Plate umpire Jeff Nelson talks with Orioles manager Buck Showalter… (Karl Merton Ferron, Baltimore…)
The Orioles have been, for the past season and a half, one of the most opportunistic teams in baseball, so it would not be fair for them to curse the fates for letting one promising opportunity slip away in a 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox.
They can curse home plate umpire Jeff Nelson if they want, as he blew a call that led to a pair of Red Sox runs in a three-run fourth inning on Saturday. They can curse their own inability to put the hammer down on Boston pitcher John Lackey when they had a chance to get more out of a first-inning rally that might have made things a lot more comfortable for starting pitcher Freddy Garcia. They can second-guess a baserunning gaffe by Alexi Casilla that ended another scrappy comeback attempt in the ninth inning.
But they had better not curse the baseball gods for their dumb luck on an otherwise beautiful Saturday afternoon at Camden Yards, because they have been on the right side of that ledger much more often than not and, well, you just can't take that kind of thing for granted.
It certainly would have been nice to head into the series finale with a chance to swing a size-4 broom at one of your most formidable division rivals, especially with today's starter, Miguel Gonzalez, coming off a pair of very solid outings. If the Orioles had won Saturday, they would have had a chance to take over first place in the American League East.
Now let's get real. How many times is Garcia going to sneak past another one of the game's top offensive teams? Almost every game is a high-wire act, and Saturday was no exception. He spent every inning but the first in escape mode and, ultimately, could not escape his fourth loss in seven decisions despite of a terrific long-relief outing by T.J. McFarland.
"Freddy gave us a chance to win,'' manager Buck Showalter said. "A couple things kind of went against him. We caught some hard-hit balls, too. A double play on a one-hop well-hit ball. He hung in there, gave us a chance. I thought McFarland was outstanding. That's about as good as you want to see in execution of pitchers. I'm really proud of him today. He gave us a chance to make a run at the end. That was pretty impressive."
Garcia certainly deserved better in the fourth, when the Red Sox scored those three runs, because Nelson gave Dustin Pedroia an extra strike after he swung and missed a ball in the dirt and should have been in the dugout when he led off the inning with a single. Nelson must have heard the ball hit the ground and thought it nicked the bat, because he called it foul when the video replay clearly showed that Pedroia swung several inches over it.
Boston tied the game one out later on a long home run by first baseman Mike Carp and added a third run with two outs, so it's fair to say that two of the runs were ump-earned.
Was that miscall the reason the Orioles lost the game? It certainly was one of the reasons, but this was one of those games when a couple of singles — or even a couple of productive outs — might have impacted the outcome.
The Orioles reeled off four straight hits to open the first inning against Lackey, whose 3-5 record coming into the game was somewhat deceptive. He had given up more than three earned runs just twice in his first 10 starts this season, and his 3.14 ERA was a half-run better than anyone in the Orioles rotation.
There were two runs on the board and runners at first and third before Lackey got his first out of the game, but the Orioles' usually clutch heart-of-the-lineup hitters could not squeeze even one more run out of the rally, which would end up haunting them just as much as the blown call.
There would also be another first-and-third, no-out situation that went for naught in the fifth and the big baserunning mistake by Casilla — who got doubled up at first base on a fly ball to right to end the game — after the Orioles crawled back to within a run in the bottom of the ninth inning on Matt Wieters' home run.
Still, it was really just a garden-variety loss in the midst of a pretty good run. Even the best teams have games like that and, lest anyone forget in the wake of one disappointing afternoon, the Orioles are one of baseball's best teams.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog, and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM) and at wbal.com.