Let's say third-base coach Cal Ripken Sr. sent home Ti Hulett on Mark McLemore's medium fly to center. Let's say Hulett scored the tying run to send the game into extra innings.
It wouldn't have mattered.
zTC Inexcusable as Ripken's decision was, the final two innings of last night's 4-3 loss to Toronto simply demonstrated one last time that the Orioles were not meant to win the AL East.
Manager Johnny Oates gambled on a contact play in the eighth with one out, Cal Ripken batting and Brady Anderson on third.
Rip Sr. refused to gamble on McLemore's potential sacrifice fly to Toronto center fielder Devon White with one out in the ninth.
Get the picture?
The outcome might have been different if Cal Ripken Jr. hit a fly ball to score Anderson. It might have been different if Oates had a faster pinch runner than Hulett available.
If, if, if.
The Orioles entered this all-or-nothing series having scored only 33 runs in their last 14 games -- their worst drought since 1988, when they began their 0-21 streak by scoring only 33 runs in 17 games.
Oates managed last night like it was the seventh game of the World Series. But the defeat was a microcosm of these awful last two weeks, and left the Orioles six games back with 12 to play.
"There are a handful of things that could have happened to help us win the ballgame," Oates said in his office at 1:30 a.m., after a 2-hour, 42-minute rain delay and a 3-hour, 3-minute game. "None of them did."
The Orioles trailed 4-1 after six innings, but scratched out a run in the seventh and another in the eighth. They appeared certain to tie the score after getting back-to-back fluke hits off Jays closer Tom Henke with one out in the ninth.
First, Chris Hoiles hit a bloop double down the right-field line that barely eluded a sprawling Joe Carter and second baseman Roberto Alomar. Then, pinch hitter David Segui hit a broken-bat single to nearly the same spot.
Hulett, running for Hoiles, advanced to third. McLemore, batting .333 with men in scoring position, was next. He hit his fly ball shallower than desired, and White approached it well. Still, Ripken Sr. blew it by not sending Hulett.
A struggling offensive team can't rely on a two-out RBI single, but that's exactly what the Orioles wound up doing. Henke walked Anderson to load the bases for Mike Devereaux. For once, Devereaux failed in that situation, and the game was over.
Afterward, Rip Sr. guaranteed Hulett would have been out, but how could he have known? It turned out White's throw was off-line up the third-base line, and difficult to handle. By not forcing the play, the Orioles paid dearly.
"The man is going to be out at home plate if he goes, and the game is over," Rip Sr. insisted. "It's that simple. I gave us a chance to win the ballgame by not sending him."
Stubborn or not, his thought process might have been different, if it had been Steve Scarsone on third instead of an average runner like Hulett. But Oates used Scarsone to run for Ripken Jr. in the eighth, trying to seize control of the game.
It was the right move at the time -- Scarsone won a game with a daring base running play last week -- but Oates then was forced to insert Manny Alexander for Ripken, when he could have saved Scarsone by running Alexander in the first place.
Two outs or not, Oates wanted the more experienced player, and he didn't know if he'd get another chance to use Scarsone. In truth, the game should have been tied by then, but the Orioles scored only once after getting men on second and third with none out.
Devereaux drove in the run with a ground out to second, and Anderson advanced to third. Toronto manager Cito Gaston brought his infield in for Ripken Jr., and Oates took his gamble, starting Anderson on contact in an attempt to steal a run.
A fly ball would have done it. A well-placed grounder would have done it. But Ripken hit the ball right at third baseman Kelly Gruber. Anderson was bearing down so hard, he couldn't even retreat to force a rundown and enable Ripken to take second.
"I am not pointing any fingers, but over the course of the entire season how many times have we hit the ball right at third base with a guy on third base and less than two outs?" Oates asked.
"I'd be willing to bet that out of all those times, if I told the hitter to go hit a ground ball to third base, we couldn't have done it as many times as we've done it this season."
That tells you something.
It's not the Orioles' year.