There were two things Tuesday night was going to remembered for:
1. John Smoltz taking step No. 2 on his way back.
2. Five of the Red Sox walking off the field with just two outs in the sixth inning.
That was until about 11 p.m.
Before you knew it, Baltimore manager Dave Tremblay was uttering such things as, "This was probably the best game I've been involved in," while his Red Sox counterpart, Terry Francona, was telling reporters, "That was as bad as we've seen."
The Red Sox lost to the Orioles in the second of the teams' three-game set, 11-10, at Camden Yards in Baltimore. But the final score was only a fraction of the story. Just as the Orioles supplied Red Sox fans with the 'Mother's Day Miracle' a few years back, the Sox returned the favor by squandering a nine-run lead thanks to 13 Orioles hits in their final two offensive innings.
"Nothing we did worked," Francona said.
The oddity of the Orioles' comeback cemented itself in history without much analysis at all. It was noteworthy enough that the Orioles came out of a 71-minute rain delay and scored 10 runs in the final four innings on the way to Baltimore's biggest comeback in franchise history.
But this couldn't be compared with the Orioles' previous greatest comeback, another 11-10 win over the Red Sox on Sept. 2, 1956. That one was a result of two runs in the third, one in the fourth, three in the sixth, two in the eighth, and three more in the ninth against relievers named Ike Delock, George Susce, and then-rookie Dave Sisler.
What separated this one -- besides the sheer fact that the Orioles were able to score 10 unanswered runs in the seventh and eighth innings -- was who it was accomplished against. Through the first six innings Tuesday, the Red Sox bullpen was still carrying the mantle of baseball's best bullpen, and in some people's eyes, the most solid top-to-bottom relief corps the organization had ever boasted.
Coming into Tuesday night, the Red Sox bullpen led all of the majors with a 2.89 ERA, while closer Jonathan Papelbon had converted 19 of 20 save opportunities.
But when Nick Markakis adeptly took a 94 mph fastball on the outside edge from Papelbon the other way for a two-run, eighth-inning double, the closer had his second blown save and the Red Sox' bullpen's cachet had been stricken with its biggest dent of the season.
Justin Masterson allowed five runs in two innings (including a three-run homer to pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar that got things going for the O's), the most for any of his career relief outings.
Hideki Okajima surrendered four runs on five hits while retiring just a single batter.
Takashi Saito came on with the bases loaded and nobody out and proceeded to give up a sacrifice fly along with a run-scoring single to Brian Roberts.
And then there was Papelbon.
With runners on first and second and one out, the closer did strikeout Felix Pie to keep the Sox' in the lead. But then came Markakis, who jumped on the first-pitch heater for the eventual game-winner.
"You've got to give that team over there credit," Papelbon told reporters. "They put the pressure on our bullpen tonight, and we pretty much imploded. I can't think of any better word to use. It's just what happened."
LOOKING ON THE BRIGHT SIDE
For those who want to avert their attention from the final three innings Tuesday night, here are some positives you can focus on:
1. Smoltz: Prior to the rain delay, he was the story. While there was no question the starter wouldn't be returning after the weather-induced hiatus, he had shown enough, career win 211 or not.
Most of Smoltz' 52 pitches supplied continued optimism. The 42-year-old came out of the gate relying on a good-enough fastball -- throwing the pitch 11 times among his 12 first-inning offerings -- before mixing in a slider that wasn't far from the one seen for so many years in Atlanta.
When it was all said and done Smoltz had allowed just one run on three hits over four innings, making it just two runs against the starter in his last eight innings following the horrific four-run first in Washington.
2. The Red Sox' offense: It did score 10 runs and accumulate 16 hits.
Kevin Youkilis did hit a first-inning, two-run homer. (According to our stat guru Gary Marbry, Youkilis entered Tuesday just 4 for 19 (.211) with a homer in the first inning on the road this season after struggling to the tune of .206 (7 for 34) with no homers in those at-bats last year.)
And Jacoby Ellsbury also went deep on the way to a three-hit night.
3. Josh Beckett is pitching less than 24 hours later: Nothing helps cure the hangover from a nine-run collapse like Beckett pitching in an afternoon game the next day. In games after losses this season, Wednesday's Sox starter has a 5-0 mark with a 1.08 ERA.
SO WHO WILL BE HEADED TO ST. LOUIS?
Jason Bay will be, as the outfielder still leads all American Leaguers at his position heading into the final two days of All-Star balloting.
Barring a disastrous couple of starts, Beckett also figures to join Bay in St. Louis, with a chance of getting the starting nod. (Remember, Beckett lost out on the All-Star Game start in 2007 in favor of then-Oakland hurler Dan Haren.)
But after that? Tough to tell.
Kevin Youkilis leads New York's Mark Teixeira by slightly more than 40,000 votes at first base, and second baseman Dustin Pedroia is within 6,830 of Ian Kinsler of the Rangers.
Youkilis would still have a decent chance of making his second All-Star team, even if the vote doesn't go his way. He is still fifth in the AL in batting average (.317) and leads all players in the league in on-base percentage by a long-shot, coming in at .443 with second-place Ben Zobrist standing at .409.
The players potentially standing in the way of Youkilis figure to be Tampa Bay's Carlos Pena (who has 23 homers, but just a .237 batting average), Seattle's Russell Branyan (19 homers, .304 batting average), Minnesota's Justin Morneau (19 homers, .311 batting average), and Miguel Cabrera of Detroit, who has 16 homers to go with a .330 average.
Besides Kinsler, Pedroia has some other noteworthy competition at his position. There is Baltimore's Brian Roberts, who is tied with the reigning AL MVP for the most runs by a second baseman while managing one more stolen base (15) then Pedroia. Roberts is, however, hitting 10 points worse than the Sox' second baseman.
Toronto's Aaron Hill also has a decent case, tying Kinsler for most homers (19) among AL second basemen while hitting .305. And Robinson Cano of the Yankees is hitting .300 with 12 homers and 49 runs.
As for pitching, perhaps the best chance sentimental favorite Tim Wakefield would have is via the fan vote when one additional player is added (a path taken by such Red Sox as Johnny Damon and Hideki Okajima in years' past). The knuckleballer figures to get two more starts before any decisions are made, starting with Friday's game against the Mariners at Fenway Park.
Wakefield is tied with Toronto's Roy Halladay, Kansas City's Zack Greinke, and Minnesota's Kevin Slowey for the most wins among AL pitchers (10), but finds his 4.18 ERA as just 27th-best.
As for relievers, Jonathan Papelbon's 19 saves in 21 chances, along with a 1.85 ERA, figures to be good enough. But even though Ramon Ramirez has identical numbers to the closer in some respects (both have the same ERA in 34 innings pitched), the necessity to have all teams represented might have someone like Oakland's Andrew Bailey (2.16 ERA, 46 1/3 innings) bump the Sox' reliever.
KELLY WILL HAVE TO WAIT
Red Sox prospect Casey Kelly, who is amidst a unique season in which he will pitch into July before moving to shortstop for the second half of the year, had his transition delayed slightly by his excellence on the mound. The Sox' 2009 first-round pick was named to the All-Star Futures Game -- to be played in St. Louis on July 12 -- as a pitcher. In order to ensure that he remains on a regular throwing schedule through that exhibition game, Kelly -- who was scheduled to finish his season as a pitcher around the first week of July -- will continue pitching through the Futures Game.
"Basically, [the Futures Game] is going to delay his shortstop play by about a week," said Sox farm director Mike Hazen. "We didn’t feel like it was safe enough to do it the other way."
Following the Futures Game, Kelly (who has been taking batting practice during the month of June) will report to Fort Myers in the Rookie Level Gulf Coast League, where he will play for about a week while the Sox figure out where to assign him as a position player.
Kelly has gone 1-2 with a 2.02 ERA since earning a promotion to Salem of the High-A Carolina League on the strength of his excellence (6-1, 1.12) for Single-A Greenville of the South Atlantic League. The 19-year-old has allowed one or no hits in three of his six starts since going to Salem. In his most recent outing on Sunday, Kelly retired the first 19 batters he faced before an error and then a single broke up the perfect game.
LITTLE HAS CHANGED FOR LOWELL
Mike Lowell thought Thursday would be the deciding day when it came to knowing whether or not the next step after having a Synvisc shot administered to his surgically-repaired right hip. That timetable jumped up by two days.
Still, even though the third baseman went on the 15-day disabled list it had little to do with how he came out from his procedure.
As Terry Francona told reporters prior to Tuesday night's game, Lowell felt good upon reporting to Fenway Park a day after the injection, "to the point he's thinking about he could play in a couple of days," the Sox' manager said.
Lowell would be eligible to come off the DL a week from Sunday, or one day prior to the All-Star break, but would figure to wait until the mid-season break had been completed. If that was the case, he would miss 14 games while getting 19 days off.
Lowell will continue to work with team physical therapist Scott Waugh while the Red Sox close out their trip. Following his injection Monday he had relayed the optimism -- stemming primarily from the discovery of a fluid build-up -- still carried despite the trip to the DL.
“I guess the main thing was that they weren’t really expecting to find fluid in there, but they ended up finding a significant amount of fluid so I think that’s a good thing,” the third baseman had said. “They took the bad stuff out and put the good stuff in. I’m a little bruised from the injection itself but I do feel I have a lot more mobility. I think I’ll be able to tell more tomorrow when I get stretched out and stuff.
“At least for me mentally, it’s a comforting feeling, that there was fluid in there and they took it out. It explains why there was discomfort. It makes a lot more sense to me. You can bank on the fact that everything structurally is fine and your body is trying to protect itself when it’s in a vulnerable state. If there wasn’t fluid I would say, ‘What’s causing it?’ I’m happy they found it. But I think the next few days will be big.”
Jeff Bailey was called up to replace Lowell on the roster, with the right-handed hitter manning the No. 9 spot Tuesday night, notching a walk and a single. It was his first stint at first base in three weeks, having hit .259 with seven homers with Triple A Pawtucket prior to his second call-up of the season. Bailey had accumulated a .188 average (13-for-69) in 23 games during his previous stay with the Sox.
IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING
Remember Kason Gabbard, the pitcher who two years ago helped the Red Sox weather some starting pitching setbacks throughout July with a stretch that included giving up just six earned runs in four starts (28 innings) before being dealt to Texas in the Eric Gagne deal?
The Red Sox re-acquired the 27-year-old earlier this year -- for cash -- hoping to build his left pitching arm back up after Gabbard had experienced elbow woes.
The return to the Red Sox organization hasn't gone swimmingly, with Tuesday night serving as the low point. Pitching for Double A Portland, Gabbard lasted just 1/3 inning, allowing seven runs on three hits and four walks. It was his third start with the Sea Dogs. He has now given up 16 runs in 7 1/3 innings.