One of the most appealing aspects of baseball is its unpredictability.
For every game that is dominated to the point that a team doesn't have a chance, such as Randy Johnson vs. the Orioles Monday night, there's another determined by the unexpected.
It could be a three-run homer or a pitching masterpiece from an unlikely source; a tricky infield hit off the bat of a slugger or a blooper that falls among three converging fielders as though it had eyes; a defensive gem or an error on a seemingly routine play.
Very often a game's turning point is something that doesn't show up in a box score. Such was the case Tuesday night, when the Orioles scored seven times in the fifth inning to blow open a game against Seattle they eventually won, 12-6.
In this case, it was something as basic as a botched pitchout that sunk the Mariners. The Orioles had a 3-2 lead with Jeffrey Hammonds on first base with two outs, when catcher Dan Wilson called for the pitchout that should've ended the inning.
Hammonds was running, but it was obvious from his first step that proper execution would end the inning. But pitcher Dave Fleming handcuffed Wilson with what looked like a high, outside changeup that had the catcher groping for the ball before throwing.
"It was a curveball pitchout," Seattle manager Lou Piniella said after the game. "I've never seen that before. It's a play we didn't work on in spring training. We don't teach that, believe me.
"Expecting the catcher to throw a guy out on that pitch is like asking Shaquille O'Neal to dunk from his knees," said Piniella, who at least was able to retain his sense of humor. Asked Tuesday if there was a reason for the unorthodox pitch, Piniella replied: "We'll find out tomorrow -- before the game, not after."
Fleming didn't need to wait that long. The left-hander, who had pitched steadily, if not sensationally, to the point of the pitchout, said he simply missed the pitchout sign, which came as part of a sequence from Wilson.
Until he saw his catcher move out to receive the ball, Fleming was under the impression that a curve was called. The result was a sloppy combination of the two.
It was only one pitch, one lost out -- but for the Mariners it turned into disaster.
Jeff Manto followed with a bloop single for one run, Manny Alexander hit a home run off the left-field foul pole for two more, Curtis Goodwin rolled a single through the infield, Brady Anderson walked and Fleming never did record the third out. Three more runs would score before the inning ended, with the Orioles leading 9-2, instead of 3-2.
We'll never know what would've happened had the pitchout been successful, but the chances are Fleming would've still been pitching in the sixth inning. "His pitch count was pretty good until then -- he must've thrown 20 more after that," said Piniella.
Fleming finished with 99 pitches on his chart. Three of them were homers that accounted for a total of five runs. But the most damaging was the pitchout -- which ultimately resulted in six quick runs for the Orioles.