For weeks, the volatile ingredients in the Baltimore Orioles' powder keg had teetered on the verge of an explosion: right fielder Albert Belle's lack of production in the cleanup spot and apparent lack of effort on the field; Manager Ray Miller's growing impatience with both; and the continued free-fall of an $84 million club built around Belle, who is locked into a five-year, $65 million contract with a firm no-trade clause in the first three years.
On Wednesday the explosion finally occurred, when Miller and Belle had an expletive-laced argument in the Orioles' dugout -- part of which was captured on television -- after Belle failed to run hard on a ground ball and Miller replaced him for defensive purposes in the Orioles' 4-2 victory over the Florida Marlins.
Today, the club remained mostly silent on the incident, reiterating Miller's comments after Wednesday's game that it would be dealt with internally.
"It's not something we comment on publicly," General Manager Frank Wren said. Miller could not be reached to comment today.
The most obvious internal move would be to bench Belle for Friday's game at Atlanta, even though Miller has shown an unwillingness to rest Belle this season. Belle has baseball's longest current consecutive-games-played streak (392), and Belle and B.J. Surhoff are the only Orioles who have played in every game this season.
The club also may fine Belle. A player has the right to file a grievance contesting any fine of more than $500.
Terry Belle, Albert's twin brother and adviser, said the incident was "sensationalized."
"Albert likes Ray," Terry Belle said. "If anything happened, it happened in the heat of battle. It's over with. They're going to work it out. They both want to win. It amazes me that this situation is sensationalized whereas 400 kids got to see their first baseball game last month at Albert's finance and it didn't make the papers, even when there were press releases. . . . It's unfortunate that this is the only time people want to talk to Albert."
The incident occurred in the ninth inning, with the Orioles leading 4-2 and runners at first and second with two out. Belle grounded sharply to third baseman Mike Lowell, slowed down to a jog, then tried to hustle when Lowell's throw pulled first baseman Kevin Millar off the bag. Belle was beaten to the bag by Millar.
As Belle began to walk to right field for the bottom half of the inning, Miller sent in Rich Amaral as a defensive replacement -- something Miller said he was planning to do before Belle's ground ball ended the inning -- which forced Belle to make the long trek from right field to the Orioles' dugout.
While it was unclear who started the argument, Belle and Miller had an expletive-laced shouting match, some of which was picked up by HTS microphones (though never aired). Miller walked away with a wave of his hand in Belle's direction, and teammate Jeff Reboulet pulled Belle in the opposite direction.
Approached for comment after the game, Belle told reporters, "Get the [expletive] away from my locker. I'm not going to talk to you [expletive] [expletives]."
Belle stopped talking to the media after an incident in spring training in which he threw a glove and bats into his locker, in full view of reporters, following a strikeout during an exhibition game.
Also this season, Belle threw a beer bottle through a television set at Tampa Bay's Tropicana Field following a loss. Belle immediately paid for the damage.
In recent weeks, Belle has hung a sign near his locker at Camden Yards, informing media seeking interviews to consult his Web site.
Belle's teammates -- who have regarded him with a mixture of puzzlement, wariness and obligatory respect this season -- seemed mostly amused by Belle's tirade at the media after Wednesday's incident.
Reliever Mike Timlin, within full earshot of Belle, good-naturedly chastised the media about forgetting the message on Belle's sign at Camden Yards. Catcher Lenny Webster joked that the argument was only a discussion about a fishing trip.
Other Orioles players said privately that Belle was clearly in the wrong and should be punished for showing up Miller, who has staunchly defended Belle this season. And one member of the Marlins after the game called Belle's lack of effort "pathetic."
Belle often has jogged out ground balls this season when it appeared he would be easily thrown out. However, on several occasions bad throws would have allowed Belle to reach first safely had he been running hard.
The Orioles might be more willing to overlook such lapses if Belle were hitting as advertised. The most prolific run-producer of the 1990s is hitting .244 with 10 homers and 35 RBI, which projects to 28 homers and 98 RBI, far below recent seasons. He also is hitting just .221 with runners in scoring position, and has one home run in his last 21 games, spanning 94 plate appearances.