Frustrations boiled over in a big way Monday night, when two Orioles had to be restrained from going after each other in the dugout and in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse. Jay Payton and Melvin Mora nearly came to blows in the moments after their team's 5-3 loss, but both claimed the incident was forgotten as quickly as it erupted.
"It's no big deal," said Payton, who made the last out in Monday's game. "We've got to learn to play the game the right way and just help each other out. It was a little out of hand, but nothing big -- nothing that can't be patched."
Tempers flared immediately after the final pitch, but Payton was upset with something that happened a moment earlier. The left fielder was at the plate with two outs and the Orioles down two runs, and Mora picked a 1-1 pitch to break from second base to third. Payton took a called strike, and Mora cruised into third base on defensive indifference.
Payton wound up grounding out to end the game, and he appeared to tell Mora that his at-bat had been compromised by the decision to break to third for a run that wouldn't tie the game. Mora didn't take kindly to the criticism, and the players had to be separated by teammates in full view of cameras and then again behind closed doors.
"We've taken care of the particular issue internally. I would think that's a dead point right now," said Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo. "It's not a big deal, really, when you get right down to it. We're together 162 ballgames and all of Spring Training. You probably have more fights with your wife."
The two made up with reporters present in the clubhouse, with Mora hugging Payton and apologizing for his decision. "Jay, I apologize," he said in a private exchange. "I just don't like the way you talked to me on the field." The pair were equally frank on the record, and both explained their perspectives in the immediate aftermath.
"It's my fault because I went over to third base and maybe his eyes were blinking because I was running. I made a mistake," Mora said of the incident. "I thought he was going to throw a split-finger, the same thing he threw me, so the third baseman can cover and he could hit a ground ball over there and we can score a run. ... That's pretty much what happened. I apologized to Jay after the game. It was a little incident on the field and we don't need that now."
"We didn't lose on a baserunning mistake. That's not why we lost the game," added Payton. "The way we lose games, we need to try to correct some of the stuff we've been doing. We've just got to concentrate on getting better at that aspect and help each other. I know I'm not perfect. I make mistakes, and if I do, somebody can jump my stuff and let me know -- do what we've got to do.
"We've got to get better. We can't keep losing games the way we've been losing them."
Most of the tension may have stemmed from Sunday's loss, which saw the Orioles (18-21) take a five-run lead into the ninth inning and wind up with a 6-5 loss. Monday brought more of the same, with Baltimore taking a three-run lead and Toronto (16-22) then scoring five unanswered runs. The clinching shot came on an eighth-inning homer by Troy Glaus.
Payton and Mora were odd sparring partners, though, because they were teammates on the 1999 Mets team that went to the playoffs and again in 2000 before Mora was dealt to the Orioles. They have known each other for most of their big-league lives, and Mora said that their common background should help put the incident behind them.
"Jay and I, we are grown men and we know how to take care of business," Mora said. "We don't have a problem. This is an incident and I hope it doesn't happen anymore because we need people to be together. I went over there to apologize to him because maybe I made a mistake. Maybe it's part of my frustration that we want to win so bad and we want to do something to put pressure on somebody."
Baltimore dominated the early going, with Jay Gibbons breaking a scoreless tie with a solo home run in the second inning and Nick Markakis making it a 3-0 game with a two-run blast in the third. Toronto starter Tomo Ohka settled down after that, and the home team quietly went to work against Baltimore ace Erik Bedard.
Toronto got on the scoreboard in the bottom of the third, when Bedard allowed three hits and two walks. Jason Phillips doubled in the first run and scored on a bases-loaded walk to Frank Thomas. The Blue Jays tied the game in the sixth, when Vernon Wells hit a leadoff double and Troy Glaus drove him home with a single.
Bedard wound up working seven innings and got a no-decision, marking his fifth straight start without a win. His replacement, Danys Baez, gave up a one-out walk in the eighth inning. Two pitches later, Glaus hit the back-breaking shot deep to left field, and closer Jeremy Accardo worked the ninth to seal the game and start the fireworks.
"We need to play the game the right way. And if we're playing the game the right way and we lose, we lose," Payton said. "But if we're doing things that aren't right, we need to try to get better at it -- me and everybody else. I'm not singling anybody out or anything, but as a team, if we're making mistakes, we've got to try to learn from those mistakes and get better."
Spencer Fordin is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.