Kevin Gregg got the game's final out, retiring Kila Ka'aihue with a man on second to preserve the Orioles' 3-2 victory over the Kansas City Royals tonight. But if you ask players in both clubhouses, it was Orioles center fielder Adam Jones who deserved the save.
Let me explain: With Alcides Escobar on first base, one out and the Orioles leading 3-1 in the eighth, Royals leadoff man Mike Aviles drove a Jim Johnson pitch into left-center field. Jones gave chase and noticed the ball wasn't moving under the fence, and he immediately threw his hands up in the air to indicate that play should be stopped because the ball was stuck. The only problem was that none of the umpires stopped play as Escobar had already come home and Aviles was rounding the bases for the game-tying, inside-the-park home run.
"I almost reached for it," Jones said. "The instinct is to reach for it. I saw it under there, and I pulled my hand back because it wasn't moving."
Ultimately, second base umpire and crew chief Tim Welke jogged out to center field and ruled that the ball was indeed stuck, and it should be a ground rule double. Escobar was sent back to third, and Aviles, who would have likely gotten a pretty comfortable triple if Jones had picked it up and threw it back toward the infield, went back to second.
That loomed large when the next batter, Melky Cabrera, grounded out to second base, scoring Escobar to cut the Orioles' lead to 3-2. Michael Gonzalez came on and retired Alex Gordon to end the inning and strand Aviles at third.
"I've been here since 2008, and I've never once seen a ball get stuck in the fence. I was planning on being on third base with Escobar scoring. Then, it's a whole different ballgame," Aviles said. "The next play, they have to come infield in, and I think that ball Melky hits gets through. [Jones] is an All-Star for a reason. He's a very good defensive center fielder. He can track it. That's just a smart, heads-up play. He picks up the ball and we're sitting there with a run scored and a man on third. It's a whole different ballgame. Him putting his hands up, it's a risky play, but he's been around a bit. He knows whether it's going to be a double or not."
Jones said that he familiarizes himself with the ground rules at each park he visits, often asking the umpires questions before or during the game. However, he said, he has played at Kauffman Stadium enough that he knew the rules without asking anybody.
"I know every ground rule of every home stadium that we play in. Situations like that, they happen few and far between, but tonight it happened. It was good I knew beforehand what would happen if that situation arose," Jones said. "This is a place that has a little gap underneath to where a ball gets snuck. If the ball gets stuck, you put your hands up and it's a double. That turned out to be a huge play because instead, it would have been a guy scoring and a triple with one out. It goes back to paying attention. It's the small things that some people don't pay attention to that I kind of do."
Several of Jones' teammates praised him after the win, which broke a two-game losing streak and clinched a winning road trip. They are 4-2 on the trip heading into tomorrow afternoon's series finale here.
"It was great to see that Jonesy had the awareness to keep his hands up and not maybe panic and go for the ball when he saw the umpire wasn't making that call," said Orioles starter Jake Arrieta, who pitched a terrific game, allowing one run over seven innings and retiring 15 of the final 16 batters he faced. "I think that was huge. He really showed a lot of composure there. It looked like he had a really good idea of what he was doing. That was probably the turning point of the game."
Said catcher Matt Wieters: "I thought it was a great play. He knew the ground rules, and he knew if the ball goes under, not to pick it up. If he goes and picks it up, it's probably two runs and a tie ballgame. It was a smart play on his part."