Waiting 35 years is a long time to rekindle a rivalry, but that’s just what the Washington Nationals and Baltimore Orioles look to do when they open their first interleague series Friday at RFK Stadium.
Washington and Baltimore both played in the American League from 1954-71 before the expansion Senators relocated in 1972 and became the Texas Rangers, leaving the nation’s capital without a major league franchise.
In September 2004, MLB announced the struggling Montreal Expos would move to Washington and begin play in 2005 as the Nationals, a decision that incensed Orioles owner Peter Angelos, who insisted that two teams roughly 35 miles apart could not be successful operating so close to each other.
“Another major league baseball franchise in close proximity would result in two mediocre franchises from a competitive standpoint,” Angelos said in June 2004, six months before he became the lone major league owner to vote against the move.
Angelos later struck an agreement with MLB in March 2005 that, among other things, stated that broadcast rights to Nationals games be handled by the Orioles, who soon formed the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network that Angelos has a majority interest in.
Off-the-field dealings aside, the Orioles won bragging rights over Washington through 1971 by going 224-126 in the series with the Senators, creating a rivalry that Baltimore’s Sunday starter, Bruce Chen, feels will return in time.
“We’re really, really close—30 or 35 minutes, and that’s it,” he said. “We used to have a lot of fans in Washington, and now they’re watching the Nationals. We want to get those fans back. We want to get as many fans as we can.”
Left-hander Michael O’Connor (2-1, 2.86 ERA) makes his fifth major league start for the Nationals (14-27) since being called up from the minor leagues to replace the injured John Patterson on April 27.
O’Connor, the organization’s minor league pitcher of the year last season, has been a surprise considering he made just four starts at the Triple-A level.
He has given up three runs or less and pitched at least five innings in each of his starts while holding opposing hitters to a .198 batting average.
“We had some good swings against him,” said Nationals manager Frank Robinson. “I’m sure he’ll say his location wasn’t real good, but we put some runs on the board off him.”
The Orioles (19-22), just 8-15 in their last 23 games, will start Kris Benson as they begin a 10-game road trip.
Benson (5-3, 4.38) is coming off one of his best outings this season, as he pitched seven innings of an 11-1 win over Kansas City on Saturday.
The victory improved Benson to 4-1 in his last five starts.
The right-hander is 3-3 with a 5.06 ERA lifetime against the Washington franchise, but is winless in six starts since a 4-1 victory over the Expos on June 25, 2002, when he played for Pittsburgh.