As we reconvene for the start of another week, you can assume a few distinct guarantees on this beautiful summer morning …..
1) this is the final Monday of August ….
2) football season is just one day closer, and ….
3) for the first time in a LONG time, the Boston Red Sox flew into BWI during the wee hours of the morning, while wishing they could’ve been landing in the city of an easier punching bag, like Cleveland, Kansas City, Seattle or Los Angeles.
Indeed, they’re not encountering one of the typical Baltimore Orioles lineups of the last decade. This scrappy bunch of players is the same core group that dropped 73 of its first 105 games. However, they’re now playing a better brand of baseball under the demand of Buck Showalter.
They’re still a marginal cast of characters. But, they now BELIEVE …..
And, that’s a dangerous pedigree for any opponent to accept.
A few months back, I listened to Curt Schilling’s view of the Orioles from a Red Sox perspective. He said “we looked at them as a break in the schedule.” “It was an opportunity to sweep a series and pad a divisional lead or cut a deficit.”
I don’t doubt Curt’s blunt and painful examination of what a series against the O’s meant to him and virtually any other member of the Red Sox or Yankees over the span of these last 13 years.
But, I do question whether Terry Francona’s current bunch feels that sense of confidence, as they’re holed up in the Inner Harbor Renaissance.
For one, the Red Sox are beyond the simple description of a “walking wounded.” Count ’em …. Ellsbury, Cameron, Youkilis, Dice-K, Pedroia and Varitek. They’re all injured and out of the lineup.
But, of equal importance, this Orioles team will not furnish the typical accomodations accustomed to a visting Red Sox team – or any other visitor for that matter. The days of laying down and simply pulling up the skirt are done.
Dave Trembley tolerated such an effort. So did Lee Mazzilli, Sam Perlozzo, Mike Hargrove and other field generals.
As we’ve learned over the last month, Buck Showalter will not accept anything close to resembling a half-hearted fight. One month does not make a season. But, such a relevant timespan can offer a vivid view of what’s expected from the team’s leader.
And, that’s the difference.
The Red Sox will have a spirited spat on their hands when the series commences tomorrow evening. Terry Francona knows that, and he’ll surely remind his patched together contender before they ever hit the field.
While this Boston team is assembled of a couple 4A players, like Darnell McDonald and Bill Hall, they’re still anchored by the likes of Adrian Beltre, Victor Martinez, David Ortiz, J.D. Drew, Jon Lester, John Lackey and Josh Beckett. They’re a more talented team than the Orioles, no question about it.
And, in some distinct ways, the Red Sox have played the same brand of overachieving baseball during the month of August. Some of their best young stars are done for the season. Yet, they’ve found a way to stay in contention with Tampa and New York.
That said, the fight might be nearly over.
After dropping two straight games at the ‘Trop, the Red Sox cannot afford to waltz into Camden Yards and get stung by the same surprising effort that shocked the White Sox, Angels and Rangers over these last 30 days.
Anything less than a sweep will further damage any chance of a miraculous return of postseason baseball at Fenway.
But, the Orioles will not resemble that same easy target described by Schilling. Not a chance …..
And, therein lies the opportunity for this 2010 Baltimore Orioles team, as October approaches and the Ravens assume nearly every single headline. The Orioles have a chance to play meaningful games in the realm of Major League Baseball’s immediate future.
They’ll get plenty of shots at the Red Sox, Rays and Yankees. They can have a VOICE in what happens in the A.L. East and ultimately, the playoffs and World Series.
I’ll concede it doesn’t equate into Camden Yards serving as the backdrop for baseball on chilly, October nights. But, it’s a start ….
The Orioles have a true opportunity to affect the finish in baseball’s most revered division. Yeah, the Rays, Red Sox and Yankees have experienced dogfights in the past, and they’ve all played the Orioles during the final weeks of the season.
But, this is different.
It’s a totally different Orioles team. For the first time in a LONG time, they’re led by a guy who won’t back down from bullies or settle for the “sure thing in the backseat of your car” effort. It ain’t happening …..
I’m actually looking forward to the final month of the season, and it begins tomorrow night.