O’s Storming Through September
September 12, 2012 by Bob Ekstrom • Print Story •
I've never had much respect for the Baltimore Orioles. A dissing of the Birds is pretty easy to justify. After all, they've made only two postseason appearances in the nearly 29 years since their last World Series championship. To paraphrase John Lennon, the only they done was yesterday. More precisely, 10,588 yesterdays.
To me, they will always be that 1988 poster child of incompetence that started out 0-21, or the Mother's Day Misfits who blow 5-run leads with two outs to go, or the frauds of fall who single-handedly gave a 12-year old kid with wandering hands his own Wikipedia entry.
I could tell you that for 14 consecutive seasons, they've failed to top 79 wins. Like that crustacean delicacy for which they're renown, Baltimore simply can't move forward and have been relegated to an existence crawling sideways across one calendar after another. They've finished last five straight years, meaning they've now spent more time in the basement than Ann and Mitt Romney.
But as a New Englander, what has really stuck in my craw has been the O's 5-13 record against the Yankees in each of the previous three seasons while grinding down our beloved Red Sox and single-handedly knocking them out of last year's post-season, sealing perhaps the greatest collapse in MLB history. In hindsight, the grit and determination they showed against Boston last September may have become the cornerstone for the success they are reaping in 2012.
Yes, some things are changing. After last fall's neutering of the Red Sox, the hangover that has lingered this summer has cleared the Boston landscape to make a new home for the A.L. East cellar. Last night, the Birds tied their 15-year high for season wins and they'll clinch a winning record sometime later this week. And today, Orioles GM Dan Duquette awoke to his 107th day in first place, far more than the franchise's total over the last 14 years combined. But can these paltry milestones serve to lengthen the perennially short Baltimorean autumn?
Sadly for Yankees haters everywhere, not this autumn.
Granted, prophesying the O's demise would be easy in the wake of Nick Markakis's regular season-ending thumb injury last Saturday. The splits are stunning; the O's are 62-42 with Markakis in the starting lineup and 17-20 without. They've struggled all season to find stability at the top of the order as Markakis is now the third lead-off hitter to go down. Along with the absence of an ace or even a top-line starter — sorry, but Wei-Yin Chen does nothing for me, Tommy Hunter does nothing for anybody, and Jason Hammel went down again last night — and a paucity of power outside of Adam Jones, these Orioles are far from any birds of prey.
I get that it is precisely because of these limitations that they've been endeared to America. It also doesn't hurt that they're going up against goliaths from Boston and New York in their division. The O's have been getting it done with heart and getting it done in the clutch, and we all love that. Mark Reynolds has 21 homers all season, but 9 have come in the last 11 games and 12 were against the Red Sox or Yankees. Closer Jim Johnson entered 2012 having blown 16 of 37 career save opportunities, but the O's are 44-1 in his opportunities this season. He's saved 7 of 8 against the goliaths, while coming back to win the eighth.
Through the added generosity of Bud Selig, who gave each league an extra playoff berth starting this year, what was once a small breeze of hope filtering up the Chesapeake Bay has intensified into a 15-year storm that is battering the A.L. East and transforming its coastline. And while its stay will be brief, it has churned up some baseball karma. When was the last time you saw an egregious call cost the Yankees a game rather than their opponents?
As Baltimore and New York are once again tied atop the division, Yankee fans now tabulate days in first place. For solace in coping with a lost 10-game lead they turn to the history books, when a year ago they delighted as history got pummeled by the blows of Red Sox incompetence.
That incompetence may have its own bottle of karma waiting for the Orioles. Notwithstanding their assistance to the Birds' cause last night, Boston would love to return Baltimore the favor of knocking them out of this fall's play, even if it means putting New York in. This year more than any, the enemies of Yawkey Way are many.
The road to the AL East may no longer go through Boston, but with five games remaining against the Yankees, six against the O's, and six more still against the Rays, the Sox are certainly standing in the middle of it. They'll more than likely get run over, but any contender that over-thinks the situation may find themselves in the ditch.