It's a day late and one appeal short, but the Orioles might've been able to avoid the disaster that destroyed them in the eighth inning Wednesday night. Armando Benitez may have even kept his job for at least another day.
We'll never know, but Kevin Brown even might have been able to complete the 2-0 shutout he had in the works. Talk about the unpredictable, or unexpected: The Seattle Mariners had a nine-run inning that was put in motion by a hit batter who reached base on a pitch that was actually a strike.
Leading off the inning, Doug Strange was attempting to bunt his way on base when one of Brown's sharp sliders struck him in the leg. Strange's immediate reaction was as clever as it was instinctive -- he calmly flipped the bat away and trotted to first as home plate umpire Dave Phillips awarded him the base for being hit by the pitch.
What Phillips didn't realize was that Strange was hit by the pitch after he attempted to bunt. The rule book clearly states that if a batter attempts to make contact with a pitch that hits him, it is a strike.
Had the Orioles appealed the play, umpire Mark Johnson, who was working third base, said yesterday that he would've ruled the pitch a strike. "I couldn't tell if he was trying to bunt," admitted Phillips. "I just saw the pitch hit him."
Johnson and the rest of the crew discussed the play after the game. "I definitely thought he tried to bunt the ball," said Johnson.
"If that was the case," said Philips, "then if there had been an appeal, we would have rung him up." The home plate umpire has immediate jurisdiction on such a play, but there is a right to appeal to the third base or first base umpires if there is a question about whether or not a batter attempted to make contact. Since Strange is a left-handed hitter, the appeal would go to the third base umpire.
Since none was forthcoming, the original decision stood. The confusion surrounding the play probably is the reason the Orioles didn't appeal. "From our dugout, we really didn't have a good angle," said manager Phil Regan. "I think most of us at first thought he [Strange] had fouled the ball off."
Pitching coach Mike Flanagan said he too was fooled on the play. "I looked down to make a note on the [pitching] chart and when I looked up I thought, 'What's going on here?' "
In the bullpen, coach Elrod Hendricks reacted in similar fashion. "I asked them [his fellow bullpen occupants], 'Am I missing something here?' "
The general consensus was that Strange was so cool about the play that he conned his way to first base. At the time, with Brown working on a two-hitter, it might've seemed immaterial, but the Orioles had only a two-run lead.
What followed, however, was a nightmarish inning that featured an error by second baseman Manny Alexander on a potential double-play ball and included two long-distance trips for Benitez. The first was a grand slam by Edgar Martinez. The second was a trip to Triple-A Rochester.
All of that might've been avoided had it not been for the bizarre play that started the inning. This one was a Strange defeat for the Orioles, perhaps because they failed to appeal their case.