About the only complaint the Baltimore Orioles could have after their sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays is that it took as long to get to Oakland as it did to win game three. The Orioles needed over five hours and 14 innings to cap a series that sent them to the Bay Area with a share of first place in the American League East.
After another epic in a season of many, this weekend’s series in Oakland may be the one that defines Baltimore’s stay atop the division and in the AL wild-card race. The A’s have lost just 17 of their last 50 games and trail the Texas Rangers by three games in the AL West. But there is no doubting the Orioles' momentum following the dominance of the Rays.
The series personified the Orioles' entire season. After Tuesday’s 9-2 blowout, Baltimore won consecutive one-run games in walk-off fashion. Again there were two more unsung heroes who made significant contributions in the heat of the pennant chase.
With Nick Markakis out for the rest of the regular season and Mark Reynolds' bat in the deep freeze again, the Orioles needed a lift from unsuspected sources. As Buck Showalter continues to preach “next man up,” invariably somebody steps up in moments that continue to define this magical season.
Wednesday night it was Nate McLouth, whose double in the bottom of the ninth sent the Camden Yards partisan home with a smile. He wouldn’t have been the hero of the night had it not been for rookie third baseman Manny Machado, who made the first of three huge plays that turned the tide of the series.
He baited pinch runner Rich Thompson into a catastrophic base running mistake that ran the Rays out of the top of the inning. Machado then led off the bottom of the ninth with a bunt single which set the tone for McLouth’s heroics that scored him with the game winner.
Late Thursday afternoon—as the Angels were ending the A’s 12-game road win streak in a game that started three hours after Baltimore’s in Anaheim—the cult hero face of the Charm City pennant chase added another whisker. Roughly 18 hours after scoring the winning run on McLouth’s shot off the right field, Machado delivered a game-winning hit, scoring Adam Jones on the way to the airport.
The win was Baltimore’s 13th consecutive win in extra innings, and it kept them undefeated when leading after the seventh inning. It did, however, put a strain on the bullpen, as the Orioles used six pitchers to seal the win. They will need a strong performance from Joe Saunders to open the series to take stress off the pen.
Meanwhile, the A’s are in the midst of a renaissance of their own. Oakland took two of three in Baltimore in late July. With two surging teams, this should make for an interesting weekend by the Bay.
Follow Mark @thesportsgroove