The dog days of August are here, but the Orioles seem to be in excellent position to make a big move in the American League East. Everything appears to be coming together at just the right time.
Take last night, for instance.
Rookie Arthur Rhodes turned in his fifth straight solid performance to help the Orioles score a 6-3 victory over the Detroit Tigers and pull within 3 1/2 games of the first-place Toronto Blue Jays. And that wasn't the half of it.
Designated hitter Glenn Davis hit a tremendous home run, Bill Ripken drove in three runs and Mike Devereaux made a great running catch at a pivotal moment in the game. The Orioles also got a big relief effort from Storm Davis, who pitched 2 1/3 hitless innings to record his fourth save of the year.
What else could go right? The Blue Jays finally lost. The Orioles seized the moment and scored their sixth victory in the past eight games.
"The team is very enthusiastic," said manager Johnny Oates. "That's big to me because August is the time when you can get a little down. This is the time when you could just as easily be going through the motions and losing."
Instead, the Orioles have gotten a major pick-me-up from Rhodes, who is 4-0 with a 2.19 ERA in the five games he has pitched since he was recalled from the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings on July 8. They have also gotten a major offensive boost from Davis, who is batting .385 during the past six weeks.
His ninth home run of the year landed deep in the left-field seats to loosen up a one-run game in the fifth inning. He has driven in seven runs in the past eight games and is beginning to look like the Glenn Davis who used to be one of the most feared hitters in the game.
"I think we're in a good spot," Davis said. "Things are picking up. We were in a rough spot for a while, but we're starting to gain some ground and I've got a feeling that Toronto is due for a rough spot."
The Orioles have been waiting a couple of months to get moving again. They are 23-24 since going 15 games over .500 on June 12. Now, they are in a position to move past that high-water mark during a weeklong series against the struggling Tigers and Cleveland Indians. They already have dispensed with the New York Yankees (two of three) and the Boston Red Sox (three of four).
"Playing .500 baseball is not good enough," Oates said. "We've been between 10 and 15 games over .500 since [May 9]. That's three months, but I've been very happy we have stayed there until we can get on a hot streak. Maybe this is that hot streak."
That sentiment seemed to pervade the Orioles clubhouse, where it seems more like April than August right now.
"I don't know what the future holds," Ripken said, "but that last win in Boston seemed to be a big lift for everybody. That was a big win for us, and it seemed to carry over into tonight's game."
The Tigers had to be hoping that Rhodes would come back to earth after four consecutive solid starts. He had given up two runs or fewer in each of them and was coming off his first career shutout -- a five-hitter against the Yankees on Wednesday night at Yankee Stadium.
Oates even cautioned before the game against expecting too much from his 22-year-old left-hander.
"There are going to be days when he is going to have to take a step back," Oates said. "They [the opposition] will make adjustments and there will be times that he has to make adjustments. Not all of his starts are going to be as good as the first four."
Make that the first five. Rhodes retired the first nine batters he faced and held the Tigers at bay long enough for Detroit starter Buddy Groom to come a little unglued during the middle innings.
The Tigers scored first with a run on three hits in the fourth inning, but Groom walked home the tying run and balked home another in the bottom of the inning. He would fall victim to a poor fielding play an inning later and exit the game with the Tigers trailing by three runs.
Glenn Davis was right in the middle of both Orioles rallies. His one-out double set things in motion in the fourth. Groom walked Randy Milligan and gave up a two-out infield single to Joe Orsulak that loaded the bases. Ripken took four balls to even the score and Groom balked with a two-strike count on Mark Parent for the go-ahead run.
Groom got the first two outs of the fifth inning and should have retired the side in order, but left fielder Dan Gladden misplayed a catchable line drive by Cal Ripken into a double and Groom served up a mammoth two-run homer to Davis.
The home run was his second in the past four games, and it gave Rhodes some margin for error -- not that he appeared to need any at that point. Groom and reliever John Kiely further complicated the situation by walking the bases loaded, and Bill Ripken provided some breathing room with a two-run single to center.