By Jorge Arangure, Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 25, 2006
BALTIMORE, June 24 -- Mercifully, the final pitch of this obscenely long game, one in which only about 300 fans of the 36,290 that had been at the game remained in attendance, was struck to left field by Ramon Hernandez, scoring Luis Matos. That ended a marathon that began at 4:39 p.m. and ended at 10:20 p.m. in a persistent rainstorm that would not pause, not even for a budding rivalry or for the seven minutes it took to finally finish the game.
The game, a 3-2 win by the Baltimore Orioles against the Washington Nationals, had been stopped at the start of the bottom of the ninth when the clock had struck 7:55 p.m., with the Orioles outfielder Matos clutching a bat and Chad Cordero, the Nationals' closer, finishing the last of his warmup throws.
For the next 2 hours 18 minutes, Orioles players dawdled in the clubhouse, some sitting on couches watching other baseball games, others heading to the batting cage for some soft toss to keep sharp. The only thought that kept the players sane was the realization that they would likely have to play a doubleheader on Sunday if the game was canceled. An archaic baseball ruling had mandated that the two teams would have to play an entirely new game if play was suspended for the night. Only the stats from a canceled game would remain. Nobody wanted that.
"We wanted to wait no matter how long it took to play," Hernandez said. "We just hoped the rain would stop."
When the game was finally restarted at 10:13 p.m., Oriole Park at Camden Yards resembled a high school stadium. On one side, sitting behind the Nationals' dugout, were Washington fans clad in red. On the other side were Orioles fans, who desperately cheered Matos to reach base.
Matos had waited in the clubhouse, too, but at one point he went to the batting cage to refresh. He knew the game could hinge with his at-bat. In his head he devised a plan. He would swing at the first pitch Cordero threw.
"But he didn't throw a strike," Matos said. "Good thing he wasn't warmed up yet."
Cordero said it had been difficult for him to warm up and then sit for almost two hours. Worse yet, he had no clue when the game would start again. The rain was constant. Cordero's ability to concentrate in that situation wasn't.
"But that's no excuse for me to go out there and give up that game-winning run," Cordero said.
Cordero first three pitches were balls. He then threw a strike. At 3-1 Matos was determined to swing away again.
"I wasn't thinking about walking," Matos said.
Cordero threw another ball. Matos did walk, and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brian Roberts. Then Melvin Mora was intentionally walked to bring up the slumping Miguel Tejada, who flew out to left field, which brought up Hernandez. Cordero reached a full count against Hernandez. On the 3-2 pitch Matos took off from second base -- and slipped. Hernandez, who had homered in the second, lined a single to left field. Outfielder Alfonso Soriano did not make a throw to the plate. Game over, finally. It was a muted celebration for the Orioles, who had won the game, but had waited through two rain delays totaling 2 hours 44 minutes.
"I was thinking that I didn't want to go back to catch," Hernandez said. "I was tired. I was lucky I hit it where nobody was playing."
It seemed inconceivable that seven minutes of play had almost made the previous 2:50 of baseball mute. It was long forgotten that Orioles rookie Adam Loewen had pitched in with five serviceable innings, allowing just two runs while striking out five. Who would remember that Mike O'Connor, a native of nearby Ellicott City who is staying with his parents during this three-game series, had pitched six superb innings, allowing just two runs on six hits, against the team he grew up watching?
"It doesn't even feel like today at this point," O'Connor said.
What difference did it make that Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman had broken out of an 0-for-16 slump with an RBI double in the third, or that Jeff Conine, the Orioles' left fielder, also stopped his slide at the plate with two hits? Nobody really will remember, either, that Conine had grounded into a double play to end a bases-loaded threat in the eighth, one of two bases-loaded rallies in which the Orioles did not score.
All they will remember is that the game, mercifully, had ended.
"It was a crazy night," Matos said. "It was better to finish up tonight than wait until tomorrow and play a doubleheader."