The Arizona Wildcats still have nine conference games left - enough innings, outs and at-bats that Sunday's loss to Oregon might not matter.
Then again, it probably will.
The 10th-ranked Ducks scored a run in each of the final three innings and held on to defeat the UA 3-1 Sunday at Hi Corbett Field in a game that could end up deciding the Pac-12 championship. That Oregon took the series following a balk, an ejection and a passed ball makes No. 11 Arizona's second loss in three games sting even more.
With three weekends remaining in the regular season, Oregon (34-14, 16-8 Pac-12) has emerged as the odds-on favorite to win the league. Sunday's win gave UO a 1 1/2-game lead over the Wildcats, who fell to 30-15 and 13-8. Arizona will play nine more conference games, starting with this weekend's trip to Cal. The Ducks have six more league games left: They'll host USC next weekend, then travel to rival Oregon State May 25-27.
So while Arizona still controls its own fate - win out, and the Wildcats can secure at least a share of their first league title since winning the Pac-10 South in 1992 - the team's odds have suddenly become even longer.
"We just need to bounce back from today, learn from it," UA shortstop Alex Mejia said Sunday. "If we play like we did today, and learn from our mistakes, I think we should do real well."
Sunday's game hinged on a strange, intense seventh inning.
Arizona was leading 1-0 when starting pitcher James Farris surrendered a one-out hit to Kyle Garlick.
Farris then picked him off on a hit-and-run attempt - or so it seemed. The first base umpire called Garlick out, but home plate umpire Greg Charles overruled him, saying that Farris' knee buckled on the throw over, a balk. UA coach Andy Lopez stormed from the Wildcats' dugout to argue the call and was promptly ejected.
"I was in a little state of shock" over getting tossed, Lopez said. "There was no cussing involved, nothing directed at (the home plate umpire)."
But Lopez took a shot at Charles' strike zone while arguing the balk, which technically constitutes arguing balls and strikes - grounds for immediate ejection.
Things then got worse.
Garlick advanced to third on Ryan Hambright's ground out and scored when UA catcher Riley Moore allowed a passed ball on Farris' 2-2 offering to Brett Hambright. Garlick slid safety into home, where he was struck in the face by Moore's errant throw.
Garlick stayed on the ground for two minutes, then sprung to his feet, cheering, and sprinted to the dugout. Like that, the momentum shifted.
"The macho, macho men that we are, it doesn't get much better than that," Oregon coach George Horton said. "You get hit in the face, you're down on your back and then you get back up and run? Wow."
The Ducks took the lead an inning later. Kevin Shepherd worked a one-out walk, advanced to second base when Aaron Payne hit into a fielder's choice and scored when Aaron Jones lofted a single to left field. The hit chased Farris from the game, giving the Ducks a chance to take advantage of the Wildcats' porous bullpen.
Reliever Stephen Manthei surrendered a ninth-inning run, and the Ducks took a 3-1 lead. Arizona brought the tying run to the plate in the bottom half of the inning, but Robert Refsnyder bounced into a game-ending double play. The UA's only run came in the fifth inning, when Bobby Brown hooked a solo home run inside the right-field foul pole.
The loss ruined what could have been a monumental weekend for the Wildcats. Instead, they'll spend the rest of the season playing catch-up. Arizona has 10 games remaining - three conference series and a one-game, nonleague tilt against rival Arizona State in Tempe - and, suddenly, little room for error.
The Wildcats held a 30-minute meeting following Sunday's game, where Lopez delivered an old mantra: When evaluating the season, one eye has to be a microscope, the other a telescope.
"Microscope, yeah, there was today," Lopez said. "Telescope, you've got three weeks left. That's a lot of baseball.
"That's a lot of balk calls."
• Who: Arizona at California
• When: 2:30 p.m. Friday