The Orioles committed a rare feat on Sunday when Adam Jones hit the eventual game-winning home run off of Mariano Rivera to avoid a sweep at the hands of the New York Yankees. The big blast ended a streak of 41 straight saves at home for Rivera, and was just the second of 31 opportunities that the 43-year-old failed to convert this season.
It was a win that the Orioles earned by the skin of their teeth, and it was one they very much needed to have.
Though the Orioles improved to 49-40, the win came after dropping two of three from both the White Sox and Yankees over the past week. Had they dropped this one, they would have fallen to fourth place in the AL East despite a torrid start to the season.
Panic is obviously too strong a word to use, but there’s been some uneasiness in Baltimore in wake of quieted bats and bullpen woes. The bullpen has seen its share of issues late in games, and it had left fans calling for the head of closer Jim Johnson, though Johnson certainly bought himself a reprieve after getting ahead of Yankees hitters and shutting them down in one-two-three fashion in the ninth.
“That’s why you keep plugging,” Orioles Manager Buck Showalter said in an interview with MASN. “It’s a challenge. Things aren’t going well for you so you just keep grinding.”
Sunday’s win in dramatic fashion is encouraging, but the fact remains that the Orioles have cooled down. And if any of this sounds familiar, it should, but it’s not such a bad thing.
They’ve been here before.
In 2012, things didn’t look so different from today. Through the first 89 games, the Orioles were behind this year’s pace, sitting at 46-43 and with downward momentum. The team that had 13 previous losing seasons appeared to be regressing to the level of play that so many penned them in for once again.
But when the dog days of summer hit, so did the team. They began playing their best baseball at the point when the season starts taking its toll across the league. But the Orioles finished the year winning nearly two out of every three games after July 18.
And in 2013, they could do something similar. They have a power-packed lineup that can break out of a slump at any given moment, as well as a pitching staff that isn’t great, but good enough. They acquired pitcher Scott Feldman from the Cubs, who is an instant upgrade over Freddy Garcia, and it was a move that also jettisoned the struggling Pedro Strop out of Baltimore. Starting pitcher Wei-Yin Chen was instrumental in the team’s previous success, and it appears he will be ready to rejoin the rotation next week.
Make no mistake, the AL East is far more competitive this year than a season ago with the Red Sox back in contention, Tampa Bay on the mend and the Yankees continuing to surprise the baseball world by winning despite injuries and droves of no-name players. If the Orioles want to punch their ticket into the postseason again, they will likely need another run similar to what they pulled off in the dog days from a season ago.
“We were fortunate, and in some sticky conditions,” Showalter said. “I told them that these are the dog days, from now until the middle of August. And it’s going to be a challenge for everybody.”
And with gritty wins like Sunday’s, they showed no reason to assume they couldn’t do that again.
Baltimore’s Next Sports Media Superstar contestant Dan Ciarrocchi is an editor of Hogs Haven, an SB Nation website. He also contributes to the fantasy football section of Pro Football Focus and covered Towson University baseball for two years at The Towerlight.