Red Sox Find Ninth Life
Monday, May 14, 2007
BOSTON, May 13 -- Jeremy Guthrie spoke with Sam Perlozzo in the Baltimore Orioles dugout before the ninth inning, planning how he would conclude the best day of his baseball life. "If a guy gets on, come and get me if you want," Guthrie told his manager. Then he climbed the dugout steps, ahead by five runs, to finish his three-hit, scoreless masterpiece in Fenway Park.
"No one could have expected what occurred," Guthrie said.
Not even in the recesses of the Orioles' nightmares, not in the wildest hopes of the 36,379 delirious fans, could anyone have conjured the bottom of the ninth inning of the Orioles' 6-5 loss to the Boston Red Sox. Baltimore's epic meltdown began with an error and ended with another. In between, there were six runs, three hits, three walks, two overmatched relievers, one questionable managerial move and 25 hanging jaws on the Orioles bench.
"That's a game we should've won, end of story," first baseman Kevin Millar said. "There's no rhyme or reason why we should've lost that game. That game was in our hands."
Or, more specifically, in Ramon Hernandez's catcher's mitt. After a groundout to start the ninth, Coco Crisp popped up a Guthrie fastball in front of home plate, where shadows crisscrossed the infield. Chris Gomez charged from third base, but there was no way he was making it. Pitchers rarely catch popups, so Guthrie stayed near the mound.
Hernandez flailed as he chased the ball, throwing his mask at his feet as he fought the sun. According to Hernandez, neither the shadows nor the mask mattered when the ball plopped out of his mitt, harmlessly to the grass. "I just dropped it," he said.
Crisp safely on first, Perlozzo came to the mound, adhering to Guthrie's vow about a hitter reaching base. But Guthrie had never considered a weak fly resulting in a base runner. A walk or hit would prove his 95-mph fastball was losing steam; the meager pop only encouraged him.
"I'll go through this one," Guthrie told Perlozzo. But Perlozzo didn't want to take the risk, so he yanked Guthire. "It was my decision," Perlozzo said later. He also said, given the chance, he would do the same thing again.
"Glad he got taken out," Boston's Kevin Youkilis said.
Guthrie wanted to finish the game, but he was not disappointed. In the bullpen, with a full day's rest, were Danys Baez and Chris Ray. The are the Orioles' best two relievers, and they still led 5-0.
"Not once did I think, 'This isn't going to work out for us,' " Guthrie said.
Baez lasted two hitters. The first, David Ortiz, smoked a double to center, and Boston's first run scored. The second, Wily Mo Peña, roped a single to left.
Perlozzo turned to his closer, Ray. The last time Ray had pitched against the Red Sox, he blew a save by allowing a long home run to Peña.
But once he arrived on the mound, he had no idea where the ball was going. He walked J.D. Drew to load the bases, then walked Youkilis to score run two. Jason Varitek lined a double to right, scoring two more runs. As Varitek slowed into second, Guthrie realized his gem was falling apart.
"I was just off today," Ray said. "I had a hard time locating and I was missing my spots. I just didn't have my good stuff tonight. I beat myself."
Still, he nearly escaped. He walked Eric Hinske intentionally, then Alex Cora bounced a ball to Brian Roberts, too slowly for him to turn a double play. The safe move was throwing to first, playing for extra innings; the risk was throwing home. Roberts threw home and, contrary to what replays would show, nabbed Youkilis for the second out.
Julio Lugo, the man who began the inning, came to the plate. He worked a 3-2 count, and Ray induced a ground ball to Millar's right. He shuffled over deep in the hole as Ray, a moment too late, started sprinting to the bag. He was neck and neck with Lugo as Millar wound up. If he beat him to the base, the game would be over.
Millar side-armed a throw just where he aimed. Ray squinted for the ball in the sun. He tried to find first base with his right foot at full speed. While doing that, he failed to catch the ball. It bounced off his glove and dribbled away, giving Hinske, running with the 3-2 pitch, ample time to score the game-winning run from second.
The Red Sox streamed onto the field, the fans exploded and the Orioles skulked off the field, some of them peering at the scoreboard as if trying to make sure that had really just happened. They slogged to their lockers, the only noise in the clubhouse was water smacking the shower floor and forks scraping plates. Perlozzo faced reporters, his answers short, his voice soft. One thing, the most obvious thing, gnawed at him. "The game," he said, "should have been over."