These Orioles put 'fun' in fundamentals

They've been a joy to watch since Showalter took over as manager

August 18, 2010|Kevin Cowherd

I am not going to tell you the Orioles have pulled out of their season-long nose dive.

I am not going to sit down at the keyboard and bang out 800 words with my fat little fingers that say Buck Showalter waved a magic wand and now everything is fine with this team.

Especially not after Wednesday night's 6-5 loss to the lowly Seattle Mariners at Camden Yards, their fourth in five games, if you're starting to worry.

All I'm saying is this: For the most part, you can watch the Orioles these days without wanting to strangle someone or throw a brick through your TV.

Win or lose, it has actually been fun to watch this team play -- at least most nights. When was the last time you could say that?

Consider, for instance, the two previous games against the Mariners.

In Monday night's 5-4 Orioles win, you had Adam Jones squaring around in the 11th inning and dropping that gem of a bunt down the third base line that drove in Nick Markakis with the winning run.

A walk-off bunt. How often do you see that? That's once-in-a-blue-moon stuff.

On Tuesday night, the Orioles lost, 4-0, with Kevin Millwood, the home office for hard luck, on the mound.

All Millwood did was allow one lousy run over eight innings. And how did the Orioles hitters repay him? The bats took a siesta for nine innings. All told, the Orioles managed just three hits against the immortal Luke French, the Mariners starter, leaving Millwood (2-13) mumbling to himself and counting the days until his own miserable season is over.

But even that game was interesting to watch as the Orioles put on a defensive clinic, maybe their best show with the leather this season.

Felix Pie started it off with a terrific running catch of a foul ball by Ichiro Suzuki near the stands in the first inning. Then Adam Jones ran down Ichiro's drive to deep center in the third.

Markakis made a great diving catch in right field of Josh Wilson's sinking line drive in the fifth.

"I got to tell you, when we run [Pie] and Nick and A.J. out there, including the arm strength, there's not many people defensively that match up with them as a group," Showalter said before Wednesday's game.

And yet, the best play of the game was still to come.

In the sixth inning, shortstop Cesar Izturis backhanded a grounder by Casey Kotchman deep in the hole. He planted a foot, did a midair pirouette that would shame Baryshnikov and fired a bullet to first to nail Kotchman.

The Orioles dugout exploded with noise, and Izturis' teammates greeted him with high-fives and glove slaps when he trotted in.

"Pretty impressive," Showalter said later.

Even in Wednesday night's loss, the Orioles kept coming back, showing some grit, even if the comeback landed a bit short.

None of this was happening a couple of weeks ago, either.

Then, the Orioles were a beaten, lifeless team. It seemed as if night after night, they were down a ton of runs even before the fans got settled into their seats. And the way they were hitting, there was little hope of seeing them get back in the game.

Now they're 10-6 under Showalter, including four walk-off wins in that span.

I'll leave it to you to decide how big a role the managerial change has played in this little turnaround. But inside the Orioles clubhouse, there's not a lot of debate.

"I think it's huge," Ty Wigginton said. "I think it's a little bigger than a lot of people think. This guy Buck, he has a track record. He's proven he can win, proven he knows the right recipe."

Again, I'm not trying to put a smiley face on a burnt casserole here.

There's no question this team has a ton of holes. There's no question this team needs to get a couple of big bats into the lineup and a veteran starter at the top of the rotation before it can hope to compete in the American League East again.

No matter how good a manager Showalter is, he can't work miracles. The front office has to get him a few big-time players this offseason.

No, all I'm saying is this: It has been fun to watch the Orioles play when they play good, hard, fundamental baseball.

A lot of Orioles fans must agree with me, too. Did you get a load of the numbers MASN is generating these days?

According to the network, that walk-off win against the Mariners on Monday was the highest-rated program in the Baltimore area in the 10 p.m. to 11 p.m. time slot.

It beat out "Dateline," "CSI: Miami" and every other show it was up against.

Imagine that. The Orioles are "must-see TV" again -- at least for now.

Enjoy it while you can. Because who knows how long it'll last?

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