I remember when I was a kid and the NFL released a video on VHS and Beta (no, those aren’t misprints) called The NFL’s Crash Course. Basically it was about big hits and plays in NFL games; I remember an interview they did with a defender on the tape and the guy said “if he’s going to catch it [the ball] make him pay for it.” It seems that the baseball Gods are taking a similar attitude with the Orioles this year with regard to injuries in that if they’re going to win make them pay for it. With the 9-2 win over Tampa combined with New York’s walk off loss in Boston, the Orioles are now once again tied for first in the AL East. However it came at a price, as Jason Hammel once again had to leave the game with a potential injury.
Hammel left the game after pitching 3.2 innings when he felt a sharp pain in his right knee, similar to what he felt when he hurt the knee the first time. It seems that doctors are making more money off of the Orioles’ pennant race than the Orioles themselves. Hammel will have an MRI on the knee today, and manager Buck Showalter said that he’s hoping it’s only scar tissue. However the fact is that Showalter and GM Dan Duquette don’t look so stupid anymore in stockpiling so much depth. Steve Johnson came in and pitched 1.1 innings of relief on Hammel’s behalf (and did a fine job I might add), and was credited with the win since Hammel couldn’t go the required five innings.
Matt Wieters gave the Orioles the lead when Adam Jones scored from first on Wieters’ bloop single combined with a Tampa error. However Ryan Roberts tied the game with a solo homer in the third. In the last of the inning J.J. Hardy ended the competitive part of the game with his first two-run homer of the night. Hardy would also score on Wieters’ two-RBI double in the fifth, padding the Orioles’ lead to 5-1. With the Birds leading 7-2 in the last of the eighth, Hardy came to the plate again needing only a triple for the cycle. That was something at which he failed last night, however in place of the triple Hardy managed to provide the Camden faithful with another two-run homer giving the O’s a 9-2 win in a key division game.
The Oriole bullpen was called upon big time last night, and they rose to the occasion. Buck Showalter also managed to get Pedro Strop into the game last night in the ninth (in a non-save situation), and he only gave up a double. This game is really indicative of the “next man up” attitude the Orioles have had all year. First off, we’ve seen a lot written and said about how Showalter “holds the players accountable.” All year long all of them has known that if they didn’t produce they’d be sent back to Norfolk and the “next man would come up.” Consequently, each time someone’s gotten injured they’ve taken that same attitude and the “next man up” would find a way to provide the Orioles with whatever was necessary to win.
The difference between this Oriole team and those of past years isn’t skill per se. In the past we saw so many seasons done in not by injuries themselves, but perhaps by one or two injuries period. In 2010 Brian Roberts worked hard to get himself back into playing shape after back problems, only to injure himself in the home opener (game four) and was gone until August. At the time Robert Andino was the “next man up,” but he wasn’t the same player that he is now. The Orioles didn’t have depth, and it cost them. Going back a year prior, Brad Bergesen was hit by a comebacker in July of 2009. The Orioles didn’t have pitching depth because they figured all of their starters were young and durable. Bergesen was having a great rookie season at that point (and in my opinion he never recovered from that), but the Orioles couldn’t replace him. None of that is the case this time around, and the results are obvious.
As I said above the Orioles are now once again tied with the New York Yankees in first place in the American League East. You get the impression that this playoff race is something that will boil down to the end much like last year, and that regardless of the circumstances the Orioles are not a group that will be denied. I said this once before but I’m going to throw it out there again; given the 14 consecutive losing seasons and everything this franchise and it’s fans have been through, if the O’s make the playoffs this year quite frankly it’s the greatest story ever told.
However if I know Buck Showalter and this team they’re focusing on tonight’s game more than anything else. And that’s part of the reason for their success. The Tampa series continues this evening with the Birds sending Miguel Gonzalez back to the mound against Alex Cobb. Gonzalez would be well-advised to try to go deep into this game because the ‘pen was used heavily last night with Hammel being injured. A win tonight, and the Orioles would win this series. Incidentally, last night’s victory was number 79 on the year. The magic number to officially end the consecutive losing seasons once and for all is now two games. That should be the Orioles’ rallying cry for the next two days: two games to .500.