The Orioles had waited nearly nine months to celebrate a victory over the Boston Red Sox, yet they were forced to agonize a couple more minutes.
Closer Chris Ray started his walk off the mound when Wily Mo Pena hit a grounder toward shortstop Miguel Tejada, confident that he had just gotten the final out. He looked back only after hearing a roar from the crowd.
Tejada had slipped fielding the grounder, giving the Red Sox one more chance to extend their dominance over the Orioles. But catcher Ramon Hernandez threw out pinch runner Willie Harris trying to steal, ending the 4-3 game before 32,089 at Camden Yards and securing a victory for Erik Bedard in one of his finest performances.
The victory, backed by a seven-inning, two-hit, one-run outing by Bedard, was the Orioles' first over Boston in nine tries this year and ended their 13-game losing streak vs. the Red Sox, which had been the longest current streak for one team against another in the major leagues.
"Ending the streak is kind of like getting a monkey off your back," said Orioles manager Sam Perlozzo. "Now that that is done, we can focus on beating that club a couple of more times."
Tejada gathered Hernandez's one-hop throw right on the second-base bag, just as Harris was sliding in. The Red Sox felt that Harris was safe. Several Orioles said he was definitely out.
"He's out, he's out," Tejada said. "Not easily, but he's out.`
All that mattered was second-base umpire Jim Joyce's opinion, and he punched out Harris, easing the tension from an Orioles team that improved to 19-22 and badly needed a win heading into interleague play.
"I thought he had a good tag down on it, but I wasn't sure he was going to call it," Perlozzo said. "It seemed like an eternity before the out call, even though it was just a half second."
Ray surrendered a mammoth two-run homer to David Ortiz, who powered the closer's 97-mph fastball to cut the Orioles' lead to 4-3. But Ray struck out Manny Ramirez looking at a 98-mph fastball, then fanned Mike Lowell, also looking.
After the infield single to Pena, Ray had thrown his second straight ball to Trot Nixon when Hernandez nailed Harris at second, finalizing Ray's 10th save.
Hernandez said ending the game by throwing out a runner was more satisfying than hitting a walk-off home run, and he has done both this season.
"I'd rather throw a guy out [because] it is harder," said Hernandez, who has thrown out 17 of 30 runners this year, a major league-best .567 percentage. "You have to count on the pitcher to get it in good time. You've got to get a good grip and make a good throw."
Bedard, who was battered by the Red Sox earlier this month at Fenway Park, stared down one of the game's most vaunted lineups and didn't flinch.
His only blemish came in the first inning, when a leadoff walk to Kevin Youkilis and a double to Mark Loretta set up Ortiz's RBI groundout. But Bedard didn't allow another hit until Manny Ramirez's double in the seventh. He threw 100 pitches over seven innings, 63 for strikes.
"I just threw strikes," said Bedard, who improved to 5-2 with his first win since April 20. "I was real aggressive with my fastball and I was throwing strikes with my other pitches."
Said Boston manager Terry Francona: "I thought his velocity was vastly [improved]. His fastball had a lot of life. He threw a lot of fastballs by some pretty good hitters."
Bedard had given up seven hits and six runs (five earned) to the Red Sox on May 6. That night, he couldn't locate any of his off-speed stuff and was forced to rely totally on his fastball. Last night, all his pitches were working.
"Phenomenal," Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar said of the way Bedard, 27, pitched. "He set the tone. Pitching wins ballgames"
It was Millar's two-run homer off a knuckleball from former teammate Tim Wakefield, that gave the Orioles a 2-1 lead. The Orioles tacked on two in the fifth on Hernandez's RBI grounder and a Wakefield wild pitch that scored Tejada.
Millar had admitted to feeling frustration by not starting the previous four games. The fact that his former team was in town only made things worse.
He has been taking extra batting practice with hitting coach Terry Crowley, fully knowing that he needs to collect some hits to get back in the lineup. He had two last night and reached base in all four plate appearances.
He was just one of the reasons the Orioles finally had a victory over the Red Sox.
"It's a win we needed ... but it's also a special time," Millar said. "I competed with those guys for three years."
Inside the streak
Before last night's 4-3 victory over the Red Sox, the Orioles had lost 13 consecutive games to Boston. A breakdown of the streak:
........... ................Avg. ........... .....Avg. ....Biggest
.................Runs ...score ...Hits ...hits ......blowout
Red Sox 93 7 135 10 11
Orioles 41 3 101 8 1
Most pitching wins: Schilling 3, Wells 2, Clement 2, Wakefield 2
Most pitching losses: Lopez 4, Cabrera 2, Bedard 2