of my Red Sox. When the Birds went to the World Series in 1979 and again in 1983, I had hardly even cared. Now however that started to change. And I began to hope. Hope that the Birds would make the playoffs and perhaps the World Series. I had never (and still have never) seen a World Series game and the Birds represented my best hope. Actually I had never even seen a playoff game up to that point.
When the 1996 season came to a close, to my delight, the Orioles had secured a Wild Card spot in the playoffs. However my being able to see a postseason game was still not guaranteed. As a thirteen game plan holder, I was assured of tickets to two playoff games. One would be for a World Series game. The other was for the first game to be played in Baltimore of the League Championship Series (aka. “the second round”). To get that far the Orioles would have to get past Cleveland in the Divisional Series. Cleveland was still considered the class of the league but Baltimore pulled off an upset by winning the series three games to one. I can recall listening to the final game on the radio and the euphoria I felt when the Orioles won. I would get to see a playoff game at last!
The game would be Friday evening October 11 against the Yankees who had defeated Texas in their first round match-up. The first two games were played at Yankee Stadium. This would be game number three. To fully appreciate the mood of that evening it is necessary to mention two lead-up events. On the last Friday of the regular season Roberto Alomar had an altercation with umpire John Hirschbeck. In the heat of the moment, Alomar spit at Hirschbeck and was thrown out of the game. He later received a suspension but it was deferred until the following spring.
The other incident had occurred in the first game of the Yankee series, two days earlier. This was the famous Jeffrey Maier incident where a twelve year old boy had reached out onto the field at Yankee Stadium and deprived the Orioles right fielder a chance to catch a fly ball. Umpire Richie Garcia, in what has been universally acknowledged as a bad call, ruled it a home run. The play was instrumental in the Yankees winning the game.
Even the most casual Orioles fan bristled with righteous indignation. The thing that upset me the most was not the missed call. That is part of baseball. It happens and no one has ever suggested that the umpire was not trying to do his best. It was just an honest mistake. What was so upsetting was the way the Yankee management and media made an instant hero out of this kid. It was like rubbing salt in the wound and brought back all my old Yankee animosities. However the Orioles did manage to win game two at the Stadium, so the Series stood even at a game apiece as Friday dawned.
I deliberately went into work early that Friday, so I could leave early for Baltimore. I was a bit concerned about parking. I knew it would be a standing room only crowd and my favorite parking lot had just been confiscated by the Baltimore Ravens so they could build their miserable football field. The net result is that I arrived and parked my car several hours before game time. As a result I had plenty of time just to stroll around the proximately of the ballpark and soak in the atmosphere. I do not think I had ever seen Baltimore so pumped up for a ball game. Everyone seemed to be in an upbeat, almost festive mood. Hawkers were selling T-shirts with the words “Spit Happens” on them. Others were selling placards with the words “Get Nasty”. There were a number of strolling musicians adding to the atmosphere. It was upbeat and fun.
In a way the game itself was almost an anti-climax. There was a heavy police presence and fans were prevented from bringing in their “Get Nasty” signs. The authorities were definitely determined that things would not get out of hand.
The Orioles drew first blood on a two run homerun in the first inning by Todd Zeile. Then they hung on gamely behind Mike Mussina until the eighth inning. With two out, the Yanks suddenly pulled off four straight hits capped by a Cecil Fielder homerun, before Davey Johnson could get a relief pitcher in there. I remember feeling at the time that a quicker hook on Mussina (it was the eighth inning after all) had been called for. That was the ball game as Yankees starter Jimmy Key was virtually unhittable after the Zeile homerun.
As it turned out, that was pretty must the series. The Yankees won the next two games rather easily and it was over. While I was disappointed about still not being able to see a World Series game, I had at least finally been able to see a post season playoff contest. I also felt that the Orioles were a sound club and would be in the hunt the following year. That indeed proved to be the case.