Orioles manager Buck Showalter looks on as his team plays the… (STEVE NESIUS, REUTERS )
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla — — If the Orioles were hoping that what went around might come around after the way they battled to the last dramatic moment of the 2011 regular season and propelled the Tampa Bay Raysinto the playoffs, they are probably going to be disappointed.
The Rays were not in a position to show any gratitude when they faced the Orioles on Monday night in the first game of the final regular season series of 2012. They still had something to play for with the second wild-card playoff berth still in doubt for at least one more night, and they came into the series with three very good starting pitchers lined up against the Orioles.
For the Orioles to have a legitimate shot at out-running the Yankees to the AL East title, they also figure to need some help from the decimated Boston Red Sox, and — based on the lineup that manager Bobby Valentine sent up to face CC Sabathia in Monday night's 10-2 loss at Yankees Stadium — that doesn't appear to be forthcoming either.
The Red Sox batting order did not feature one everyday player who was in the lineup on the night their season ended a year ago. Monday's lineup was so crowded with high uniform numbers that it could have been mistaken for the New England Patriots offensive front.
Though it certainly looked like the Red Sox were not fielding the representative team required by baseball etiquette during meaningful games at the end of the season, they had plenty of excuses. Former AL MVP Dustin Pedroia was held out with a sore left ring finger he reportedly injured on that inexplicable stolen base attempt in the eighth inning of the Orioles' victory Sunday.
Outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury also did not play against the Yankees, apparently for matchup reasons, and both designated hitter David Ortiz and third baseman Will Middlebrooks are out for the season with injuries. That left Cody Ross and Jarrod Saltalamacchia as the only veterans in a lineup that included six players who started the season in the minor leagues.
Lest anyone cry foul after the Yankees scored nine runs in the second inning Monday night, remember the thin lineups the Red Sox fielded against the Orioles over the two series they played the past two weekends … and that the Orioles won five of those six games and would have won the other one if they could have gotten a clutch hit in a bases-loaded, one-out situation in the ninth inning.
The reality of the situation is this: The Red Sox are not equipped to compete with the Yankees, just as they weren't equipped to compete with the Orioles. The only hope of getting even tonight is if Red Sox ace Jon Lester can subdue the well-motivated Bronx Bombers all by himself.
Meanwhile, the Rays sent solid starter Alex Cobb to the mound in a game they had to win to stay alive at least until the Oakland A's and Texas Rangers played their West Coast game later Monday night. The Orioles were fortunate to miss David Price in this series, but they get two more top-flight starters — James Shields and Jeremy Hellickson — tonight and Wednesday night, and they have to beat both of them to have any realistic hope of forcing the Yankees into a regular-season playoff game at Oriole Park on Thursday.
Round One didn't go well. Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen gave up three unearned runs in the seventh to break a 1-1 tie after Manny Machado bobbled a routine ground ball to lead off the inning. But before anybody starts pointing fingers at those two very productive members of this surprising team, keep in mind that the offense had managed just two hits off Cobb over those seven innings and gave little indication it was going to get any more until Chris Davis homered off one of the catwalks above right field in the ninth.
Frankly, a scrappy ninth-inning comeback attempt notwithstanding, it was the kind of game that makes you wonder what the Orioles will be able to do against Shields tonight and — if you're a long-suffering Orioles' fan — grateful that they already have a playoff berth secured.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" at noon Fridays on WBAL (1090 AM).