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Underachievers have no cause to celebrate

TORONTO - The seven-time All-Star second baseman for the Baltimore Orioles spits in the umpire's face after allegedly being called a yet unrevealed but allegedly unprintable name. Then the second baseman says the umpire is bitter because his son died from a rare illness three years ago, and it's affecting his judgment.

The next day, the umpire hears about the second baseman's comments and storms the Orioles clubhouse, raging and threatening to kill the second baseman. The second baseman who spit on the umpire and made the tasteless remarks about his son is suspended for five games but gets to play because he appeals the suspension. The umpire, though, cannot go out and work because of his outburst.

The spitting, tasteless second baseman then hits the game-winning home run in the top of the 10th inning for a 3-2 win yesterday over his old team, the Toronto Blue Jays, to clinch the wild card and the Orioles' first playoff appearance since 1983.

"It was a fitting ending to this season," manager Davey Johnson said yesterday while the postgame celebration went on in the Orioles clubhouse at SkyDome. "All the good parts and the bad parts rolled into one."

It certainly was not a storybook season, unless the book was "American Psycho." The season of high expectations started with Johnson and Bobby Bonilla bickering about Bonilla's role as designated hitter, and it continued from there with little controversies such as the lousy starting pitchers complaining that their catchers couldn't call a game, and then Johnson moving Cal Ripken to third so Manny Alexander could play shortstop – for six games.

By the end of the year, no one liked the manager, including closer Randy Myers, one of Johnson’s most ardent supporters, who complained about being taken out after walking two hitters in a big game nearly two weeks ago against the New York Yankees that Baltimore led when Myers came in but went on to lose 3-2 in New York. "We got hot at the beginning of the season, then we stunk in May, June and July, but we were able to come through in the end," said Myers, who got the win in relief yesterday. "Hopefully, we can continue this." That's quite a description of a season to celebrate, isn't it?

"Nothing came easy this year," said Johnson, who admitted that the Orioles felt more relief than joy after yesterday's victory.

Mike Mussina did his best to make it easy, striking out nine and holding the Blue Jays to one run on four hits through eight innings for a 2-1 lead. Then Johnson sent Armando Benitez out to pitch the ninth inning, and the young reliever gave up a game-tying home run to Ed Sprague.

Johnson said Mussina told him he was a little tired. Mussina, who lost his chance to be a 20-game winner for the first time in his career, said he told him no such thing, that he told Johnson he felt fine. Par for the course.

In the postgame celebration, the Orioles covered themselves with cases of champagne and beer, but nothing will completely wash away the perception that this was a team of whining underachievers with bad attitudes. Now they will play the Cleveland Indians, and the way the Orioles are perceived now, America may actually be rooting for Albert Belle's gang.

Of all the controversies that surrounded the Orioles this year, the one that may hurt them the most is the one between Alomar and Hirschbeck. There were so many lines crossed that the bad feelings will most likely linger for a long time, affecting possibly the Orioles' relationship with all umpires. At the very least, Alomar won't have any friends in blue.

Speaking of friends, in the middle of all the rowdiness in the clubhouse yesterday, Bonilla got on the phone to talk to a friend of his, to thank him for his support. The friend? Owner Peter Angelos, who blocked proposed front-office trades of Bonilla during the season.

"I just wanted to get a chance to thank him for his support and for keeping me here," Bonilla said. "That meant a lot to me."

And who was the person who got Angelos on the phone for Bonilla? Pat Gillick, the man who wanted to trade Bonilla in the first place.

One of the team's star players on the phone thanking the owner who wouldn't let the general manager trade him. A fitting scene, indeed.

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