Sept. 2, 2012; Bronx, NY, USA; Baltimore Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds (12) rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run against the New York Yankees during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Debby Wong-US PRESSWIRE

Baltimore Orioles: The "Mark" of a winner

 

Mark Reynolds has been one of the Baltimore Orioles’ more maligned players this season by the fans. There’s no doubt that Reynolds has had his moments, and in many cases it might be fair to suggest that more is expected from a player for whom the Orioles dealt a young pitching prospect in David Hernandez. However Reynolds has also produced big time for the Orioles as they’ve moved through the second half of the season. Furthermore, he seems to rise to the occasion in games against Boston and NY (the latter being more important this year than the former). However to Buck Showalter’s credit, he stuck with Reynolds throughout his slumps in the beginning part of the year, and that loyalty has paid off.

Courtesy of Debby Wong, US PRESSWIRE

Over the weekend in New York, Reynolds provided Orioles fans with two different two-home run games, leading the Birds to taking two-of-three. Yesterday New York took a 2-0 lead on a home run by Chris Dickerson. Ironically, Dickerson was one of their September call-ups, and he was in the lineup because Curtis Granderson had a strained muscle. His at-bat in the second was his first big league at-bat of the season, and he promptly deposited a Chris Tillman fastball into the second deck of Yankee Stadium. However the Birds can never be counted out, and Reynolds taught people that yesterday once again. He started off with a solo shot in the fifth which brought the O’s to within 2-1. After Matt Wieters‘ RBI-single in the sixth tied the score at two, Reynolds came to the plate once again with two on and nobody out…and I think you know the rest. Reynolds send another homer (this of the three-run variety) into the bleachers in left center field, bringing the boo birds out in the Bronx.

MASN’s Gary Thorne remarked at one point that it had been awhile since he had heard Yankee Stadium as quiet as it was over the weekend. While at the end of the game yesterday the silence was golden from the Orioles’ standpoint, I’m not sure “quiet” was how I’d classify it. Those New York fans let you know when you aren’t playing up to their standards! (And on a personal note, I do think it’s bush league to boo the home team as a fan.) So again from the Orioles’ standpoint the silence was golden, as were the boos directed towards New York by their own fans. Moving into the eighth inning New York would use six different pitcher, and the Birds would tack on three more runs thanks to a bases loaded walk by Robert Andino and a two-RBI single by Nick Markakis.

The one concern coming out of the game for the O’s was Chris Tillman, who had to leave the game after three innings. Tillman was visibly uncomfortable on the mound, and later we found out that he had some elbow discomfort (which is never a positive sign). According to Roch Kubatko of masnsports.com, Tillman returned to Baltimore last night while the rest of the team headed to Toronto, and he’ll have an MRI today. The preliminary stress tests on his elbow didn’t appear to show any damage, but the MRI is merely a precaution. This is why the Orioles have loaded up on pitching depth, as you never know what can happen in a game. Randy Wolf made his Orioles’ debut in relief of Tillman, and pitched 3.1 innings of relief (holding New York at bay by giving up three hits and a run). With the win, the Orioles now find themselves at 74 wins on the year (which was my prediction in terms of wins on the season overall), and two games behind New York in the AL East.

The Orioles now head north of the border for a three-game series with the Toronto Blue Jays, with game one being at 1 PM this afternoon. Joe Saunders will make his second start (first on the road) for the Birds this afternoon, after being unimpressive his first time out last week. He’ll be opposed by J.A. Happ, who’s had similar problems as Saunders did last time out. He surrendered five walks to New York his last time out. Happ has a 4.77 ERA, and he came to Toronto in a ten-player trade prior to the non-waiver trade deadline.

There’s a lot going for this Oriole team behind the seams. While they’ve certainly had their rough patches, they’ve also been pretty steady all year. Furthermore, they’ve seemed to have started to gel at just the right time. Several people wondered back in July if their play would continue until the end of the season, presumably ending in a playoff run. To me that wasn’t such a huge question; the Orioles have always finished strong under Showalter. Why would we think that 2012 would be any different? For so many years the Orioles would play “respectable” ball in the first half of the season, only to fall into a mid-summer lull and ultimately tank in the second half (4-32 to close the season still stings for some fans). Then in 2010 and ’11 they started pretty lousy only to finish strong (again, 2-16 to start the year still stings for some fans). This time around they’ve seemingly put it together for the entire time. There’s still a lot of baseball to be played, but thus far you’d be remiss of you didn’t admit that the Birds don’t have the “mark of a winner.”

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