BALTIMORE -- To heck with the math.
According to the math, and the experts who like to use it to crunch numbers and make projections, the Baltimore Orioles weren't supposed to be very good this season. According to the math, they were supposed to win anywhere from not a lot of games to slightly more than not a lot of games. According to the math, they were supposed to be an afterthought in the AL Beast. Instead, they have the best record in the Son of Senior Circuit.
Are the O's a mirage? Maybe. After all, we're only at the one-eighth mark (is that even a thing?). Not to mention, their ho-hum run differential (plus-9) suggests they should be barely above .500 (a Pythagorean 11-9 record). Then again, the same thing happened last season too, when Buck Showalter's club parlayed a surprisingly hot start all the way to the postseason. Regardless, you don't jump out to a 14-6 start without the ball bouncing your way more often than not. You don't have a month like this without a little help from Lady Luck.
By beating Tampa Bay 5-4 in 11 innings on Wednesday, the first-place Birds improved to 6-1 in one-run games. They upped their mark to 3-0 in extra-inning games.
Not to take anything away from Dylan Bundy, who made his fifth straight quality start to kick off the season. Or Brad Brach, who threw up two more goose eggs and continues to do the best Zach Britton impression this side of Zach Britton. Or Chris Davis, who reached base three times, including a leadoff single that started the winning rally in the bottom of the 11th. But if weren't for Kid Karma, who paid an extra-special visit early on in this one, Baltimore might never have been in position to pull out a wild and wacky W that culminated in ... wait for it ... a walk-off walk.
Officially, the final box score will show that LongBalltimore, which led the majors in bombs last season and came into Thursday ranked third in the AL, did not go deep. Unofficially, Seth Smith hit a Little League homer -- a two-run shot that had the exit velocity of a Volvo on a crowded off-ramp, the launch angle of an Acme stomp rocket, and the distance of a sand wedge into high winds.
Actually, that's not entirely true. According to Statcast, Smith's hit off of Rays starter Alex Cobb left the bat at 96 miles an hour, which in theory could be dinger material. Except that it featured just a 15-degree arc and traveled only 322 feet -- to straight away center field. In other words, it had single written all over it. Until it didn't.
Here's how it went down:
With one out and the O's leading 1-0 in the second inning, Smith lined a 2-2 changeup into center field toward Kevin Kiermaier. Ryan Flaherty, on first following an RBI single, was running on the play.
Third baseman Evan Longoria, who had been positioned at shortstop as part of Tampa Bay's shift and was headed to second to cover the steal, had to scurry back toward third to receive the throw from center and didn't quite make it in time. Instead, he and a sliding Flaherty got tangled up, and Kiermaier's throw -- which was actually a pretty good one -- squirted away in the direction of the third-base dugout.
Flaherty started to go for home but then reversed course when he saw that Cobb, backing up third base, had picked up the ball and was about to make a play on him at third. Cobb threw to Longoria at third, but the ball glanced off Flaherty's helmet and caromed into left field.
While Flaherty was busy strolling home, Smith was steaming around second. And third. Left fielder Shane Peterson corralled the ball and made what could loosely be described as a "throw" to relay-man Longoria, who then fired home, where Smith slid in juuuuust ahead of the tag.
Got all that?
Perhaps the most unbelievable thing about the play -- ya know, besides the fact that a guy with three steals in the past five years made it all around the bases on a ball that landed in front of, was hit directly at, and was fielded cleanly by the center fielder -- was the defenders who were involved.
The center fielder in question was Kiermaier, a human web gem who has won back-to-back Gold Gloves. The pitcher in question was Cobb, who ranks in the top 10 among AL starters in runs saved over the past five years. The third baseman in question was Longoria, who isn't the defender he once was but has still saved more runs over the past decade than any third baseman not named Arenado, Machado, or Beltre. Not that it mattered.
"I never touched the ball the whole time," said Longoria after the game, maintaining a sense of humor about the whole thing. "Well, not until I got it and relayed home. It just got out of control. That's a homer in Little League, but in the big leagues it's just a bad play."
Flaherty would've scored it a little differently.
"We can give Seth a homer," Baltimore's utility man said. "If you're starting in the batter's box and you get all the way around to home, that's pretty cool."
Although Flaherty didn't cover quite as much ground as Smith did on the play, between all the starting and stopping and the shenanigans at the hot corner, he felt as if he did. And then some.
"That was more running that I did all of spring training," he said.
As crazy as the play was, Smith is in no hurry to do it again anytime soon.
"I hope that's the last time it happens," said the O's outfielder, who drew the walk-off walk in the 11th and who claims that he never has hit a Little League homer in his life -- not even in Little League. "I don’t ever remember that happening."
As for how his four-base single should be classified, it depends on who's keeping score.
"My children will probably think I hit a home run," said the 34-year old father of three. "Then again, they think any time I put the ball in play, it's a hit."