-- When Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler collapsed last Sunday while running sprints on a practice field and was taken to nearby North Ridge Hospital, it brought back uneasy memories for some of the team's medical staff.

Seven years ago, Orioles left-hander David Wells needed to be rushed to the same hospital because of a racing heartbeat that was later clocked at 200 beats per minute. According to Wells's account of the story today in New York newspapers, at one point he was "flat-line" and doctors had to use a defibrillator to shock his heart into a regular rhythm.

In the case of both Wells and Bechler, the health problems were believed to be caused by the player's use of a supplement containing the stimulant ephedrine.

Wells survived his scare, had a productive season for the Orioles and is now pitching for the New York Yankees. Bechler, however, did not survive. He died the following morning at age 23, his death setting off a controversy in baseball over the use of ephedrine.

Although Bechler's death is believed to be the first in baseball history caused by heatstroke, as well as the first to be tied to the use of ephedrine, the incident is not an isolated case.

Although Orioles personnel are now working under a gag order imposed by Commissioner Bud Selig with regard to the Bechler case, one staff member estimated that the team has had about four "serious scares" in the past decade involving players who were using ephedrine.

Another source said the team has had to pull players off the field two to three times per season in recent years because of adverse symptoms related to ephedrine use.

"The [Bechler incident] was not isolated at all," said the source. "And these players who say it was are kidding themselves. [Ephedrine] is dangerous, plain and simple."

However, Wells, now 39, said he still uses the drug -- packaged in a product called Hydroxycut -- and he defended its use against increasing calls for its ban.

"It wasn't an issue until this one guy [Bechler] did it," Wells told the New York Daily News. "But he did it all wrong. I feel bad for him and his family and friends. He probably just overdid it. I overdid it, and I had a situation, too. But it's legal. If it helps you out for energy and you want to use it, you should be able to use it. . . .

"People might be getting carried away saying it should be banned. They're blowing it out of proportion, especially [Orioles owner Peter] Angelos, because it's his team."

Veteran left-hander Bill Pulsipher, who is in the Orioles' camp this spring trying as a non-roster invitee competing for a bullpen job, also survived an ephedrine-related scare. Three years ago, Pulsipher, then 26, was in the New York Mets' spring training camp when his wife found him unconscious on the floor of their bathroom.

He was rushed to the hospital, where a tube was inserted in his throat to assist breathing, but was released the next day and resumed workouts four days later.

Today, Pulsipher said the circumstances of his case and Bechler's were very similar.

"It was the same-type deal," the Fairfax High School graduate said. "I was young. I hadn't eaten, and I was trying to lose weight with the fat-burners [stimulants]. The bottle said not to take more than four in a day, but you think if four is good, six must be better. I got dehydrated, didn't drink a lot of water, and I had a little episode."

Pulsipher acknowledged that he has taken ephedra products since his episode, but did not say whether he still uses them. "I'm not defending [ephedrine]. I'm not saying whether it should or shouldn't be banned," he said.

"I'm saying if you take it responsibly, I don't think you would have a problem. But if baseball were to ban it, I wouldn't have a problem with that, either."

Orioles Notes: Bechler's uniform number, 51, was painted on a panel on the right field wall at Fort Lauderdale Stadium as a tribute. The Orioles will also wear a small patch with "51" on their right sleeves for the rest of spring training. . . .

Manager Mike Hargrove said the team will open the spring with second baseman Jerry Hairston as their leadoff hitter, with center fielder Gary Matthews Jr. most likely the next choice if Hairston falters. Hairston hit .291 with a .355 on-base percentage in the second half of last season.

Yankees pitcher David Wells told New York media that, as a member of the Orioles years ago, he nearly died while taking the stimulant ephedrine.