I cannot remember the last time the O’s entered the month of September and promptly took 2 out of 3 from one playoff team and then at least two from another, much less the Yankees. With football season already underway, the Orioles have quietly done just that. Last night they earned a convincing 6-2 win over the Bronx Bombers, getting to CC Sabathia with their first 5 batters and denying him his 20th win of the season. They also broke up his season-long streak of being undefeated at home this season while Jake Arrieta regained his composure after a stretch of difficult starts that saw his ERA climb above 5.00. But there is far more to this streak that quality pitching.
As much as Orioles fans have to hang their futures on the success of the likes of Reimold, Pie, Wieters, and the young starting rotation, I have been deeply impressed by the contributions made by the veterans- including many not expected to be around next season. Matt Albers, who has clung to his spot in the bullpen despite an entire season of mediocrity (to put it nicely), strung together two spotless appearances spanning 2 2/3 innings, and now hasn’t allowed an earned run in his last 9 trips to the mound dating back to August 16th. Koji Uehara has two saves over this 4 game stretch, though he did allow 2 runs during the O’s 8-4 win on Friday. With his sudden success (and health) over the second half of the season, I would be very surprised if he didn’t try to test the market in free agency. However, given his injury history he is probably worth more to the Orioles than any other team, but that is another article.
Unlike previous runs Baltimore has made since Buck Showalter took over, this one doesn’t have a single discernable cause. The pitching staff didn’t go on a streak of near-perfect performances (Chris Tillman was so-so in 5 1/3 innings before the bullpen broke down), and the offense hasn’t exactly taken off (they squeaked out 4 runs against the Yankees two days ago), but whatever they have done has been timely. Whether it’s Brian Roberts getting one more single to plate the go-ahead run or Alfredo Simon breaking his streak of terrible outings to stop the bleeding, this team has gotten what it needs when it needs it. That is probably an indication that their luck is bound to run out, but I would argue that they have accrued their share of bad luck moments and this might just be karma paying them back.
It also shows, however subtly, that this team hasn’t packed it in. Not only do the O’s sport the 2nd best record in the American League since Buck Showalter tool over (21-13), they have overcome possible excuses to do it. They have won with Chris Tillman, who would otherwise be in AAA. They won last night despite carrying Nolan Reimold, Robert Andino, and Josh Bell in the lineup (I know Bell has been with the O’s, but he isn’t exactly bringing a lot to the table right now), who should all be in Norfolk. It appears that Orioles fans aren’t the only ones viewing Showalter’s arrival as an opportunity to start a brand new season, with players looking to end the season strong. One could easily look at the arrival of young, unpolished players along with the devastating schedule going forward and see an opportunity for the team to tank like they have so many times before. Well it’s September 8 and that hasn’t happened just yet. There is still time of course, but there is also time to end strong and bring optimism to this fan base for 2011.