One of the key plays in Sunday's loss to the Tampa Bay Rays was perfectly indicative of the Orioles' uneven season.
If it had been made, the whole tenor of the game may have changed. But the club fell just short – and then the game spiraled away.
With two outs and two on in the fifth of a 2-2 tie, Logan Forsythe hit a blooper to left-center that, off the bat, looked liked it would be caught.
But it dropped quickly -- in front of left fielder Steve Pearce and to the right of center fielder David Lough.
If it had been caught, the inning would have been over. Instead, the Rays went up, 3-2, and the next batter, Steven Souza Jr., hit a three-run homer to ruin Chris Tillman's line and hand the Orioles a series loss.
Lough and Pearce appeared to momentarily jaw after the play, but Lough said there was no miscommunication between the two. The problem, he said, was that he was directed by the Orioles' dugout to shade toward right-center with Forsythe up. And the ball fell where the Orioles didn't think Forsythe would hit it.
"I was shaded right from the get-go. [They] put me on the right side and so I wasn't able to make the play and obviously Pearce couldn't make the play as well," Lough said. "It was just one of those balls that got down and it was kind of the turning point in the game, really, because Souza ended up hitting that three-run shot there. It's unfortunate. It's one of those things that happen. Especially when you're not going as well as you want as a team. You start shading different ways and balls start falling the other ways."
Showalter said the club had spray charts – info on where balls are hit – and Forsythe hadn't put one in left-center at all.
"The center fielder's playing over in right-center," Showalter said. "He doesn't hit a ball over there. I think that's the first one on the chart he's hit there. Just one of those things."
Pearce said after the game he studied the play to see if he could have done anything differently to make that catch. And he didn't think so.
"I went and looked at video. That was tough," Pearce said. "Me and David were both converging on it and that just had disaster written all over it. But I didn't really pull up. I looked on film and that ball was still pretty far away from me. It would have been nice to make that catch, obviously. … That big three-run blow that was a big knock."
Perhaps an argument can be made that if the Orioles had different personnel in the outfield the ball would have been caught. Regular center fielder Adam Jones has been out with a left ankle injury and Lough is filling in at center. And Pearce is being used all over the field this year, so he hasn't had regular reps in left field.
But Lough is competent and speedy – and if Jones was shading right, he, too, couldn't have gotten there. And Pearce, despite his utility status now, is arguably the club's second best defensive left fielder behind Lough.