Bud Norris silenced the Detroit Tigers hitters early in his outing Saturday night by pitching inside effectively, but when his 113th and final pitch sailed inside and hit right fielder Torii Hunter, it wasn't received well.
Tempers flared and both teams' benches and bullpens emptied as Norris and Hunter jawed at each other, an outburst that provided more fireworks than the Orioles' offense in a 4-1 loss to the Tigers in front of an announced 24,517 at Camden Yards.
Norris had just allowed a two-run homer to Tigers second baseman Ian Kinsler with two outs in the eighth inning, a dagger that spoiled an otherwise strong night for the Orioles right-hander.
Two pitches later, Norris hit Hunter with a 93-mph fastball on an 0-1 count.
While Hunter emphatically yelled at Norris and players and coaches came onto the field, home plate umpire James Hoye ejected Norris from the game.
Both Norris and catcher Steve Clevenger said it was unintentional, that Norris' game plan from the early innings was to pitch inside against a Tigers team that likes to extend their bats through the zone.
“You know, obviously he didn't like it,” Norris said. “He's entitled to his opinion, but I think he did overreact a little bit. I didn't like the first swing he took on my slider, so I didn't think I was going to jump out to the other half of the plate again.
“I know I worked inside, on both sides of the plate with Clevenger all day and got some ground balls in. Tried to throw a four-seamer in. He didn't like it, and I guess he did overreact if that's the way he feels.”
Hunter obviously thought otherwise at the time, especially since it came right after Kinsler's homer.
“I've been around a long time, when you see a pitching coach come out there and the guy just hit a home run maybe to calm him down, maybe he shouldn't have been in the game," Hunter said. "But to get hit, 94 [mph] in the ribs right after that, yeah, even if he didn't try to do it, it still looks fishy.
“I don't know if he did it on purpose or not. I thought he pitched a tremendous game and that happened.”
The ejection didn't make too much sense inside the Orioles clubhouse. Clevenger pointed out that Tigers left-hander Ian Krol threw a pair of high-and-tight fastballs past Nick Markakis.
“We've been working in all game long,” Clevenger said. “Krol came in the last inning and buzzed Nicky a couple times and nothing was said, but when we worked in and got hit, he ejected him. I don't agree with the call, but the call is the call.”
Norris said he thought the ejection was initiated by Hunter's reaction.
“His reaction kind of stirred the umpire, too, stirred up their bench, too,” Norris said. It's kind of a weird time. Because he says something, I'm immediately tossed? It's a little frustrating. To be tossed in that situation. I've never been tossed in my career, first time. And we'll see what happens from here.”
But from the umpires' perspective, Norris was the instigator.
“Kinsler hits a two-run homer and then the next hitter gets drilled,” crew chief Bob Davidson said. “I thought [James] Hoye handled it properly. I think that's what anybody would have done. It's a fastball that drilled the guy in the ribs, and I think Hoye did the right thing. That's pretty much what it was.
“As an umpire, it wasn't rocket science. I really think that that was the right thing to do.”
The two players continued yelling at each other even as Norris was walking back to the Orioles dugout.
“I think Bud Norris was the instigator in that position again,” Hoye said.
Said Hunter: “Before he got in the dugout, he looked back and said something. I don't know, but I'm too old for that. He's picking on the old guy. Come on. Really? No, I probably got more hits than he does … days in his life.”
Following a 35-minute rain delay before the game, Norris held the Tigers in check most of the night. He retired the first nine Detroit batters he faced, including one span where he struck out four straight.
Norris kept the Orioles within reach until allowing Kinsler's homer with two outs in the eighth. Norris pitched 7 2/3 innings, his longest outing of the season, allowing four runs and five hits with seven strikeouts and two walks.
The Orioles (20-16) remained in first place in the American League East, 1 1/2 games ahead of the New York Yankees and the Boston Red Sox, but they have won just three of 10 games against AL Central opponents this year.
The Tigers (22-12) came to Camden Yards with the AL's best record and leading the league in team batting average (.282), but they had lost three of their last four games before Monday.
It wasn't the first time tempers flared with Norris on the mound. During a game in Boston on April 19, Red Sox catcher David Ross yelled to Norris after three pitches came inside on him while trying to sacrifice bunt. Both dugouts emptied in that game as well.
Norris (2-3) issued a leadoff walk to Kinsler in the fourth, the Tigers' first base runner of the night. Kinsler stole second and went to third on a flyout to right and then scored the tying run on Miguel Cabrera's looping single to center, the Tigers' first hit off Norris.
Victor Martinez followed with a double that placed two runners in scoring position, and Austin Jackson's sacrifice fly to center scored Cabrera and gave the Tigers a 2-1 lead.
Clevenger had three hits and drove in the game's first run with two outs in the second inning, slapping a 1-2 pitch down the left-field line for an RBI double.
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