The calendar reads September and players and fans scan the right-field out-of-town scoreboard at Oriole Park nearly as closely as the main scoreboard for signs that the Toronto Blue Jays are cracking.
With the Blue Jays playing in Kansas City and then at Texas, both an hour behind Baltimore, Orioles players quickly scamper and huddle around clubhouse televisions to watch and root against Toronto.
Yes, the pennant race is here for everyone. That is, everyone but ToddFrohwirth and Alan Mills, the backbones -- along with closer Gregg Olson -- of the Orioles bullpen.
Though both are pitching with pennant-race intensity, neither professes to know there's actually a race in progress.
"As far as I'm concerned, we're not to where we can actually say we're in a race yet," Frohwirth said.
Said Mills: "I have too many other things to worry about when I comein. I can't worry about what Toronto's doing. I have to focus on a batter or a specific situation."
If this is some sort of pop psychology, namely to block out the existence of pressure by denying it exists, it seems to be working.
This season, Frohwirth is leading the American League in relief innings pitched (96 1/3 ) after finishing second last year. He has not allowed a run in his past 13 innings.
Mills had a rare poor outing Monday, allowing four runs in the 13th inning of a 6-2 loss to New York.
But overall, he, like Frohwirth, has been brilliant. Mills is tied for second in the AL in relief wins and has held opponents to a .190 batting average out of the bullpen, the sixth best mark in the league.
That Mills and Frohwirth have performed well down the stretch without previous pennant-race experience isn't surprising to either manager Johnny Oates or pitching coach Dick Bosman.
"In our position, we have something to win and nothing to lose, and they are pitching that way," Oates said.
Added Bosman, "Obviously, they have different personalities. Froh's laid-back. Mills is very calm on the surface, but he's very excited on the inside."
Frohwirth and Mills likely will have to be spectacular the rest of theway if the Orioles are to overtake Toronto.
Oates is caught in an interesting position. Orioles starters, save for Arthur Rhodes' 2 1/3 -inning stint Tuesday night against the Yankees, have pitched well, dating to the California series before the successful West Coast trip.
As a result, the bullpen, understandably, has gone underused, with the rustiness showing in Tuesday's 16-4 loss when Storm Davis (three runs) and Mike Flanagan (five runs), in particular, got battered.
As a result, Oates has developed this approach: He will hope his starters can go at least six innings, so he can hand the ball to Frohwirth or Mills and hope they can keep things settled until Olson comes on to close.
"The guys who've been getting hitters out will get the work," Oates said. "I can't worry about getting guys work now."
Jim Poole got his first major-league work of the season Tuesday and passed with flying colors.
Likewise, Mark Williamson, who had been on the disabled list since April 17 with elbow problems, pitched well Tuesday.
But Oates said neither will figure prominently in his plans, though Poole could be used, like Pat Clements, to get out a tough left-handed hitter.
The manager reiterated his policy that if the pitcher is pitching well in the eighth, he wouldn't yank him automatically for Olson at the start of the ninth.
"I want Gregg Olson to get as many saves as possible while he's with the Orioles," Oates said. "More important to me, I want the Orioles to win as many games as possible."
Still, if Oates needs them, the pressure of keeping the pennant race may fall on the shoulders of Frohwirth and Mills, whether or not they acknowledge its existence.
"Everybody knows where we are in the standings and where Toronto is, but once the game starts, we can't worry about that," Mills said. "It's the same pressure that we had in April: to win every game."
A list of Orioles relievers and their most recent work:
Pat Clements: Last night (one-third inning)
Storm Davis: pitched Tuesday (1 2/3 innings). Previously had not worked since Aug. 23.
Mike Flanagan: pitched Tuesday ( 2/3 innings). Previously had not worked since Aug. 19.
Jim Poole*: pitched Tuesday (1 inning). Previously had not pitched all season.
Mark Williamson*: pitched Tuesday (1 inning). Previously had not worked since April 15.
* - had been on disabled list.