If there is a lasting image from the Orioles' 5-4 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Saturday, it's pinch-runner Alexi Casilla standing at third base, arms spread wide, palms in the air, mouthing “What happened?” to coach Bobby Dickerson.
The answer wasn't what Casilla, the potential tying run, wanted to hear: Boston right fielder Shane Victorino had dashed to his left, caught Ryan Flaherty's liner with little trouble and threw to first to double up Casilla and end the game.
In the recent past, “What happened?” would have been this: It was Red Sox-Orioles, and whatever could go wrong for the Orioles, would. There were even a couple more moments Saturday afternoon — besides Casilla's gaffe — that fortified that familiar argument: A phantom foul-tip call and a missed balk that went against the home team.
Yet, given the recent reversal of fortune between the clubs, that theory in 2013 seems like a case of crying over spilled Natty Boh. The reality is the Orioles had won four of five and 23 of their past 32 against Boston before dropping Saturday's game in front of a rocking announced 42,422 at Camden Yards.
Saturday's loss puts the Orioles (39-30) 2 1/2 games behind the American League-leading Red Sox (42-28).
The primary reasons they couldn't make it three in a row were that enigmatic starter Freddy Garcia (3-4) didn't hold a lead and the club's offense couldn't knock out Boston starter John Lackey (4-5) after he allowed four hits to start the afternoon.
“It's a game where all the little things add up at the end and we fell just short today,” said catcher Matt Wieters, whose two-run homer in the bottom of the ninth against Red Sox closer Andrew Bailey cut Boston's lead to one run.
J.J. Hardy followed Wieters' ninth homer of the season with a one-out single to right. Casilla entered to pinch run, and Flaherty hit a hooking liner to right that sent Casilla sprinting.
“Flaherty hit that ball very good. He crushed it over my head. I kind of started running and looked where Victorino was playing and thought, ‘No chance he was gonna catch that ball,'” said Casilla, who hadn't played since last Sunday because of a jammed finger. “I guess I kept running. Bad read.”
Dickerson was yelling to get Casilla's attention. First base coach Wayne Kirby waved his hands in the air and bellowed, but Casilla didn't come up for air until he reached third and Boston's Mike Carp stood on first base with the ball.
“I got to third and said, ‘What happened?' And [Dickerson said] ‘He got it.' And I said, ‘Wow.' Bad baserunning,” Casilla said. “Today, that was the worst baserunning in the game. But tomorrow it could be a different story.”
Casilla apparently wasn't the only one fooled. Boston second baseman Dustin Pedroia said he also thought the ball was tailing away from Victorino.
“Off the bat, I thought it looked more down the line, at least from my angle at second,” Pedroia said. “I'm sure he thought the same thing.”
Pedroia was involved in another key play when he led off the fourth with the Red Sox trailing 2-0. On a 2-2 count, Pedroia swung at a curveball in the dirt for strike three. Replays showed that Pedroia whiffed at the pitch, but home plate umpire Jeff Nelson ruled that the ball had been tipped. Pedroia, who had been hitless in seven previous at-bats in the series, stroked Garcia's next pitch into center for a single.
Two batters later, Carp homered to right for his eighth of the year, tying the game at 2. The Red Sox then took the lead on a two-out double to right by Stephen Drew. Jonny Gomes motored in from first, sliding headfirst into the plate as catcher Taylor Teagarden failed to backhand Flaherty's bouncing throw.
The momentum had swung away from Garcia and the Orioles.
“That was a really bad call, and I [lost] a little of my concentration,” said Garcia, who was charged with five earned runs in 5 1/3 innings. “It shouldn't happen. I've been in it for so long. I don't think my emotions should take me out of the game, But it did for a little bit. And they became big innings. … You can't [make] excuses.”
Pedroia admitted after the game that he did not nick the ball.
“The last four or five games, the ball looks like a baby aspirin coming in,” said Pedroia, one of eight Red Sox with hits Saturday. “I actually thought I did hit it [at first]. I swung and felt something and I'm like, ‘Could have swore I fouled that ball off.' And then I didn't. … That was a break for us. …I thought I hit something. It was probably the ground.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter argued the call, but he said after the game that it's not an easy read for an umpire.
“It's a hard call, whether you call it one way or the other,” Showalter said. “It's a hard call. The balk's not a very hard call.”
In the fifth, with Nate McLouth on first and Taylor Teagarden at third, Lackey appeared to move the ball in his hand, stop, get the sign and then put the ball into his glove. If a balk had been called, Teagarden would have scored and McLouth would have gone to second with no outs. It wasn't called, and on the ensuing pitch, McLouth was thrown out trying to steal second. Lackey got out of the jam with a comebacker and a fly out.
“I couldn't believe they didn't see it, but they didn't,” McLouth said.
Showalter screamed from the dugout about the non-balk. After the game, he mentioned it several times — and seemed more irritated by that than Pedroia's swing and Casilla's misread.
“That was pretty blatant,” Showalter said, “but those things happen. You've got to overcome them. We made some mistakes, too, today.”
Garcia has made nine starts for the Orioles since being recalled from Triple-A Norfolk on May 4 and has four quality starts (six innings or more; three runs or fewer). Yet he's never been able to string two of them together in an Orioles uniform. The last time he had consecutive quality starts was Aug. 10 and Aug. 15, 2012 when he was with the New York Yankees.
“Of course, I want to be consistent,” Garcia said. “And I'm not.”
After Gomes homered against Garcia in the sixth for Boston's fifth run, rookie T.J. McFarland entered and threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the game close. He struck out the first three batters he faced on nine pitches — the first Oriole to do that since Alberto Castillo on Sept. 23, 2008.
But because Lackey had settled in by that point — the veteran gave up two runs in the first on Manny Machado's major league-leading 31st double and a RBI single by Nick Markakis — the Orioles couldn't quite make a comeback, for whatever reason.
“I'd like to think it was two good clubs,” Showalter said. “And it came down to a small separator.”