With best record in baseball, Oriole Magic is in the air

May 07, 2012|Peter Schmuck

It's starting to look like there might be some Oriole Magic in the air.

How else do you explain what happened Sunday at Fenway Park, which is celebrating its 100th Anniversary this year and seldom over the course of its century of existence has witnessed anything quite like this?

How else do you explain the Orioles outlasting the Boston Red Sox in a six-hour marathon that would carry them into first place in the American League East and leave them with the best record (19-9) in Major League Baseball? They open a homestand Monday night against the AL West-leading Texas Rangers followed by Tampa Bay and New York.

How else do you explain the strange and magical performance of designated hitter Chris Davis, who came on to pitch when the Orioles ran out of relievers and threw two scoreless — and surprisingly impressive — innings to earn his first (and probably last) major league victory?

The Orioles' 9-6 victory in 17 innings would have been special under even the most mundane circumstances, since it allowed them to complete a six-game road trip to New York and Boston with five victories and a three-game sweep of the Red Sox. Yes, those same Red Sox who have to be wondering how the worm has turned so dramatically since the O's knocked them out of the playoffs on that surreal Sept. 28 last year.

If you're old enough to remember, this was the kind of strange stuff that happened during the uplifting “Why Not?” season of 1989. (Remember that Mike Devereaux phantom home run?) That was the year the Orioles bounced back from a 107-loss season to battle the Toronto Blue Jays to the final weekend of the regular season before falling two games short of the division title.

Sure, it's way too early to speculate on what this team will do over the course of a long season, but when stuff starts happening that you almost cannot explain, you have to allow the possibility that something special might be happening.

The struggling Sox had rallied from a five-run deficit early in the game against Orioles starter Tommy Hunter, but who could have imagined at that point that the game would go so long that both teams would have to turn to position players to take the mound at the end.

Davis, who had struck out five times while he was in the game as a first baseman, flashed a 91 mph fastball when he entered the game in the 16th inning. He struck out the first batter he faced on two fastballs and a changeup. He would also work out of a jam in the 17th by striking out the great Adrian Gonzalez and getting Darnell McDonald to end the game with a double-play ball.

What strange irony was that? McDonald, who had entered the game as a pinch runner for slugger David Ortiz and scored the run that sent the game into extra innings, was the opposing pitcher at that point. He did not display the same command as Davis, got in trouble right away in the top of the 17th, and gave up a three-run home run to Adam Jones that was the difference in the game.

It was the second time in three games that the Orioles and Red Sox had to go deep into their bullpens and battle well past the ninth inning. Orioles relievers pitched eight scoreless innings Friday night to hold the Red Sox at bay until they could score two times in the 13th inning to open the series with a win.

Turns out, that was nothing. The bullpen — including its unlikely new member — pitched 12 2/3 innings after Hunter came unglued in the fifth. This time, the relievers gave up a run in the eighth after Mark Reynolds had doubled home Jones to retake the lead in the top of that inning.

It was the first time in 18 years that the Orioles swept a three-game series at Fenway Park.

Remember, manager Buck Showalter has a track record of picking teams off the floor and turning them into something more than they appeared to be. He has managed three other major league teams, and each one made a dramatic turnaround in his second full season as manager.

In each case, the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Rangers finished at least 10 games under .500 in his first season and won at least 88 games in his second year. If it happened again, the Orioles wouldn't even be the most dramatic turnaround. Showalter took the expansion Diamondbacks from a 65-win season in 1998 to 100 victories and the NL West title in 1999.

Could something like that happen after 14 consecutive losing seasons in Baltimore? Who knows, but something strange and wonderful happened at Fenway Park on Sunday, so why not?

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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