The Orioles' pride in their infield defense doesn't need retelling, but the hit that strength of theirs took Tuesday night at Fenway Park was worn all over shortstop J.J. Hardy's face.
With one on and one out in the seventh inning of a one-run game, Hardy got what he knew he was going to get. Darren O'Day, on in relief, coaxed an uncomplicated ground ball out of left fielder Chris Young, but Hardy couldn't get it out of his glove to start a double play.
It began what was a series of near-misses over two defensive frames that, however unfairly, showed one of the best defensive infields in baseball in quite an unflattering shade.
"I can only really speak for myself," Hardy said. "I think all the other stuff that happened was just, just off the glove, diving plays. They would have been great plays had we made them, but it just turned into ugly baseball after I didn't make that double play."
All the other stuff defies most explanation. After the Hardy error, second baseman Jonathan Schoop tracked back deep into the outfield grass for a high pop and had it glance off his glove for a single. Hardy dove up the middle to corral a ground ball, but it skidded away from him and ended up scoring two runs. He also ended up bizarrely chasing second baseman Dustin Pedroia down the third base line in a run-down for the second out of the inning.
One inning later, the Red Sox tacked on three more runs on near-misses in the field by the visitors. Right fielder Seth Smith was game in attempting a sliding catch on a sinking line drive with two men on and two outs, but it just eluded him and went for a triple by catcher Christian Vazquez. Vazquez scored on the first of three straight infield singles, all of which at least glanced an Orioles glove.
The first was a line drive comebacker that pitcher Oliver Drake flailed at behind his back, but only helped fall into the infield grass for an RBI single. The second, by rookie Andrew Benintendi, was a high chopper to Hardy, whose throw was beaten by the runner. The third was a hard-hit ball to the left of third baseman Manny Machado, who made contact with it but couldn't catch it.
To manager Buck Showalter, the series of frustrating plays were just that, but not indicative of any actual shortcomings.
"Jonathan's is a real tough play, a base hit," Showalter said. "They had about four or five ground balls that snuck through or just off the end of a glove. Just one of those nights where a lot of things fell their way."
Showalter flatly denied the idea that things snowballed after the Hardy error, but Hardy himself didn't.
"I think when you feel like you get the ground ball you're looking for to end the inning, I think it's very deflating," Hardy said. "It just kind of unraveled. And it all started with that routine double play."