Leading up to the start of the 20th season at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, I take a look back at the top 20 moments in the history of the ballpark. Selected moments had to relate directly to the action on the field at the time. No orchestrated events such as World Series anniversary celebrations or Orioles Hall of Fame inductions were eligible.
20. Matt Wieters’ debut
19. Hideo Nomo tosses the only no-hitter in Oriole Park history
18. Orioles stage greatest comeback in team history – June 30, 2009
Another merciless pounding at the hands of Boston, or so it seemed.
The Orioles had lost eight straight to the Red Sox, and their unruly traveling fans were basking in the glory of a 10-1 lead in the seventh inning. Most fans watching at home had given up on the massacre and flipped to reruns — hey, it’s hard to resist The Office — on a midsummer night of television. Nobody knew it, but the Orioles were about to thrill the few hometown fans remaining in the ballpark and stun the Sox supporters taunting those making their way to the exits.
By the time the Orioles went to the plate in the bottom of the seventh, starter Rich Hill was long gone after giving up nine runs in 3 1/3 innings and Boston veteran John Smoltz had missed his chance for a victory after a lengthy rain delay forced his exit in the fifth. As a result, a battle of the bullpens commenced, with the Orioles about to supplant a club-record eight-run comeback set in 1956 — against the Red Sox at Fenway Park.
A five-run seventh made the deficit a reachable 10-6, with the key blow being a three-run homer from pinch-hitter Oscar Salazar. The home fans who stuck around for the early bludgeoning perked up, but realized a comeback remained very unlikely against the Red Sox bullpen.
However, Hideki Okajima had finished the seventh for Boston and remained on the mound for the eighth. Though one of the best lefty specialists in the American League, the hapless Orioles — of all teams — had owned the Japanese reliever for nearly two years.
It was about to continue.
Okajima would surrender four straight hits without getting an out, leaving the game with the bases loaded and Boston holding on dearly to its 10-7 lead. Two batters later, the score was 10-9 and Red Sox manager Terry Francona desperately turned to closer Jonathan Papelbon to prevent the record-setting Orioles comeback.
It was too late.
Nick Markakis’ two-run double to deep center plated pinch-runner Jeremy Guthrie and Brian Roberts with two outs in the bottom of the eighth as the Orioles had amazingly come all the way back to seize an 11-10 lead.
Euphoric Orioles fans howled in laughter at obnoxious “Sahx” fans as George Sherrill recorded the save in the ninth, securing the greatest comeback victory in franchise history. An amazing 13 of Baltimore’s 16 hits that night came in the seventh and eighth innings.
“That was probably the best game I’ve been involved in, right there,” Orioles manager Dave Trembley said after the game. “That was absolutely tremendous. When you talk about playing all 27 outs, that’s tonight.”
Ironically, the Orioles would be on the receiving end of that lesson the next afternoon, squandering a 5-1 lead in the ninth and falling 6-5 in 11 innings. Perhaps it was the baseball gods’ way of restoring order as the Orioles would lose 11 of the 12 remaining games with Boston that season.
But for one night, at least, the Orioles got the better of the hated Red Sox.
And, in case you were wondering, I flipped back to the game just in time to see the comeback.