Red Sox 8, Orioles 7
Reprinted from yesterday's late editions
When Geronimo Gil sent a high, deep fly ball to left field at the end of a stunning ninth-inning rally Friday night, the Baltimore Orioles thought they had just won the game. When the fly ball died near the wall, with runners circling the bases, they thought they had tied the game.
But the Boston Red Sox's relay throw arrived at the plate quickly, catcher Jason Varitek applied the tag to a sliding Deivi Cruz and the Orioles had nothing but another loss.
On a night when Sidney Ponson suffered a command and composure meltdown in a nightmarish third inning and the Orioles' struggling offense finally awakened, the game-ending play at the plate provided a dramatic ending to a 8-7 loss to the Red Sox before 27,256 at Oriole Park at Camden Yards.
"We didn't quit, and we made it interesting at the end," Manager Mike Hargrove said. "That's a long way to come back, against a good team like Boston especially."
Both Melvin Mora, who scored ahead of Cruz on the play, and Cruz himself said that Cruz should have been called safe, and replays showed Varitek applying a high tag near Cruz's hip. But the call by home-plate umpire Bill Welke was out nonetheless, handing the Orioles their third straight loss.
"I thought I had a chance to get there," Cruz said. "But they made a good throw."
Leading 8-3 entering the ninth, the Red Sox spun the dial on their ballyhooed bullpen by committee and chose right-hander Ramiro Mendoza to close out the win. However, Mendoza nearly became the third Boston reliever to blow a late lead this season.
Gary Matthews Jr. led off with a single. B.J. Surhoff doubled, his third hit of the game. Jeff Conine lifted a sacrifice fly. And with two outs, the Orioles produced five straight hits, two of which produced plays at the plate. Welke called Surhoff safe when he slid home on Tony Batista's fourth hit of the game, even though the throw from left fielder Manny Ramirez beat him.
Finally, with Mora on third and Cruz on first, Gil smashed a long fly to left, reaching the wall. Ramirez fielded it quickly and fired a strike to cut-off man Nomar Garciaparra, who relayed it home as Orioles third base coach Tom Trebelhorn waved Cruz around third.
"You have to send Cruz there," Hargrove said. "To me, that's a good play. You don't know if you're going to get another hit [if you hold him]. I have no complaint."
"Deivi got a good jump," Trebelhorn said. "I watched the replay, and there might even be some question whether he was out."
The loss dropped the Orioles to 1-3 in this young season, and each game seems to raise some new concern.
Tonight, it was Ponson, who seemed lost on the mound and uninterested in being found, ignoring pitching coach Mark Wiley -- even turning his back on Wiley -- during a mound visit. By the time the Orioles could get Ponson out of the game, he had put his team in a 5-1 hole, which normally would have effectively ended the game, given the team's offensive shortcomings.
Boston's third-inning knockout of Ponson began with Varitek's single to center field, which fell in after Matthews got a poor jump, and things quickly got worse. Johnny Damon drew a five-pitch walk, and Todd Walker singled through the middle. One run in.
With one out, Ponson missed with four straight pitches to Ramirez, including a wild pitch on a change-up in the dirt. Ponson threw three more change-ups in the dirt during a six-pitch walk to David Ortiz, which forced in the second run.
It was at this point that Wiley came to the mound, almost certainly to remind Ponson that it was still just a one-run game and to encourage him to keep challenging the hitters.
"I was upset at myself," Ponson said of his reaction to Wiley's visit. "I tried to step back and take a deep breath. It didn't work."
Ponson began pumping fastballs almost exclusively, which produced three straight singles from Kevin Millar, Shea Hillenbrand and Trot Nixon, the last of which brought a red-faced Hargrove from the dugout and spelled the end of Ponson's night.
"Warming up in the bullpen, he had very good command," Hargrove said. "But he didn't take it into the game. He'll have better nights."
Orioles Notes: Designated hitter David Segui, out with a broken bone at the base of his right thumb, played for Class A Frederick tonight on a rehabilitation assignment and was activated by the Orioles after the game.
For the corresponding roster move, the Orioles sent Jose Leon to Class AAA Ottawa.