BALTIMORE -- Before Tuesday's game between the Orioles and the Reds could get underway, there was a rain delay of 23 minutes. When they finally started the game, they only played for eight minutes before another delay came. That was just long enough for first base umpire Mike DiMuro to be knocked over by Billy Hamilton on an infield hit, hard enough that he came out of the game and the rest of the contest was played with only three umpires. The tone was set for a weird night even before the second delay that lasted an hour and 46 minutes.
Even the rain delay was weird. The rain came down so suddenly and in such a downpour that the Orioles ground crew encountered a Cubs-esque struggle to get the tarp onto the field. When the rains finally stopped, it was an hour-long process to dry out the infield. Through all of this, Orioles starter Bud Norris remained in the game. He'd thrown less than ten pitches. The delay could not chase him.
Two hours after Hamilton set the record for stolen bases for a Reds rookie by swiping his 55th base, he was thrown out trying to steal third in the very same inning, the very same at-bat, even. You might run on Caleb Joseph once, but you won't beat him twice.
Whatever the Orioles hitters did during that long delay, it worked. They came out firing in the bottom of the first inning, blooping, dinking, dunking, carefully placing seeing-eye grounders all over the field. Reds starter Mat Latos forgot to make his sacrifices to the BABIP gods. Whatever it was, the Orioles scratched out four runs on five singles in the inning, with third base coach Bobby Dickerson taking advantage of the wet grass slowing down ground balls to wave everyone home.
After all of those singles, it was just about time for a monster shot. Jonathan Schoop obliged to lead off the bottom of the second inning, crushing a titanic blast that soared all the way into the Reds bullpen, in spite of Tommy Hunter's best effort to catch it. That gave the Orioles a 5-0 lead, five runs tying a season high for Latos. How can things possibly go wrong with a five run lead after two innings?
One good way for things to start going wrong is to fail to tack on more runs when given the opportunity. That failure was concentrated in the bottom of the fifth inning when the Orioles decided to start blundering around the basepaths like a bunch of idiots. It was grotesque. New Oriole Alejandro De Aza led off the inning with a single, which is a good thing to do, and he reached second base when Adam Jones also singled, another good thing to do.
Then, already in scoring position with none out, with a five run lead, with Nelson Cruz at the plate, De Aza decided that it would be a good idea to steal third base. Maybe it wasn't the worst idea with Reds catcher Devin Mesoraco only throwing out 24% of runners this season, except why run at all with a five run lead?
De Aza was out by a mile, and, of course, Cruz singled on the next play, a ball that would have easily scored De Aza. Not that we can assume the single would have happened without De Aza being thrown out, of course, but still. Jones took third on the single, challenging Hamilton to throw him out. Hamilton made the throw in to third. Jones was safe, but Cruz thought he'd make his way to second base with the throw going to third. No, Nelson. You are not a fast man. Cruz was out 8-5-4 on the putout on his own single.
That's just... why? Why would you get two TOOTBLANs (thrown out on the basepaths like a nincompoop) in the same inning when you are ahead by five runs, hitting a good pitcher like Latos at will? Why?
These things don't matter with five run leads until they abruptly do matter. The eighth inning was a disaster inning for the Orioles. O's manager Buck Showalter summoned Darren O'Day for the inning even though Hunter, who had pitched a perfect seventh inning with a pair of strikeouts, only threw nine pitches. Okay, O'Day needed an inning or whatever. No one was warming behind him.
It was an off night for O'Day. He never looked good. He walked leadoff man Hamilton and took Todd Frazier to a full count before getting the strikeout. Everything was missing. O'Day did get the gimme grounder for what would have been the second out if Jimmy Paredes had been able to make a good throw to first base. Paredes had to run in to get a chopper, never got his feet set and made a bouncing throw that Chris Davis couldn't field at first. The E-5 put two men on. No big deal, the tying run was only in the hole, right?
Another poor O'Day pitch rode up in on Mesoraco's shoulder, loading the bases with only one out with left-handed Jay Bruce coming to the plate. Things fell apart so abruptly that there wasn't even a lefty warming. Bruce swatted a pitch onto the flag court for his 15th home run of the year. Bruce only had a .680 OPS against righties on the year headed into the game, but O'Day had nothing. He was resoundingly booed and, mercifully, lifted from the game after getting a pop-up for the second out.
Brad Brach entered the game and induced a fly ball to center from Reds DH Brayan Pena, terrifying for a split second only because of what had come before. The Orioles still clung to a 5-4 lead after that horrible inning, somehow.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, they went down 1-2-3, because obviously they would do that, no sense in making things any easier. Zach Britton doesn't need any more runs, right? Due to silliness from other relievers, he was once again in a game that should have been well out of reach. At least he was set to face the 8-9-1 hitters.
Britton got a comebacker from Kristopher Negron for the first out, but then number nine hitter Ramon Santiago ripped a double past third base defensive replacement Kelly Johnson, who went down for the ball but did not come up with it. Would Manny Machado have had it? We will never know. The tying run was in scoring position and Hamilton was at the plate. The speedy Hamilton chopped a ball just past the pitcher's mound that ended up bouncing in front of shortstop Ryan Flaherty, which Flaherty wisely held on to.
The tying run moved up to third base, but things were still in order for a ground ball double play to end the game. Still, butts were clenched, as well they should have been. Britton got his grounder from Frazier, a bouncer right at Schoop that set off a chaotic play. If the Orioles went for a 4-6-3 double play and failed, the tying run would score. If Schoop threw home late, the run would score and two men would be on.
But Schoop is cooler than all of that, as cool as a cucumber, in fact. With Hamilton digging past him heading for second, Schoop whipped his glove at the passing Hamilton to put a tag on him, then fired the ball to first for an unlikely game-ending 4-3 double play. The Orioles started to celebrate a win, but Reds manager Bryan Price wanted the umpires to look at the play again. This discussion took place even as the grounds crew was removing the bases.
The umpires did indeed send the play back to New York for review. It took all of five seconds for this ridiculous game to be over again.
Norris, who pitched six scoreless innings while striking out seven, got the win, raising his record to 12-8. Latos took the loss, falling to 5-4. The save was Britton's 32nd of the year. The game actually ended on Wednesday morning.
With the win coupled with a Yankees loss earlier in the night, the Orioles now hold a 9.5 game lead in the division with 26 to play. Their magic number to clinch is B.J. Surhoff - 17.
The two teams will be back later on Wednesday for a 7:05 scheduled start time, unless the rain ruins everything again. Miguel Gonzalez starts for the Orioles, with Dylan Axelrod pitching for Cincinnati.