The heroic hits would come later. Mike Mussina's 13th win would be secured soon enough. The Baltimore Orioles would end up with a thorough 6-1 whipping of the Boston Red Sox, the Orioles' seventh win in nine games. But right now, in the bottom of the fifth inning, Jeff Reboulet had the ball behind second base, the Red Sox were circling the bases, and Mussina and the Orioles were in major trouble.
What happened next not only became highlight-film material, it also thrilled and then sickened a sellout crowd of 33,690 at Fenway Park and changed the course of the game. On the scorecard it went 4-6-5-3-1-4 -- a hit-and-run, double-rundown, five-assist double play that took the Red Sox out of a big inning and helped Mussina (13-4) survive to pitch eight strong innings, lowering his earned run average to 3.44.
"It was a strange play," Mussina said of the fifth-inning epic. "But we got it right."
"It was a huge play," said first baseman Will Clark, who went 2 for 4. "Instead of having first and third and one out, we're out of the inning."
Third baseman Cal Ripken, in his return to the lineup after a five-game absence because of a bruised right wrist, went 2 for 4 with a two-run single in the Orioles' four-run eighth inning and had a part in one of the zaniest plays of the season.
Ripken begins the narrative with Jason Varitek on first and Darren Lewis at the plate with one out in the fifth and the Red Sox leading 1-0: "They put on a hit-and-run. And Reboulet knocked down the ball, but they thought it went through into right field."
Clark: "Reboulet dove for the ball, knocked it down, had no play at first, so he tried to throw behind the runner [Varitek] at second."
When Reboulet threw to shortstop Mike Bordick covering second, Varitek was almost halfway to third.
Red Sox Manager Jimy Williams: "Maybe [Reboulet] thought the runner rounded second too far, and he thought right. If [Varitek] continued to third, he probably would have made it."
Bordick threw to Ripken at third, catching Varitek in a rundown. Varitek reversed field, and Clark noticed no one was covering second.
Clark: "I moved over to second, and sure enough here comes Cal running back to me. Now, out of the corner of my eye, I see Lewis. I said, `Wow, we have ourselves a traffic jam here.' "
Lewis began breaking for second when Varitek broke for third. It was the proper move; even if Varitek gets thrown out, the Red Sox would have a runner in scoring position. But when Varitek began running back toward second, Lewis was just getting there from the opposite direction.
Ripken: "I was thinking I would try to run [Varitek] back to second. And I made an early throw, so we could get [Lewis] at second. Then we still had time to get [Varitek] caught between second and third."
Ripken threw to Clark covering second, who tagged out a sliding Lewis. Meanwhile, Varitek broke for third again.
Clark: "Cal gave me the ball in plenty of time to tag Lewis. And then here we go again. We have the same rundown going. We still didn't have [Varitek] yet. So I said, `Here, Moose, you get involved.' "
Mussina, who was fighting the effects of a stiff neck, the result of a minor traffic accident Tuesday afternoon, rushed to cover third when he saw the bag unoccupied. "My job there," he said, "is to get out in front of the play."
Clark threw to Mussina, Varitek reversed fields, and Mussina ran him back to second -- where, by this point, Reboulet was covering again. Reboulet tagged Varitek, who appeared to have given up.
Mussina: "I think he was tired after running back and forth all those times."
Designated hitter Jeff Conine, whose two-run double in the eighth was the biggest hit of the game, may have seemed like the only Oriole who was not involved in the play. But there were others.
Center fielder Brady Anderson tried to position himself for the second tag at second, but Reboulet called him off.
And then there was catcher Charles Johnson, who stood near home plate hopelessly trying to direct traffic. Why didn't he jump into the action? Because somebody had to cover home.
"But if there was one more throw to third," he said, "I was going."
CAPTION: O's Mike Mussina delivers his fourth straight winning start, allowing four hits in eight innings.
CAPTION: Brady Anderson leads off game by popping out. O's didn't get going until seventh, when Anderson had sacrifice fly.