For a split-second in last night's goofy third inning at Camden Yards, the Orioles had to wonder whether their hottest hitter would be getting an extended seat on the bench.
Third baseman Melvin Mora took a fastball from Boston Red Sox rookie Clay Buchholz off his left hand and immediately writhed in pain. But Mora, who has been plunked a team-leading 10 times this season, jogged to first base and, eventually, delivered another game-changing performance, something he has done routinely in the season's second half.
In the third, he made a heady base-running play and scored the tying run, and then launched a 430-foot, three-run homer in the fourth - his 21st of the season - on a four-RBI night that helped the Orioles avoid a sweep and beat the Red Sox, 11-6.
It was a continuation of Mora's torrid second half, in which he has batted .408 with 10 homers and 47 RBIs in 31 games. His 95 RBIs are just nine away from tying his career high.
"Early in the season, his average wasn't there, but he was hitting home runs and swinging the bat well with men in scoring position," second baseman Brian Roberts said of Mora. "He was still being productive, although his numbers may not have looked as good. But this last month or six weeks, he's been pretty awesome."
Mora paced an offense that scored in double digits for the fourth time in seven games. But for a moment, Mora's night looked as if it might end prematurely.
"It's not a pleasant situation because you know how valuable he is," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "And we don't have a whole lot of depth on our bench right now."
The game-altering third inning also included a botched fake tag-up, a ballgirl fielding a live hit, a stolen base on a walk and an outfielder tumbling over the wall.
The Red Sox led 4-3 when Boston shortstop Jed Lowrie started the inning by smashing a hard grounder down the third base line. The left-field ballgirl, assuming it was a foul, stopped the ball, picked it up and gave it to a fan.
It was fair.
Lowrie was awarded a double on the interference call; he would have gotten there anyway. A batter later, Nick Markakis helped absolve the embarrassed Orioles employee of her mistake when Lowrie feigned a tag-up on a fly ball to right.
He went too far, though, and Markakis threw a strike to shortstop Juan Castro, picking Lowrie off second base. It was Markakis' 13th assist, tying the Toronto Blue Jays' Alex Rios for most by an American League outfielder.
"That's another momentum changer for us," Trembley said. "Nicky made a very good play, and Castro sold it. He deked the guy."
In the bottom of the inning, after Buchholz hit Mora, Luke Scott walked. Mora, while running to second, noticed catcher Kevin Cash holding the ball and looking down while no one was covering third.
So Mora kept running.
"We learned that last year because we were the recipient of them doing that to us ... so what's good for the goose is good for the gander," Trembley said.
The bizarre inning continued when Ramon Hernandez followed with a blast to left-center against reliever David Aardsma. Red Sox center fielder Coco Crisp gave chase, leaped and kept going.
In a tremendous effort, Crisp fell over the wall but did not come up with the catch. It gave the Orioles their first lead of the game, 6-4, one they never relinquished.
"He didn't catch it, so why should I care if he had a shot or not," Hernandez said. "I didn't even see him. I knew it was over the wall, so I just kept jogging."
Early on, rookie Chris Waters (2-0) didn't look as if he would stick around long enough to get a win. He gave up four runs in the first two innings but settled down and allowed just a homer by Jason Bay after that. He lasted five innings, allowing four earned runs on eight hits and three walks.
The Orioles got to Buchholz (2-9) in the second, scoring three times, and chased him in the third. Buchholz, who hadn't won since May 2, was sent to Double-A Portland after the game.