BALTIMORE, MD - SEPTEMBER 28: Members of the Baltimore Orioles celebrate after defeating the Boston Red Sox 4-3 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on September 28, 2011 in Baltimore, Maryland. (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
Well, it happened. The Orioles spoiled the Red Sox playoff hopes. The Orioles beat the Red Sox five out of the last seven times they played them, giving the Rays time to claw their way back to a wild-card tie. And thanks to two very dramatic finishes tonight, the Red Sox will be joining the Orioles in making golf plans for next week.
I've mentioned this before, but my favorite player to watch blow a game is Jonathan Papelbon. His antics on the field are so off-putting that I can barely stand to look at his face. So it made it even sweeter that the Red Sox hopes ended with him on the mound. Even better, on my way into the ballpark tonight I saw Mr. Andino waiting in the lobby to go watch his son play baseball. When Robert Andino singled to left field and Nolan Reimold came racing around third to score the winning run, I thought of Mr. Andino watching his son. I love baseball.Alfredo Simon got the start for the Orioles tonight, opposing Jon Lester. Now...that doesn't really seem fair, does it? Ah, I'm an Orioles fan, I'm used to it. Simon started the game by quickly retiring the first two batters, then on a 1-2 pitch to David Ortiz, he threw strike three. Oh but wait! John Hirschbeck didn't call it strike three, he called it ball 2. Ortiz went on to walk. He didn't score, but I think the non-call is worth mentioning in considering it was the start of a trend tonight. If EME were writing this recap, he'd call this trend "Bud Selig's memo that the Red Sox must make the playoffs." But I'll just say something weird was happening.
J.J. Hardy doubled with one out in the bottom of the first inning, but then Nick Markakis struck out looking for the second out. But was it a strike? I guess maybe. Vladimir Guerrero grounded out on the first pitch to end the inning.
The Red Sox got on the board first in the top of the third. 9th place batter Mike Aviles walked to start the third inning. No, Alfredo! Not a leadoff walk! To the last hitter in the lineup! Sheesh! That again got those Red Sox fans going. God, I hate them. Jacoby Ellsbury then singled, which Jacoby Ellsbury is apt to do. That's why you don't walk the leadoff 9th hitter, Saucy! With no outs, Pedroia came to the plate. He promptly lined a single up the middle, knocking in Aviles. Sigh. 1-0 Red Sox. Still no outs, still runners on first and second. This time for Ortiz. Papi choked, hitting into a weird 6-5-3 double play. An IBB to AGon and a strike out to Lavernway later and Simon was out of it.
But did you know that walks can both hurt AND help your team? Lester walked Chris Davis with no outs, and three batters later J.J. Hardy came to the plate with one runner on. Down 1-0? No problem! Hardy just crushed his 30th home run of the year is all. I was happy when the Orioles traded for Hardy in the off season, but I gotta say I never expected this kind of year from him. And keep in mind that an early-season stint on the disabled list has limited him to just 129 games. Hardy's HR put the O's on top, briefly.
The Red Sox tied the game in the top of the fourth thanks to a balk from Alfredo Simon. Marco Scutaro was on third thanks to a double and a ground out, and he trotted home with the tying run. I am fully prepared to admit that I'm no expert when it comes to balks, but can you call a balk when the pitcher never moves? Check it out for yourself. Aviles then reached on an error by Chris Davis, and you can say that Scutaro would have scored anyway, but you don't know! Never assume, friends. Thankfully for the O's, Avila didn't get the memo that you don't run on Matt Wieters. He was thrown out to end the inning.
While you might say the Red Sox scored the tying run in a questionable manner, the go-ahead run in the fifth inning was a bit more decisive. After Simon struck out Ellsbury (although a borderline strike three was called a ball before it happened), Pedroia hit his twenty-first home run of the year to left field, making the score 3-2.
The score remained 3-2 until the bottom of the ninth, although the Orioles certainly had their chances. Mark Reynolds doubled to to start the bottom of the fifth and moved to third on a ground out, but was then thrown out at home on a ground ball to the shortstop. Oh, Mark.
In the bottom of the sixth the Orioles had a great chance. Lester totally lost the strike zone, walking Hardy and Markakis back-to-back to start the inning, bringing up Vladimir Guerrero. I'm very happy to report that this is the last time I ever have to tell you that Vlad ruined a rally by grounding into a double play. With Hardy at third, Lester went right back to what he was doing before Vlad screwed everything up and walked Wieters on four pitches. That left it up to Adam Jones, who worked a full count but struck out swinging. Sigh.
The Orioles caught a huge break in the top of the seventh. Troy Patton, who had pitched a fantastic few innings in relief of Simon, got into trouble. After Pedroia drew a one-out walk, Ortiz hit a ball to left-center that AJ chased down. Pedroia easily landed at third but Ortiz tried to stretch his single into a double. Jones fired to Andino at second and nailed him for the second out. Thanks, David! Another intentional walk to Adrian Gonzalez and a strike out by Ryan Lavarnway and the O's were out of it.
After that, the rains came. The tarp was rolled onto the field and we sat. And sat. And sat. But WHILE we were sitting, something awesome was happening in Tampa Bay. Down seven runs in the bottom of the 8th, the Rays came back to score six runs in the 8th and then tied the game in the 9th on a home run by Dan Johnson, whose last major league hit came on April 27th. Once the Rays started to come back, they put the game on the big TV for the fans to watch. As the Red Sox fans hung their heads, O's fans cheered like the Rays were their own team, and even a "Let's Go Rays!" chant broke out for a bit.
With the game in Tampa tied and the rain finished, the game between the Orioles and Red Sox resumed at 10:58 p.m. with Alfredo Aceves on the mound for the Red Sox. Wait...the same guy who pitched 3.2 innings last night? Wow. Ok.
And with his first pitch, Aceves, who not only pitched yesterday but who has been warming up extensively before the 1 hour, 26 minute rain delay, hit Mark Reynolds. Mark was ok and went down to first representing the tying run. After a Chris Davis popped out, Aceves also hit Reimold. The crowd booed itself hoarse, but it put the tying run on second base with one out. Hit them all, I say!
With Andino at the plate, Aceves then decided that it's not in his job description to even throw the ball, as he took about fourteen years to do anything. He did not get warned by the umps. I know you're shocked. Andino ended up striking out and J.J. made the third out. I guess he can't always be the hero.
Strop pitched a scoreless eighth inning thanks to a misread by Marco Scutaro, who ended up getting thrown out at home. Jim Johnson came in to pitch the ninth, and that's when the shenanigans began.
Jacoby Ellsbury hit a ball that stopped in front of home plate. Wieters threw to first and while it did look like on video replay that Ellsbury beat the throw, the first base umpire called him out. Ellsbury pitched a fit and refused to leave first base, so the first base umpire and the home plate umpire talked it over, with the home plate umpire deciding Ellsbury was safe.
Here's the thing. I'm all for the umpires making sure they got it right. I'm all for expanding replay in baseball. But what I'm not for is asking an umpire who is further from the play than you because the team throws a hissy. Especially I'm not in favor of that when it NEVER happens. I don't ever recall seeing that happen. I don't watch all of the baseball games, but I watch all of the Orioles games, so I see a lot of baseball.
At any rate, it didn't matter because Jim Johnson pulled off a Houdini act. After Ellsbury stole second base, Pedroia singled to Markakis, putting runners at the corners with no outs. Ortiz came to the plate and hit the ball one foot. Wieters threw out Pedroia at second for the first out. The O's then elected to intentionally walk Gonzalez for the third time in the game, loading the bases for Lavernway. Honestly, what is that kid doing hitting behind Gonzalez? JJ got a ground ball from the rookie for the 6-4-3 double play. Masterful!
And then, the magic of the 9th inning. With the Rays and Yankees locked in a 7-7 tie in extra inning, Papelbon came in to finish off the Orioles. It looked like he'd do it, too. He struck out Jones and Reynolds for two fast outs, leaving the entire season up to Chris Davis. And Davis came through! He hit the first pitch that Papelbon threw him to right field for a double. Still alive! It just seemed perfect for Reimold to come to the plate at that moment. Criminally underused this season, he had one last chance to prove what the Orioles were missing when they let him rot on the bench. Papelbon went 2-2 on Reimold. The Orioles were down to their last strike. Papelbon let loose with a 97-mph fastball and Reimold launched it to right center. Kyle Hudson, running for Davis scored easily with the tying run! HOLY CRAP!
Tie game! Bottom of the 9th! And of course, Andino came to the plate. He lined a ball to left field. Crawford tried to make a sliding catch, but he didn't come up with it! Here comes the Gazelle around third, he's gonna score! O's win! O's win! There was a TV on in the press box showing the Rays game, and seconds after the O's won, fans in Tampa Bay were celebrationg. Seconds after THAT, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off home run to secure his team's place in the playoffs. They played the homer on the big screen at Camden Yards to the delight of the Orioles fans and horror of the Red Sox fans.
Holy crap do I love baseball.