Matos's Great Leap Saves O's

Matos
Orioles center fielder Luis Matos soars to pull in what would have been a three-run homer for Boston slugger David Ortiz in the third inning, Saturday. Matos' key play in the outfield sparks the Orioles' bats as Baltimore slugs past the Red Sox, 9-1. (Joe Giza - Reuters)

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By Jorge Arangure Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, July 10, 2005

BALTIMORE, July 9 -- Those on the Baltimore Orioles' bench did not think David Ortiz had sent the ball so far, yet it continued to carry in center field and Luis Matos ran and ran until he was only several feet from the fence in left-center field.

Matos jumped. Hearts stopped. The largest crowd at Oriole Park at Camden Yards this season gasped.

"The first step is the most important one," Matos said. "The first step was quick and I knew where the fence was and then I jumped before that. Because then you hit the fence and you don't make your best jump."

He jumped as high as anyone has ever seen. His entire arm reached over the fence and when he fell to the ground Matos held in his hand perhaps the most important baseball of the Orioles' season.

"I knew I was close when I jumped. I knew I was going to catch it," Matos said. "I didn't think it was that high that I jumped, but then I saw the picture and then I saw the replay on TV and it was pretty high. It's fun to make those catches. I got goose bumps after I caught it."

Miguel Tejada had five hits, Rafael Palmeiro had six RBI while closing in on a career milestone, and Bruce Chen allowed just one run in Baltimore's 9-1 win against the Red Sox, but Matos's leap with two men on base in a tie game in the third inning proved more crucial.

"We didn't win this game because of all the runs we scored, we won because of that catch," Tejada said.

In one leap, Matos -- considered an average defensive player by several in the Baltimore front office -- saved a game and perhaps a season.

"You love to make those plays because it's a momentum shifter," Red Sox center fielder Johnny Damon said. "At that point of the game, if Ortiz hits the ball an extra couple of feet I think we roll for the rest the game, and have a chance to beat up on them pretty good."

Instead, the Orioles responded in bottom of the inning as Palmeiro hit a three-run homer off Boston starter Wade Miller to give the Orioles a 4-1 lead. Palmeiro added an RBI single in seventh, moving him within three hits of 3,000 for his career.

Baltimore ensured it will be no more than four games out of first place at the all-star break. A win on Sunday will put the Orioles two games behind the Red Sox at the break.

"We're not going to go away," Matos said. "We've been battling the whole year with injuries and we're still like three games out only. So I know when we get everybody back we're going to play a lot better than we're playing right now."

After crashing against the wall, Matos fell to the ground and stayed there for several moments, keeping everybody at Camden Yards in suspense. He finally got up and flipped the ball to his bare hand. Chen pumped his fist and yelled.

"It's fun because everybody was waiting until I showed the ball," Matos said. "I didn't do it on purpose. It's just that I hit the fence hard and I fell."

As the Orioles ran back to the dugout, Tejada approached third baseman Melvin Mora.

"We need to do something to win this game," Tejada told Mora. "That play shows we have to win this game."

As the first half of the season comes to a close, it is Chen who is Baltimore's best and most consistent starter. He is tied for the team lead with seven wins and has a 3.87 ERA, which is the best among starters. Chen did not have a spot in the rotation when the Orioles began spring training.

"Before I came to spring training all I wanted to show them was that I could help them win," Chen said. "I've pitched well. I'm just glad to be a big part of this team."

Chen kept the powerful Boston offense quiet, while Baltimore's offense offered plenty of support. Tejada stepped to the plate in the eighth inning with two men on base needing a home run for the cycle. Instead of swinging for the fences, Tejada doubled to the opposite field.

"I really was thinking about bringing the runner in in that situation," Tejada said. "I didn't want to try and hit a home run because I didn't want to mess up my day. I tried to hit the ball where the pitch was."

On Friday night Matos lamented two missed opportunities on balls that had sailed over his head in a 7-2 loss to the Red Sox. Dejected, Matos confided in his wife, Vivian.

"I haven't made any spectacular catches this year," he said he told her. "Last year I caught those balls."

But Matos certainly made up for any mistakes in just one thrilling and heart-stopping moment.

"That's why you play this game because you never know what's going to happen to you," Matos said. "That's why I love this game."


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© 2005 The Washington Post Company

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