BOSTON — Whether the Orioles' dust-up with the Boston Red Sox on Saturday afternoon at Fenway Park galvanizes their clubhouse remains to be seen over the course of a season still in its infancy.
Regardless, the dugout-emptying confrontation between Orioles pitcher Bud Norris and Red Sox catcher David Ross in the Orioles' 4-2 loss is an example of the intensity of life in the American League East no matter the calendar date.
All was normal until Ross stepped to the batter's box with a man on first and no outs in the seventh inning with the game tied at 2. Looking to bunt, he believed some of Norris' deliveries were coming close to his head, and he didn't like that.
So after Ross squared around and a 90 mph 2-1 pitch rode high and in, the veteran catcher twice yelled out to Norris, "Make an adjustment," as he stepped toward the mound.
The Orioles' 6-foot-5 catcher, Matt Wieters, stepped in front of the 6-2 Ross quickly and exchanged words with him before anything could escalate. Players and coaches flooded out of both dugouts, but cooler heads prevailed.
"The emotions are running high," Orioles first baseman Chris Davis said. "It's the Red Sox. It's a rival. It's a part of the game. We don't back down. That's our thing. We have each other's backs. If somebody wants to run their mouths, we'll stand up to them."
This wasn't the knockdown, drag-out Kevin Gregg-David Ortiz brawl of three seasons ago at Fenway, but rather a reminder to the Red Sox that under manager Buck Showalter, these Orioles aren't going to back down to the defending World Series champions in any situation.
"I guess he thought somebody was throwing at him after two breaking balls and a fastball away," Showalter said. "I don't know. It's emotional. Ross is a good player, a good catcher and a pro. But I know Matt. He's not going to allow somebody to yell at his pitcher like that, especially when [Ross] doesn't have any reason to."
Showalter was more frustrated by the fact that both teams received warnings after Ross' outburst but nothing happened after Davis was plunked with a 2-0 fastball in the top of the seventh.
"We got a warning because of Ross' reaction," Showalter said. "Go figure."
Norris struck out Ross swinging, but the next batter, third baseman Brock Holt, hit an RBI triple into the spacious right-center field gap to give the Red Sox the lead. Holt scored on a squeeze play by shortstop Jonathan Herrera when Davis charged and scooped the ball with his glove in front of the plate but couldn't get the ball to Wieters in time, giving the Red Sox a 4-2 lead.
"It's one of those do-or-die plays," Davis said. "It's the disadvantage of having a first baseman's mitt. The ball just kind of got caught up in my glove. By the time I could get it out, it really didn't matter. I went back and looked at it. He got a pretty good jump."
The loss ended the Orioles' season-high three-game winning streak, but they've still won 15 of their last 22 games at Fenway Park.
Norris (0-2), who left the game after 103 pitches following Holt's triple, pitched well; he was charged with four runs on five hits over 61/3 innings. The Red Sox scored their first run on a fielding error by third baseman Jonathan Schoop that could have been an inning-ending double play, and Davis might have had a play at home on Herrera's squeeze bunt if he were able to toss the ball cleanly.
"I think their [radar] gun's a little high here, but still he was crisp," Showalter said of Norris. "He was good. He deserved a better fate. We just weren't able to do a whole lot offensively."
With both Norris and Red Sox starter Felix Doubront pitching well, runs were at a premium throughout the afternoon. Doubront held the Orioles to two runs on five hits over 62/3 innings. The Orioles needed to make their first umpire challenge of the season to get their second run after Nelson Cruz was initially called out at first on a grounder down third-base line with two outs in the sixth inning.
After a review of 49 seconds, the call was overturned and Cruz, who drove in both Orioles runs, was credited with an infield single that scored Adam Jones from third to tie the game at 2. The Orioles loaded the bases that inning, but Doubront prevented further damage.
With the game tied at 1, Red Sox designated hitter David Ortiz led off the fourth inning with a solo homer just inside Pesky's Pole in right field off Norris. Ortiz's homer was the 434th of his career, tying him for 42nd all time with Juan Gonzalez, Andruw Jones and Paul Konerko.
When the benches cleared in the seventh, it might have just been a heated moment, but Norris was confused why Ross would have any inclination that the pitcher was trying to hit him.
"I'm trying to throw the ball over the plate and take the out, because if you're giving to me a sac bunt situation, I want the out every time," Norris said. "So, for him to say something is kind of funny considering the fact that he's been around a while. I kind of laughed it off. Obviously, the benches cleared, which was fine, but I came back to get him out and that was a big situation there.
"Both of the first two pitches were sliders," he added. "They were in and he's trying to sac bunt, and he didn't really like it and that's OK. The 2-1 was a fastball that got there. He missed the 2-0, too. Like I said, I didn't really know where it came from, and it kind of caught me off guard."
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Wieters also was surprised by the situation.
"Yeah, especially because catchers know how balls can sometime slip and get away," Wieters said. "Especially when they had a couple slip and get away. But on top of that, you have emotions going on and everybody, we got back to the game.
"More than anything, I don't want anybody talking to the pitcher from the other team," Wieters said.
After the game, Ross, a respected backup catcher who has a history of concussions, retreated and said he regretted yelling out to Norris.
"Just a couple pulled balls at my head and it kind of rattled me a little bit; [I] probably said some things I shouldn't have said," Ross said. "But it's all good — baseball stuff."