BOSTON -- On a day when Cal Ripken made two errors in the same game for only the second time in five years, maybe it was too much to expect the Orioles to salvage a win.
But, as has been the case in all but one of their five losses to date, yesterday's game against the Boston Red Sox was very winnable. Ultimately it came down to a two-out, two-run eighth-inning single by pesty Jody Reed that broke a 4-4 tie and enabled the Red Sox to hold on for a 6-5 win.
The Orioles actually ran themselves out of this one, but it was on defense rather than the basepaths that the foul-up occurred. It happened during the sixth inning,when the Orioles elected to try to prevent one run -- and gave up three.
A walk to Reed and a single by Mike Greenwell put runners on first and third with nobody out -- and the middle of the Red Sox lineup coming to bat. At that point, Ben McDonald had given up only three hits and an unearned run (the result of Ripken's first error in the third inning).
One school of thought in that situation says to give up one run if you can turn a double play. That, however, wasn't the Orioles' strategy, and it led to a botched rundown play that set up three runs -- on a sacrifice fly by Tom Brunansky and a two-run double by Mo Vaughn.
When Ellis Burks hit a sharp two-hopper to third baseman Leo Gomez, a custom-made DP ball, Reed broke for the plate. The Red Sox were willing to sacrifice a potential run rather than give up two outs.
"You can't give up the run in that situation [a 1-1 tie]," said Orioles manager John Oates. "Not the way we're hitting.
"Leo made the right play, he just didn't give up the ball in time. He chased the runner [toward home plate] too long. On that play, you've got to get the ball to the catcher right away and then get back to [cover] third base."
By the time the ball and runners stopped moving, Ripken and McDonald had joined Gomez and Chris Hoiles in the rundown -- while Greenwell and Burks advanced to third and second, respectively. "If we make the play right, there's runners on first and second with one out, and no need to walk [Phil] Plantier," said Oates.
The Orioles will never know what Plantier might have done under different circumstances (he struck out and flied out in previous appearances). "You can't afford to play the infield up and give him a chance to hit the ball through," said Oates, who took the conventional option of playing for the double play with Brunansky the next scheduled hitter.
A second double-play opportunity never materialized for the Orioles and McDonald, whose control was erratic, then made a bad pitch to Vaughn, who lined it off the wall in left-centerfield to drive in the two killer runs.
"The bottom line is -- if we make the [rundown] play right, we're out of the inning," said Oates, who was adamant about not wanting to concede a run. "If it's early in the game, I'd go for the double play. But from the sixth inning on, I'm not giving up the run.
"There's no guarantee you're going to make the double play. He [Gomez] might've thrown the ball into right field. We just didn't make the play."
The sixth inning was the only blemish on another solid performance by McDonald. "I thought he had outstanding stuff -- the curveball might not have been as good as the other time [a week ago against Cleveland], but I thought his fastball was better," said Oates.
McDonald wasn't comfortable trying to compare himself to the first outing, but admitted his control was a trouble spot, walking six.
"I felt like I wasn't as good as the other night," said the big righthander, "but it's hard to say.
"Sometimes I really don't know about my fastball -- a lot of times it's better than I think it is. But I consider myself a good control pitcher and that's what is aggravating [about yesterday's game].
"You're going to have games where you give up hits -- everybody has those -- but you can't be walking guys and then giving up hits."
Both innings McDonald was scored upon started with a free admission to first base.
When the Orioles scored three times with two outs in the seventh, McDonald was off the decision hook and it remained for Storm Davis to take the loss and Mark Williamson to surrender the game-winning hit to Reed.
Singles by Brunansky and Vaughn (who initially fouled off RRTC sacrifice bunt attempt) put Davis in a hole in the eighth inning. Tim Naehring then sacrificed the runners to second and third before pinch-hitter Herm Winningham grounded out.
After walking Wade Boggs intentionally, Davis left in favor of Williamson.
"Reed was 1-for-8 lifetime against Williamson and 8-for-24 against Storm," said Oates. "I don't go just by statistics, but I felt Mark was the best man to get him out. He made two great pitches -- but he needed a third and didn't get it, he left the ball up a little bit."
Williamson threw Reed a fastball on the outer part of the plate for a called strike, a palmball for a swinging strike (Reed's bat went to the backstop) and wasted a high fastball before the payoff pitch.
"A bad slider," said the reliever. "I made two good pitches to get ahead -- then threw that one up there. Granted, he didn't hit the ball that good, but I've got to make a good pitch in that spot.
"I guess you've got to make him hit the ball hard to get him out."
Reed admitted his hit, a soft looper over second baseman Mark McLemore, wasn't a thing of beauty. "I didn't hit the ball -- the ball hit the bat," said the Red Sox second baseman. "I got jammed, but was able to 'flare' it over the infield."
The hit put the game in the win column for the Red Sox (3-4), but for the Orioles (3-5), the verdict most likely was decided two innings earlier, when they were left with a rundown feeling.