BALTIMORE – You want to know how the Baltimore Orioles are doing this. How they could come this far, survive the AL East, survive their own considerable flaws, and over three nights in September survive the New York Yankees.
You want to know about the collapse, and if it will be courageous or pathetic.
You ponder three games that have been played on the barrel of a bat, in a mad scramble in the left-field bleachers, in a cloud of muck at first base.
And you wouldn’t mind learning their names.
On Saturday night at Camden Yards, the Orioles hit three more home runs and beat CC Sabathia, the Yankees apparently tied the score in the ninth inning but didn’t because of a blown call at first base, the Orioles lost right fielder and leadoff hitter Nick Markakis for perhaps six weeks because of a broken thumb and, according to clubhouse witnesses, Yankees manager Joe Girardi had to be restrained postgame due to an argument with a New York reporter.
This is the new order here. The Orioles were slightly better and slightly luckier and even slightly calmer. The Yankees should still be on the field, hitting against Orioles closer Jim Johnson, and are left instead with a muddied Mark Teixeira on his knees at first base, arms spread incredulously. Umpire Jerry Meals, who missed the call, presumably will be unmoved. And Joe Girardi, perhaps feeling the strain of a first-place tie with the Orioles in the AL East, is clearly on edge.
The Orioles beat the Yankees, 5-4, it will say, no matter the call, no matter the cries for replay.
It is not how a game should end, not with a 27th out still waiting to be recorded, and yet Orioles manager Buck Showalter barely could bring himself onto the field afterward. You ask who the Orioles are, and they are Nick Markakis, just as they are Joe Saunders and Manny Machado and Lew Ford and Nate McLouth. They are a Robert Andino-to-J.J. Hardy-to-Mark Reynolds double play (or near double play) in the din of Camden Yards, the whole shebang having moved to the second week of September. They are Darren O’Day with five huge outs, and Brian Matusz with one, all leading to the ninth inning, and the last out that wasn’t but is, another celebration and Showalter pausing near the top step.
“I wanted to see the way hopefully it’s gonna be,” he said. “The way it can be.”
Rather than Showalter, Girardi took a handful of steps onto the field. He was apparently determined that an argument with Meals would be fruitless, and turned away. He’d left Teixeira, who’d played on a calf barely well enough to carry him, to finish the point with the umpire. When he was asked to confirm again that a Sabathia who allowed five runs in 6 1/3 imprecise innings was healthy, Girardi snapped that he was, and moments later found himself entangled with a reporter which required security guards to disentangle.
These are the Yankees who appear chaotic, and a tad undermanned, and just this side of unlucky. And these are the Orioles who through their sadness for Markakis discovered a little more in themselves. The ninth inning went all wrong, then ended OK, with another sellout crowd in their ears.
For the moment, in fact, the Orioles do what the Yankees do. Only somewhat better.
They pitch from the bullpen, forward. To get there, they wait for a hanger or a particularly bold fastball. Then they hack and hope for lift and backspin. They’re not the guys with the jacked up starters’ ERA, or the guys who made all the errors. They’ve played clean. They’ve played precise. They’ve scored 17 of their 20 runs in the series on home runs, and have won 11 of 15 games.
“There’s a definite mojo in this locker room,” Saunders, an Oriole for two weeks, said after pitching into the sixth inning Saturday. “This is the first time being in this kind of deal for a lot of guys. This is a good clubhouse, man.”
About then, Markakis walked past. He’d been hit in the left thumb with a Sabathia fastball. A wad of athletic tape the size of a softball entombed his left hand. He could barely get the wrapping through the armhole in his short-sleeved shirt.
“It sucks,” Markakis said. “But the season is going to go on.”
Maybe that’s who the Orioles are. Time will tell. Things happen. Sometimes bad things happen.
As Showalter said, “Most people don’t care about your problems and are happy you got ‘em.”
The Orioles should know. They’ve had plenty of ‘em for a lot of years.
“We’ve been a sum-of-the-parts team all year,” he added. “We certainly lost a big part tonight. If I know this club and this group, someone will step forward.”
You’ll know the name soon enough.
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