An unsightly top of the eighth featured an ill-timed walk by reliever Jim Johnson, an ill-advised throw by center fielder Adam Jones and a costly whiff by third baseman Josh Bell on a ground ball that he at least needed to keep in the infield. The Chicago White Sox scored two runs in the inning and then held on for a 7-6 victory Monday night over the hapless Orioles before an announced 17,498 at Camden Yards.
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Looking to start a four-game series with a comeback victory, the Orioles erased an early four-run deficit and got the ball to Johnson (5-4), one of their few reliable pitchers, with a 6-5 lead after Hardy drove a fastball from his former Minnesota Twins teammate, Jesse Crain (6-3), over the wall.
However, what followed was a little bad luck and a lot of bad execution that started with Johnson's one-out walk of Konerko.
"I gave them the momentum right back," said Johnson, who has allowed five earned runs in his past 22/3 innings spanning three outings. "The Konerko walk changed the whole dynamic of the inning."
Carlos Quentin followed the walk by blooping a tough pitch into center field that moved pinch-runner Brent Lillibridge to third base. Johnson got two strikes on A.J. Pierzynski before the White Sox catcher lofted a pitch into medium left-center field.
Jones caught it and had little to no chance to get the speedy Lillibridge, but he opted to unleash a wild throw that sailed both high and wide of the cutoff man. Not only did Lillibridge score the tying run, but Quentin also was able to tag up at first and get into scoring position.
"I made two mistakes on one play, and it cost us," Jones said. "I was trying to get the guy at home. It was first a bad idea because it was way too deep. You got to understand the runners, and then it was a poor throw that allowed Quentin to walk into second base. You can't put a man in scoring position, especially that late in the game. I don't think it was trying to do too much. I was trying to make a play, and you can't make every play. It worked out horribly for us."
As much as White Sox center fielder Alex Rios has struggled this season, it was predictable that he would follow Jones' gaffe with a sharp single to left field that scored Quentin for the go-ahead run. The ball went under the glove of Bell at third.
"You got to knock it down," said Bell, who also made an error that led to a run earlier in the game and double-clutched on a potential double-play ball. "On my part, it's just a bad read. The long skip off the grass gave me a longer hop than I thought. You got to knock it down, you got to make the plays. That's the bottom line. You got to help your team win."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter backed Bell and especially Jones, despite their miscues.
"As soon as he came in the dugout, he was kicking himself," Showalter said of Jones. "But he had a play earlier in the year where it didn't look like he had any chance and he threw the guy out. The way this guy's been playing since Day One, with effort and approach, and I guess when you have an arm like that, you feel like you can throw everybody out."
Trailing 7-6, the Orioles (44-68) had runners on first and second in the bottom of the eighth, but reliever Matt Thornton retired Bell on a groundout. Sergio Santos got through Hardy, Nick Markakis and Jones in a perfect ninth to pick his 23rd save. The Orioles, whose second through sixth hitters went a combined 2-for-21 with nine strikeouts, fell to a season-worst 24 games under .500.
The loss, the Orioles' eighth in the past 10 games, ruined a nice game for struggling catcher Matt Wieters (3-for-3 with two doubles and a walk) and a powerful return to the lineup from Hardy, who missed the previous three games with a sore left ankle.
Hardy went 3-for-5 with two doubles, a homer and four RBIs as the Orioles dug out of a hole created when starter Jeremy Guthrie allowed two home runs in a four-run second inning, both coming on 0-2 counts.
Hardy's homer came on a 1-2 fastball from Crain, who inherited John Danks' 5-3 lead and two base runners.
"I didn't think he was going to throw fastball there, no. I definitely didn't," Hardy said. "I played with him last year, so I kind of had an idea what he was doing. I was fortunate to get the barrel on it."
It was Hardy's 20th homer of the season, the most by an Orioles shortstop since Miguel Tejada hit 24 in 2006. It also makes the Orioles the only team in baseball to have three players with 20 or more homers. But that mattered little after the ghastly top of the eighth against the White Sox (56-58).
"It's frustrating," Hardy said. "Anytime we're up in the eighth inning, I feel like we've got a pretty good shot. [Johnson] has been unbelievable all year. It was just a little bad luck tonight."