It was a 3-1 pitch from reliever Hideki Okajima that center fielder Adam Jones crushed off the left-field wall, clearing the bases and providing the big hit in a comeback victory the Orioles badly needed.
But the key pitch in the decisive at-bat of the Orioles' 6-3 victory last night over the Boston Red Sox at Camden Yards was Okajima's 2-1 offering, a high fastball that Jones let go for a ball, giving him the ideal hitter's count.
For the first eight weeks of the season, Jones has swung through that pitch repeatedly, looking very much like an eager 22-year-old playing every day in the major leagues for the first time. But not last night, not when the Orioles desperately needed a big hit to salvage what had been a frustrating four-game series.
"I was just patient with him," said Jones, whose bases-loaded shot in the bottom of the eighth inning just cleared the glove of a leaping Jacoby Ellsbury and hit off the top of the wall, bringing in three runs and breaking a tie at 3. "He threw a good pitch up and in [when it was] 2-1. I just laid off of it and was patient. It wasn't me that was under pressure; it was him."
Asked whether he thought the ball was going to leave the park, Jones said, "I thought it was [out]. Man, I don't got no pop."
The Orioles, who trailed by a run when the bottom of the eighth started, happily settled for the three-run double. George Sherrill labored through a tense ninth inning, retiring Manny Ramirez, the potential tying run, on a moderately deep fly ball to right to end the game.
"That's how I drew it up," Sherrill said jokingly about having to retire Ramirez, who had homered off Jeremy Guthrie earlier. "I got the first two outs [in the ninth], got ahead of them and everything. Then all of a sudden, everything started cutting and sinking. ... Same thing with Manny, the last two pitches cut on him. He swung over the first one, and the second one just got in on him. It's better to be lucky than good."
Sherrill's 18th save helped prevent a four-game sweep and end a four-game losing streak. It also sent the Orioles (27-29) on a nine-game road trip feeling a little better about themselves.
They went 3-4 on the homestand and improved to 3-3 this season against Boston, which received far worse news last night when it was revealed that slugger David Ortiz has a partially torn tendon in his wrist.
Orioles manager Dave Trembley watched Ramirez's final at-bat - and the final six innings - from the clubhouse after being ejected by plate umpire Alfonso Marquez in the third inning.
"They say you can't argue balls and strikes, and I was definitely arguing balls and strikes," Trembley said. "I've known Alfonso Marquez for a long time. He's a good umpire, but ... I didn't think the pitches he was calling early in the game went across the plate, and obviously, the way the Red Sox were playing, they didn't need any help."
Trembley's second ejection cost him a closer look at Guthrie's latest solid outing that resulted in a no-decision. The Orioles gave their hard-luck starter a little support with two runs in the fourth inning, but other than those Tim Wakefield shut them down over seven innings.
Guthrie, who has only two wins despite allowing three earned runs or fewer in 11 of 13 starts, surrendered a homer to Ramirez in the sixth and an RBI double to Kevin Cash in the seventh.
The Red Sox took a 3-2 lead in the eighth inning on Mike Lowell's RBI single, but Jim Johnson (1-2) prevented further damage by retiring Alex Cora on an inning-ending double play turned bravely by Brian Roberts, who was leveled by a sliding Coco Crisp on the play.
The Orioles then went to work on Okajima (1-1), starting the eighth with three consecutive singles to load the bases. Kevin Millar tied the score with a sacrifice fly, and Jones delivered after Ramon Hernandez drew a two-out walk.
"Like I've been saying all year, you find a way to win, you find a way to lose," Trembley said. "We found a way to do it."