I was not in the best of moods around 8:20 PM on Saturday, July 14th. We had been at Camden Yards for over five hours. That alone is not necessarily a bad thing, but this particular afternoon had been your typical hot and muggy Baltimore July afternoon. The Orioles unveiled Eddie Murray’s statue in an afternoon ceremony before the 4:15 nationally televised game. The statue unveiling meant more fans than usual at the Yard, which meant I was squeezed into my upper deck seat between Tim and a teenager who had real boundary issues. Despite being about my size, he felt it was perfectly fine to have his arms and legs flow over into my seating area for the entire game. The Eddie statue also brought many non-regulars to the Yard, some of who bemoaned every run allowed and opportunity squandered by the O’s as if the team was once again mired in last place rather than being 4 games over .500 and in 2nd place in the AL East. A couple of “fans” behind us were particularly quick in chiming in with any negative thought that entered their minds.
“Same old Orioles.” “They can never get a clutch hit.” “Hardy is no good – he had one good season.” “Big surprise, Mark Reynolds struck out.” It went on and on the entire game.
I could have handled all of that had the Orioles managed to maintain the 4-1 lead that they carried into the 9th inning. Instead, Jim Johnson blew a rare save opportunity and the game headed into extras tied at 4. In the 11th, the Tigers went up a run (“It’s all over now” predicted the gloomy naysayers behind us) but the O’s fought back and re-tied the game at 5 when Adam Jones fisted a two-out single into left field in the bottom half of the inning. In the 13th, the Tigers once again took the lead thanks to a Quintin Berry RBI single. After 12 ½ innings, I was tired, hot, annoyed, hungry (I hadn’t bothered to eat since noon), and frustrated by the fact that what was once a sure-win now looked to be a sure-loss. The fact that the game had been so exciting and intense up to this point was lost on me in that moment.
Tim and I stood in front of our seats – as we had for most of the extra-innings. We hoped that the Orioles had one more magic trick up their sleeves, but truthfully, I didn’t think there was much of a chance they did. Coming back from one lead in extras was impressive – how often does a team come back after being down twice in extras?
J.J. Hardy – mired in an extended slump that he would never quite pull out of – came to bat with one out against Tiger’s right-hander Joaquin Benoit. Unbeknownst to us at the time, FOX Sports analyst Bill Ripken was busy explaining to the National viewing audience that with one swing, Hardy could erase all the bad memories of his current 0-22 skid. Ripken seemed to sense something was coming as demonstrated by his “I told you!” reaction when Hardy deposited Benoit’s 0-1 delivery into the left field seats. At approximately 8:30 PM – 4 hours and 10 minutes after the game had begun – we once again all tied up.
Needless to say, my mood flipped in a hurry. After celebrating with everyone around us (even the eternal pessimists behind us were moved by the excitement of J.J’s blast), Tim and I both took a sigh of relief. No way were the Orioles losing this game now.
Jim Thome struck out and it looked like a 14th inning was looming when Benoit let a 1-1 pitch get away from him. The pitch struck Adam Jones in the arm and he ran to first representing the winning run. Benoit likely was not very worried about the hit batsman – for looming on deck was backup catcher Taylor Teagarden, making only his second Major League plate appearance of the season. Teagarden – like most backup catchers – is not known for his offense abilities. He had been somewhat rushed through a rehab stint – Buck didn’t care much for Ronny Paulino’s defense and wanted a better equipped backup for Matt Wieters – and had looked truly awful in striking out in his first at bat of the season innings earlier. I made my case for giving Jones the steal sign – maybe Teagarden would bloop a single and Jones could score from 2nd – but Jones held fast at first.
With the count, 1-2, Benoit threw a fastball that caught a bit too much of the plate. Teagarden inside-outed the ball (as he is accustomed to doing), but got good wood on it nonetheless. The ball flew through the air towards the right field score board. It was obvious right away that the ball wasn’t going to be caught and with two strikes, Jones had gotten a solid jump off first. The ball eventually landed on the top of the wall and bounced back onto the playing field. The crowd erupted not yet realizing that the ball had cleared the fence and was a homerun. When the crowd noticed the first base umpire signally for a homerun, everyone went nuts. We jumped up and down and high fived everyone within arm’s distance – even the kid next to me and the guys behind us who I had found so completely irritating just minutes earlier (that’s one of the joys of the live baseball experience – everyone is your friend when the home team wins).
The O’s mobbed Teagarden at home. Orioles Magic blared over the Public Address system. Adam Jones emerged from the dugout and slammed a shaving cream pie into Teagarden’s face while being interviewed live on FOX. Teagarden, who was as caught up in the excitement as the fans were, reacted the way most people would to having shaving cream rubbed in his face – he yelled “Shit!” as loudly and emphatically as possible.
Teagarden didn’t bother to apologize for his slip – there was no need to. After a 4 ½ hour game that saw three leads slip away after the top half of the 9th inning and an improbable walk off homerun from a debuting backup catcher in the 13th, “Shit!” was probably one of the less vulgar ways to describe what we all just saw.