For an instant, the ball that blasted off Miguel Tejada's bat found its way into the glove of Coco Crisp, who had raced to the depths of center field to make the play.
But once Crisp ran full speed into the wall, the ball squirted from his glove, giving the Baltimore cleanup hitter the sixth-inning double that had been nearly plucked away by the Red Sox center fielder.
"It was like a strong [defensive back] hitting the wide receiver," said Crisp, who was wearing a Reggie Bush jersey to complete the football analogy.
The thumping Crisp took to his rib cage - the center fielder couldn't come out of the game, given the unavailability of Manny Ramírez (strained left oblique) and the early departure of J.D. Drew (right foot contusion) - felt much like the beating the sinking and stinking Orioles, losers of their last nine games before last night, handed the stumbling Sox.
Baltimore was supposed to be the perfect punching bag for the down-and-out-in-New York Sox. Instead, it was Baltimore that threw most of the punches, scoring four runs in the fourth and five in the sixth for a 9-3 lead. Their toxic bullpen nearly gagged up the advantage, but closer Danys Baez got Jason Varitek to ground into a double play in the ninth, sticking the limping Sox with a 9-8 loss.
Boston has lost four straight games, a blemish made less painful by the 9-1 bludgeoning the Devil Rays laid upon the Yankees last night. The Sox still hold a five-game American League East lead over New York.
Tim Wakefield, battling a creaky back this week, was a late scratch, and the Sox are hopeful the 16-game winner can make his next start. But his back never loosened yesterday afternoon, forcing Julian Tavarez into action. Tavarez, originally slated to pitch tonight (rookie Clay Buchholz will take the mound instead), breezed through the first three innings by allowing only two hits while throwing 38 pitches.
But Tavarez couldn't escape the fourth as the Orioles struck four times, swiping a lead they wouldn't give up despite the best efforts of the battered Boston lineup (15 hits against six pitchers). Drew, leading off the second, fouled a pitch off the top of his right foot, forcing Bobby Kielty, who was suffering from back spasms, to replace him in right field the following inning.
Kevin Youkilis was hit by pitches twice, by starter Radhames Liz and reliever Chad Bradford. And then there was Crisp, who completed the game (and made a terrific catch in the ninth) despite his run-in with the wall.
"We came close," said Sox manager Terry Francona. "We dug ourselves a pretty good hole. It just shows why our staff feels about the team the way we do. We had Bobby Kielty running around, Coco running through the wall. You appreciate that as a staff."
Incredibly, the Sox had their chances to produce even more runs. But in four of the final six innings, including the eighth and ninth, Boston grounded into double plays to let Baltimore pitchers escape major damage.
On the other side, the Baltimore bats took advantage of two shaky innings by Tavarez and Mike Timlin, who made his 1,000th career appearance. Down, 2-0, in the top of the fourth (David Ortiz cranked a solo shot in the first and Eric Hinske cracked an RBI double in the second), the Orioles' first eight batters reached base, two via fielder's choices.
By the time left fielder Jay Payton, Baltimore's seventh batter of the inning, made his way to first, four base runners had crossed home plate and Tavarez's night was finished. Tejada struck the biggest blow, pulling a 1-and-1 sinking fastball that stayed up in the zone into the Monster seats for a two-run homer.
The Orioles, who batted around that inning, also sent nine batters to the plate in the sixth. After designated hitter Aubrey Huff led off with a single off Javier Lopez, Timlin trotted in from the bullpen, becoming the 13th pitcher to reach the 1,000-game milestone.
Timlin heard cheers during his bullpen-to-mound commute, but was booed when he retreated to the dugout later in the inning. The righthander gave up four hits and four earned runs in two-thirds of an inning, none bigger than a bleacher bomb by right fielder Nick Markakis, who jumped on a meaty 1-and-2 changeup to drive in three runs.
And not even eight Boston hits in the final three innings could close such a gap.
Fluto Shinzawa can be reached at FShinzawa@globe.com.