Journeyman infielder Kelly Johnson became the latest hero for the Orioles Sunday night with his ninth-inning double to complete a dramatic 3-2 comeback win over the New York Yankees and shrink Baltimore’s magic number to only three.
Acquired just before the waiver deadline late last month, Johnson hadn’t made a big impression with his new club before stroking a double to deep right-center off Yankees closer David Robertson and sending the Orioles to victory in walk-off fashion. Having played for all five American League East teams over the last three seasons, Johnson is clearly happy to have landed with the first-place Orioles at the perfect time and now has an excellent chance to secure a postseason roster spot in wake of the Chris Davis suspension.
“I’ve bounced around a little bit now and you know, you just get a feel,” Johnson said about his new club. “Sometimes, it’s just meant to be. You find a way to win, rather than ways to lose. It’s been pretty cool. I haven’t been here long, but I’ve seen some things I haven’t seen before.”
If you’re subscribing to Johnson’s feeling of it all being “meant to be,” brace yourself for the start of a three-game series against Toronto with the Orioles needing to take two games from the Blue Jays to secure their first AL East title since 1997. If the Orioles are able to win the series opener on Monday night, they will send Ubaldo Jimenez — who will act as a sixth starter this time through the rotation due to the doubleheader on Friday — to the hill with the opportunity to clinch the division on Tuesday night.
It wouldn’t forgive what’s been a horrendous first season in Baltimore for the 30-year-old right-hander, but how ironic would it be if Jimenez — the free-agent pitcher the Orioles signed to pitch in big games as a top-half-of-the-rotation starter — pitched well enough to earn the win in the division-clinching game of the season? Exactly how Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter drew it up back in spring training, right?
Nothing would surprise me with the Orioles at this point, including Jimenez finally delivering in a big spot to officially punch their ticket to the playoffs.
> It’s difficult not to be pleased with the performance of the offensive line through the first two weeks of the season as the Ravens try to put the nightmarish line play of 2013 behind them once and for all.
New center Jeremy Zuttah has impressed, second-year right tackle Rick Wagner has held up, and Marshal Yanda and Kelechi Osemele have looked the part of the ferocious guard tandem the organization envisioned. Even left tackle Eugene Monroe bounced back against Pittsburgh with a strong performance after a poor preseason and Week 1 showing against Cincinnati.
However, Sunday will bring another important test as the Ravens play their first road game against a talented Cleveland front. With the communication issues the offensive line faced all last season, Zuttah will need to show he can make the right calls at the line of scrimmage with crowd noise being a factor unlike when the offense operates at M&T Bank Stadium.
There’s plenty to be encouraged by with the way the unit has protected quarterback Joe Flacco and wore down the Steelers’ defensive line with the running game in the fourth quarter, but it will take another strong performance or two to convince doubters that the offensive line issues are a thing of the past.
> Speaking of Flacco, I couldn’t help but think of him in the moments that followed the gruesome ankle injury suffered by Washington quarterback Robert Griffin III against Jacksonville on Sunday.
Taken with the second overall pick of the 2012 draft to be the franchise quarterback, Griffin has now suffered two major injuries in just over two seasons of play. It just goes to show how difficult it can be to stay healthy, let alone play at an exceptional level on a yearly basis in the NFL.
Flacco will make his 98th consecutive regular-season start to begin his NFL career against the Browns on Sunday, which just shows how durable and dependable he’s been since arriving on the scene in 2008. Of course, the seventh-year quarterback’s style of play and size make him far less of an injury risk than a signal-caller like Griffin, but that shouldn’t diminish the value of having a quarterback you can count on to be under center every week.
The high number of injuries to star players on Sunday makes you appreciate Flacco’s durability while you immediately knock on wood and keep your fingers crossed that it continues.
> Though Philadelphia has an opportunity to join the ranks of the 2-0 teams with an upset win at Indianapolis Monday night, only six teams could claim such a record at the end of business on Sunday.
Who would have guessed that Buffalo and Houston would be two of them along with Denver, Cincinnati, Arizona, and Carolina? The Texans have now won two straight under new head coach Bill O’Brien after losing 14 consecutive games to close their disastrous 2013 season.
And who would have predicted New Orleans would be sitting at 0-2, even with two road games to begin the season?
You just never know with the NFL.