Here’s an interesting question; with last night’s 5-0 win over the NY Yankees in the Bronx, have the Orioles served notice to the league that “they’re back?” I guess that from my perspective I’m trying to tone it down a bit for the purposes of this column; however admittedly I’m a bit stunned at how the season’s unfolded thus far. I never thought that the O’s would be as bad as people wanted to believe they were going to be. It just didn’t make sense to me that a team that was as much of a force as anyone else last September would turn into a pumpkin. Yet I never thought they’d dominate as they have thus far.
I’m not sure that it’s so much about the fact that the O’s took two-of-three from NY this week. To me it’s more about how they did it. The last time that the Orioles held the Bombers to three runs or less over the course of a three-game set was 1965. That was Jim Palmer’s rookie year. If there’s one thing that’s stood out for the Orioles this year it’s been the pitching. Last night was no exception as Jake Arrieta not only pitched a gem (coming off of two starts where he struggled a bit), but went eight innings into the game. Arrieta’s final line: 8 IP, 5 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 9 K. This is Jake Arrieta folks; the skinny on him when he came up was that he walked too many guys! We know that his fastball has a certain amount of pop, but I was incredibly impressed with his breaking pitches last night as well. He seemed to place them in the zone on two-strike counts to catch the Yankee hitters looking when they least expected it. In essence, Arrieta stayed at least one step ahead of the NY hitters last night…pretty much the same way the NY pitchers have done with Oriole hitters over the past 14 years.
Matt Wieters started the scoring off with a moon shot into the right field bleachers to give the Orioles a 1-0 lead. As I said yesterday, it’s almost as if the two teams changed places for a day (or two). While NY batters flailed at Arrieta’s pitches, the Oriole hitters proved their knowledge of the strike zone and patiently waited for the right pitch. In the top of the 7th the O’s broke the game open when Nick Markakis homered, and Adam Jones and Matt Wieters scored on Nick Johnson’s single to center. Admittedly I did find it a bit strange that Adam Jones was hit by the first pitch after a Nick Markakis home run. Interesting. Jim Johnson made his first appearance in awhile to earn the save in the 9th, as the O’s took the series.
I’ve seen some rumblings among fans to the effect that perhaps the AL East isn’t what it once was. I don’t feel that way at all; it’s just not the Yankees and Red Sox at the top of the division as people have grown accustomed to seeing. The Orioles will have a day off today in Boston before opening up a series with the BoSox at Fenway this weekend. In my heart, I’d really love to proclaim that this team has arrived and is here for business. However it’s still too early to say that for sure. The O’s are still struggling with runners in scoring position, among other things. But yet they’re still winning games and I suppose that says something about this group of players in that they seem to refuse to lose. It all comes back to pitching; the Orioles have the third-lowest ERA in baseball, and the best bullpen ERA.
I suppose the question is whether or not they can keep this up. Again, can the Orioles “start spreading the news” that they’re a force to be dealt with as of yet? I still think it’s a bit early. However the early returns are obviously very positive. MASN’s Amber Theoharis sent out this tweet following Sunday’s walk-off win against Oakland, which is very telling of the Orioles’ attitude in games thus far this season. Admittedly going into the last of the ninth last night my thoughts went back to the 2007 Mother’s Day Massacre at Fenway when the O’s blew a 5-1 lead. However if the beginning of this season and this series with the Yankees is any indication, perhaps those days are getting further and further in the rearview mirror.
Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala