The first game of the season-ending "Fan Appreciation Celebration" at Oriole Park quickly turned into something completely different in the sixth inning on Monday night when Vladimir Guerrero kept his date with international baseball history.
Guerrero singled up the middle in his third at-bat of the Orioles' 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox and passed Julio Franco to become the all-time major league leader in hits by a Dominican-born player. He also sparked a four-run rally that dragged the reeling Red Sox into a wild card dead heat with the surging Tampa Bay Rays.
His 2,587th hit brought the announced crowd of 21,786 to its feet for an enthusiastic ovation as Guerrero waved his helmet to the fans and his teammates who lined the top step of the home dugout to applaud his magic moment. The night was made even more special for him because his mother, sister, nephew and cousin were in attendance.
"I've played for a lot of years 16 years so it felt very good, very satisfying to get that hit.'' Guerrero said through interpreter Rudy Arias, but he also pointed out that it is not something he has been consciously pursuing for a long time. "I didn't know about the record until Buck told me about it in Toronto."
No doubt caught up in all that excitement, Guerrero quickly stole his second base of the year and eventually scored the go-ahead run on a double by third baseman Chris Davis. Obviously, the Orioles got caught up in the moment, too, because they went on to score four times in the inning the last three runs on an inside-the-park home run by Robert Andino.
Talk about an evening of interesting subplots. Andino's inside job was the first ever by an Orioles player at Camden Yards and it came with his father in the stands to see his son play for the first time ever in a major league game.
"That's almost as big a moment because his dad was here for the first time watching him play his first game,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "First time he ever saw him play. I'm not sure of all the dynamics of it, but I got to meet him today and I know what an unbelievable moment that would be for us. Can you imagine what it meant to him, regardless of the impact on the game? I was really hoping Robert would get a chance to do something to let his dad see what a good year he's had and what a good player he's become."
Andino was a little more concise.
"I've got no words,'' he said. "It's priceless."
And, of course, the Red Sox were desperately trying to hold onto their slim wild card lead over the Rays, but Boston starter Josh Beckett gave up six runs to the Orioles for the second time in six days and lost back-to-back decisions to Baltimore for the first time in his career. The Rays didn't cooperate either, defeating the Yankees, 5-2, at Tropicana Field.
If that wasn't enough intrigue for one night, Showalter had to be helped back to the clubhouse after the exchange of lineup cards with what the club reported to be an ankle injury. The injury apparently wasn't serious, because he returned to the dugout by the second inning and managed the remainder of the game.
The scoreboard watch had already started at that point. The Red Sox came into the game leading the Tampa Bay Rays by one game with three left for each to play. The Rays were at home against the Yankees and the two games were pretty much in sync, so the Sox could see that the Yankees took a two-run lead and then gave it back in the third inning.
"Boston's got somewhere they want to get to and there were a lot of Boston fans here, so it was pretty intense,'' Andino said.
The Orioles may not have anything tangible to play for during their final three games of the season, but Showalter said that the atmosphere in the ballpark and the intensity on the field gave the young players a taste of what September stretch-run baseball is all about.
"They (the Red Sox) are a good baseball team that played with a lot of effort tonight and was scratching and clawing the whole way,'' Showalter said. "Had the tying run at the plate. Beckett pitched well. They did the job out of the bullpen. It was a good baseball game with two teams playing at a high intensity level. Some nights it works out for us.
The Sox had taken the lead in the second, scoring a run on a two-out double by Jacoby Ellsbury when left fielder Matt Angle airmailed his throw back to the middle of the infield and allowed Marco Scutaro to score from first base.
Orioles catcher Matt Wieters responded quickly, launching a towering fly ball that just cleared the fence in left to tie the score in the bottom of the inning. It was his 21st home run of the season and his 65th RBI.
The Orioles knew it was going to be no easy task to crack Beckett, who was facing them for the fourth time this season and he had a score to settle after the O's scored six runs off him in that 6-4 victory at Fenway Park last Wednesday. He held them to just four hits through the first five innings before the game unraveled in the sixth.