For the first time in nearly seven years, the Orioles had a chance to go six games over .500 on Friday night. Instead, they received a middling performance from their de facto ace while their offense provided less pop than the plate umpire.
With right-hander Jake Arrieta struggling with his command from the outset, the Orioles saw their four-game winning streak end in a 5-2 loss to the Oakland Athletics, a nondescript contest that will be best remembered by what happened during the seventh-inning stretch.
For the fourth time this early season, a fan ran onto the Camden Yards field, this time in the middle of the seventh. As the Baltimore City Police began their required collapsing seal of the diamond, the bare-chested man ran down the third base line and slid headfirst into home plate.
Just as quickly as the guy stood up, he went right back down, thanks to a blindside hit delivered by plate umpire Jeff Kellogg, a tackle worthy of the night's NFL draft. Kellogg's snap, crack and pop -- which surely will be met with discipline by Major League Baseball -- was greeted with delight from the bundled-up, announced crowd of 18,297.
It was the second time an umpire had taken the situation into his own hands here -- on May 3, 1999, Cuban umpire Cesar Valdez body-slammed and punched an anti-Castro protester during the Orioles-Cuba exhibition game at Camden Yards.
Kellogg, who declined to comment after Friday's game, also received the praise from those on the field -- including Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.
"That was awesome. I told him, 'That's awesome,'" Jones said. "I'm sick and tired of these guys running on the field, man. I said let's get a K-9, something. A K-9 [unit] would be fine."
Jones then went a step further, saying he would like to see the perpetrators tased if they decide to interrupt a game.
"I'd [advocate] that people get tased. I'd enjoy that. You don't run on the field and just disturb a game that's going on. It's private property," Jones said. "I don't like the way the cops go after them here. I know it's not their call. I know the rules; they want them to create a circle or seal. Those kids are running all around those guys. No disrespect to the cops, but go get this dude, put your knee in his throat and tie his [butt] up, simple as that. It's so annoying. I wish I [could] go out there as a player, but we can't."
The Orioles hitters' main responsibility Friday was to break down Oakland's Brandon McCarthy (1-3), but they couldn't quite solve the right-hander, who allowed five hits, three walks and two earned runs in seven innings.
"Strike one. That's the key around baseball, throwing strike one," Jones said. "Successful pitchers do that, and tonight [McCarthy] was throwing strike one and made us put the ball in play."
In contrast, Arrieta threw a first-pitch ball to seven of the first nine batters he faced. After retiring the first four A's, he ran into trouble in a three-run, 32-pitch inning in which he walked Kila Ka'aihue on four pitches and served up a 3-0 sinker that Eric Sogard hit over the right-field wall for a two-run shot. Sogard was a late addition to the starting lineup because Luke Hughes was scratched with an illness.
"No reason I should have a four-pitch walk to [Ka'aihue] and really no reason I should go 3-0 to Sogard," Arrieta said. "Just got to throw the ball down in the zone and not allow those guys to sit on certain pitches today, showing I wasn't very crisp, didn't have many off-speed pitches to go to. Still had usable pitches, just wasn't able to throw them for strikes."
Arrieta was pulled in the sixth inning, one batter after he allowed a solo homer to Orioles-crusher Josh Reddick, the former Boston Red Sox outfielder who has five homers and 13 RBIs in 24 games against Baltimore in his career.
It was the second straight outing in which Arrieta (1-2) did not pitch into the seventh after doing that in the first three starts of the season.
"It's kind of remarkable, in a way, that he got as deep as he did with some of the counts he had in hitters' favors," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said.
Overall, Arrieta allowed four hits, two walks and four earned runs while throwing 105 pitches in 5 2/3 innings. Left-hander Troy Patton threw two scoreless innings in relief of Arrieta but was charged with a run when Coco Crisp walked, stole second and scored on Reddick's single against reliever Matt Lindstrom.
Kevin Gregg, who hadn't pitched since April 18 and was booed by the home crowd, threw a perfect ninth for the Orioles, striking out two before Oakland's Grant Balfour picked up his sixth save of the season.
"I thought Kevin pitched a real good ninth inning after eight days off, so I was proud of him," Showalter said.
The Orioles (12-8) scored their first run in the first inning, almost exclusively on the legs of Nolan Reimold. Playing in just his second game in nearly a week because of persistent neck spasms, Reimold extended his hitting streak to 12 with a drive to right-center that he legged into a double. He moved to third on a deep flyout to left and scored on a fairly shallow fly to left by Nick Markakis. Reimold's hustle and base-running instincts made the run happen.
The most historic performance of the night was turned in by A's reliever Ryan Cook, who struck out four in the eighth inning, throwing a wild pitch that allowed Jones to advance to first after fanning. It's believed to be the 25th time in modern baseball history that an American League pitcher has recorded four strikeouts in an inning, according to MLB.
"It doesn't happen often, but it happens," Jones said. "You just try not to be part of it again."
Chances are the most memorable part of the night -- the image of Kellogg slamming himself into the trespassing fan -- won't happen again soon either.