|The celebration is on when Cesar Izturis (3) scores for the Orioles in the 11th inning. (Joe Giza/Reuters)|
To Orioles, this was a big deal
Winning effort may provide spark
BALTIMORE — In the grand scheme of things, what did yesterday’s 4-3 loss to the Orioles mean to the Red Sox? Nothing more than one loss to a bad team snapping a 10-game losing streak, giving their new manager his first win. It didn’t mean a darn thing to the people who follow the Red Sox, except those who feel they should clobber the Orioles every time they play them.
To the Orioles, it was more than that. It was a day when self-respect came back. Maybe it’s fleeting because after the Sox left town, the Yankees are paying a visit starting tomorrow.
This was a great snapshot of the psychology of sport. The Orioles are a downtrodden team that had been buried the last two weeks, and been clobbered, 19-2, in the first two games against the Red Sox. They have been made fun of, called horrible things, and ridiculed. But yesterday, under very tough conditions — rain, heat, humidity — Juan Samuel’s troops hung in there enough and beat one of the best teams in baseball in 11 innings.
The on-field celebration after Nick Markakis’s single plated Cesar Izturis with the winning run felt as if they had won the World Series. Samuel, who replaced Dave Trembley Friday, actually got to speak about a victory. Toward the end of his news conference, Adam Jones decided to give Samuel a pie in the face — but the manager knew it was coming and intercepted it.
The Red Sox had numerous chances to win the game but never could get the key hit. The Orioles know they dodged another bullet — an 11th straight loss. Suddenly, though, that heavy feeling around them dissipated.
“It’s like night and day in here,’’ said David Hernandez, who earned the win with two innings of scoreless relief. “To beat a team like that and win it in extra innings after the year we’ve had, just to break up what’s been going on around here, is nice. That’s the best way I can put it. It feels nice.’’
It’s hard for fans in Boston to understand how the Orioles feel because it rarely gets this bad. If there’s heartache once in a while it’s because the team has lost in the postseason, not because it started the season 16-41. Think back on how badly the Red Sox played in April and part of May. That’s not even a fraction of how bad things are for a franchise that will likely endure its 13th consecutive losing season, barring a Morgan Magic-like scenario.
So to watch this kind of joy over one win, we just can’t relate. But it’s an eye-opener nonetheless.
“It’s been a very difficult year,’’ said Markakis. “We’ve had a lot of injuries and a lot of things go on around here. To have lost that many games and just to get into the win column, that’s a great feeling. We just have to keep it going.’’
Samuel is a well-spoken baseball lifer who played infield at a pretty high level for 16 seasons. He was an All-Star three times. He kept yesterday’s game ball and lineup card to commemorate his first win. Samuel told team president Andy MacPhail he was going to get his players to play harder and be more fundamentally sound. That didn’t happen in 11-0 and 8-2 losses Friday and Saturday. But yesterday it did.
“The guys did things — bunting and running balls out and keeping the intensity for as long as the game goes. We saw all of those things,’’ said Samuel. “They didn’t give up. Once we gave up the lead [on a Dustin Pedroia sacrifice fly in the ninth], the guys continued to fight. I’ve been saying the past few days, ‘If you give us all you can give we’ll deal with the outcome and I’ll bet you we’ll win a lot of those games.’ ’’
When Luke Scott doubled to left-center field in the second inning, the feeling was Scott hit the ball so far it should have been a triple. Samuel acknowledged he talked to Scott and asked him if that was all he had. “Luke always gives 100 percent,’’ said Samuel. “That’s all he had.’’
MacPhail, who could be under some fire from owner Peter Angelos over the team’s performance, said Friday the blame for this bad season could shared by many in the organization, starting with himself, citing his offseason signings. He didn’t name names, but among MacPhail’s signings were Miguel Tejada, Garrett Atkins, and Kevin Millwood.
His most surprising comment was that some younger players had regressed. He almost certainly meant catcher Matt Wieters, outfielder Adam Jones, and lefthander Brian Matusz. Yesterday, Matusz (5 2/3 innings, 7 strikeouts) seemed to go forward again.
He stymied the Red Sox for as long as he could — 117 pitches, allowing a Victor Martinez two-run homer. Like all young pitchers, Matusz has to learn to economize his pitches when he faces the top lineups in the game. Once he does that, he’ll be off and running. Matusz hasn’t reached that point, but with four very good pitches, the feeling is he will.
“I’ve managed some of these kids at Triple A,’’ said new Orioles third base coach Gary Allenson, a former Red Sox catcher. “I know the ability they have. I think sometimes young guys come up here and they spend too much time reading the papers and negative things about themselves when they’re young. I remember when I was up with Boston, [Carlton] Fisk got hurt and I was the catcher and all I read about was how the Red Sox were looking for another catcher. Sometimes you need to reassure a kid that, ‘You’re my guy. I might pinch hit for you, but you’re my guy.’ ’’
The Red Sox could easily have prevented this moment for the Orioles because for the second time at the end of a series (they lost, 9-8, to Oakland at the end of the last homestand) they let what could have been an easy one slip away. While they took the series with Oakland and Baltimore they should have swept both, particularly because John Lackey gave them seven solid innings yesterday, allowing just two runs.
If you’re the Red Sox, you can’t win them all. If you’re the Orioles, you can’t lose them all.
For the Orioles, after being beaten down so often, it was a glorious day.