It’s crazy how games can turn on one sequence, one brief moment.
The Orioles were up 2-1 against the Detroit Tigers and their ace, Justin Verlander, in the seventh inning.
With one out and Tim Beckham, who had three hits, on first, Seth Smith hit a ball that nearly was a home run. The ball landed just at the tip of the grounds’ crew shed in right, and Smith settled for a double.
Caleb Joseph then came to the plate. With two strikes, Verlander threw a 100-mph fastball high and tight to Joseph, who started to swing before pulling back as the ball hit him on the wrist. Joseph flipped his bat around and landed on the dirt.
Instead of a foul ball, crew chief Jeff Nelson ruled from first base that in Joseph’s twirling, he swung. So, Joseph was gone on a painful strikeout.
“Apparently, on the slow-mo cam, it hit my hand and as I was continuing to turn to avoid the ball hitting me right in the teeth, the bat came through and it ricocheted off the barrel. But the hands are part of the bat when you swing with two strikes. So, the umpire deemed that I was intently trying to swing the bat. So, I was called out,” Joseph said. “It’s 101 miles an hour at your face. I mean, I’m not sure there’s a person in Baltimore or Detroit that would say, ‘I think he was truly trying to swing at it.’ Did that lose us the game? Probably not. So, it’s sort of irrelevant for me at this point.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter came rushing out of the dugout to argue, but it didn’t help. You can’t review a check swing – something that irritates Showalter since it is such a difficult call for any umpire to make.
“That’s one of the things I’ve been talking about is having a couple of reviews for check swings. It’s the one play that’s impossible for the umpires to really know for sure. Obviously, the intent isn’t to swing. You go by intent, it’s pretty easy,” Showalter said. “Jeff’s a good umpire, he’s trying to get it right. I disagree with him, but that was a split-second decision. I’d probably feel differently if I was in the other dugout.”
Verlander then got Craig Gentry to fly out, to escape any damage.
Mychal Givens entered in the eighth and had a rare rough inning. He allowed two bloop singles, a walk and a one-out grand slam to Justin Upton.
In a blink, the Orioles went from a 2-1 lead and a potential two-run homer to an eventual 5-2 loss. What seemed like a winnable game ended up being their second consecutive loss to the Tigers.
“You just never know. It’s unfortunate. I thought Seth hit that ball out, too. Two, three inches,” Joseph said. “We’ve got to come back and we got to get a good effort (Saturday) and try to even the series.”