There are those baseball games where one blatantly blown call by an umpire looms large in its final outcome. Runs that come in to score as a direct result of that blown call prove to be ultimately decisive in who wins and who loses the game. Saturday's game was one such game. A blown call cost the Orioles two runs. Freddy Garcia decided to give up enough runs that the blown call didn't matter for a while, until a ninth-inning home run by Matt Wieters made it all matter again.
Let's be outraged just in case that will make us feel better and relive the sequence of events: Dustin Pedroia struck out swinging to lead off the fourth inning, only he convinced the home plate umpire that he tipped the ball, which hit the ground before going into catcher Taylor Teagarden's glove. TV replays showed there was no contact with Pedroia's bat. Pedroia most likely knows there was no contact. The possibility exists that Pedroia was not cheating intentionally. Each of us must make our own judgment as to the probability of that event. It would not be the first time in recent years that we have seen a Red Sox player make their own call to a home plate umpire and the umpire accepted it without question, even though it was wrong.
Gifted with another pitch, Pedroia lined a single into center field and scored two batters later when Mike Carp hit a home run off of Garcia.
Jonny Gomes followed the home run with a single, and the inning should have ended when Jarrod Saltalamacchia flew out to center. That should have been the third out, with only one run having scored, but instead Pedroia reached base, was not out, scored a run. Stephen Drew followed with a double to right, on which Gomes scored from first because there were two outs and he was going on contact, and because Ryan Flaherty made a poor relay to home plate on the play.
Two of the three runs in the inning should not have scored, but the Red Sox held a 3-2 lead after the top of the fourth all the same.
Now that that's out of my system, let's be real: we have no way of knowing that events would have played out the same way if the umpire had made the correct call. But it's a frustrating thing to watch happen, because the Orioles were not given a chance to play out the game as they earned based on their performance up to that point.
Again, Boston added on runs so this infuriating Pedroia play did not matter. Jacoby Ellsbury led off the fifth with a single and stole second because Teagarden was catching. He advanced to third when Shane Victorino laid down a sacrifice bunt. The baseball gods did not punish this bit of stupidity, instead rewarding the Red Sox with an RBI groundout by Pedroia.
The next inning, Garcia gave up a home run to Gomes, who entered the day batting .205.
David Ortiz tripled in this game, which was not relevant to the outcome because he did not score, but holy crap.
Having torched Garcia, who had himself a Tommy Hunter-type Five Runs All Earned performance, giving up eight hits in 5.1 IP, let us next turn our attention to the hitters for some demerits.
The game was promising once, mostly because the first four Orioles hitters of the game had base hits. Nate McLouth singled and Manny Machado hit yet another double, which scored McLouth. Nick Markakis singled, moving Machado to third, where he scored when Adam Jones added another single. The runners moved up on a Davis groundout, putting second and third with only one out and Wieters and J.J. Hardy due up. All Wieters had to do was get the ball out of the infield to score another run. He popped out to the shortstop, with the inning ending on Hardy's flyout to left.
Red Sox starter John Lackey was on the ropes, and then suddenly he wasn't. Did he barrel down and make good pitches or did the Orioles hitters get slap-happy and bail him out? Maybe it was a little of both, but either way, after that first inning, they would only get three more hits and a walk off Lackey, with two of the runners that actually did reach being erased by caught stealing. Saltalamacchia had thrown out five of 38 base stealers heading into today's game. He was 2-2 throwing them out today. Go figure.
They also failed to get in a runner from third with none out in the fifth, when Teagarden got his first base hit of the year to lead off the inning. It was a generous call from the official scorer at home: a grounder ate up Sox third baseman Jose Iglesias, who is no Machado in the field, but did extend a hitting streak to 16 games today. Pedroia followed with an actual error, letting a grounder go through on what should have been a double-play ball. Teagarden took third on the play, then McLouth was thrown out stealing. Machado hit a sharp chopper that Lackey speared as it went past the mound, and Markakis flew out to left, ending the threat.
T.J. McFarland was the lone bright spot today, coming in to clean up for Garcia and pitching the rest of the game, striking out five Red Sox in 3.2 IP while giving up only one hit and a walk. I do not understand McFarland. He does not look like someone whose stuff should be successful, ever. He has bad games. And then there are games where he does exactly what he is supposed to do: long relief, stopping the bleeding, giving the Orioles a chance to come back, which they did not take today.
Koji Uehara struck out the side for Boston in the eighth inning. He looked like he could do that every inning for all time.
In the ninth, Andrew Bailey came on to close out the game for the Sox. He gave up a single to Jones to get our hopes up, then struck out Davis on three pitches. That brought Wieters to the plate. You might have expected him to ground into a 4-6-3 double play to end the game. He decided to hit a home run onto the flag court instead, his ninth of the season.
Hardy singled to put the tying run on first with only one out and a one-run deficit. Flaherty was at the plate. You can't have expected much. Flaherty gave a foul ball a ride, then lined a ball to Victorino, the right fielder. Pinch-runner Alexi Casilla seemed to think there were two outs and ran on contact. He never stopped and tried to get back to first. He was literally standing on third base when he was thrown out, completing the game-ending double play in an entirely unexpected way.
I just witnessed this at Camden Yards from the press box and I'm still stunned. I've seen some things, but I don't think I've ever seen that. Casilla was motoring so fast I thought my eyes deceived me and there was no catch. No, he was out. This may be the stupidest play any Orioles player has made since Felix Pie roamed the outfield.
The bone-headed move gave Bailey his eighth save of the season. Garcia took the loss, dropping to 3-4, and Lackey got the win, raising his record to 4-5 despite a 3.08 ERA.
The loss sets up the final game of the series for Sunday afternoon, with Boston having a chance to even out the series and the Orioles having a chance to win it and end it 1.5 games back in the AL East. Miguel Gonzalez is currently scheduled to start the 1:35 game, unless his wife goes into labor between now and when the game starts. Long-time Orioles-killer Jon Lester starts for the Red Sox, so that's just great.
In the end, the runs that resulted from Pedroia's acting job proved to be decisive in the game's final outcome. Take them away and Boston may have found another way to win, but they may not have. Thanks to the home plate umpire, we'll never know what may have happened. With the way things played out, the Orioles came up just short. Tomorrow is another day.