James Baker: Making a statement

Chris Tillman stepped to the mound in the bottom of the first inning after watching his counterpart, Ivan Nova, retire the Orioles on six pitches. Tillman proceeded to give up five runs, including a Robinson Cano two-run job, before the Orioles’ seats were even warm. It appeared it would be another long night.

As the second inning started, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters both got on board with singles. Wilson Betemit and Lew Ford were set down by strikeouts and Nova quickly put two strikes on Mark Reynolds. The Orioles first baseman snatched victory from the jaws of another strikeout by lining a frozen rope down the left field line. The ball took one bounce and hopped into the stands for a ground-rule double. With two on and two out, Omar Quintanilla came up. The former Mets second baseman has had a white-hot start for the Birds and he continued, sending a ground ball back up the middle, plating two more runs.

After Nick Markakis singled and a J.J. Hardy walk, Chris Davis came to the plate with the bases loaded, and boy did he deliver. Davis clobbered a long fly ball into the bullpen in left-center for a grand slam homer to give the Orioles a 7-5 lead. All seven runs came with two outs in the inning and you could see the looks of disbelief on the Yankees’ faces.

The Orioles would scratch out two more runs before Markakis hit a two-run homer in the top of the eighth to cap off the 11-run night for the Birds. Meanwhile, after his rough start, Chris Tillman settled down and pitched another five innings of shutout ball. Troy Patton, Pedro Strop and Luis Ayala combined to finish out the game and complete the Orioles stunning comeback in the Bronx.

It was stunning, to everyone except the talking heads over at “Baseball Tonight.” In their most condescending tone, the two members of the show’s crew basted the Orioles in fake praise for “running out of gas a month ago,” but still finding ways to win “here and there.” I really try not to fall into the trap of railing on about the bias of ESPN, but that really rubbed me the wrong way.

The Orioles have done more than find ways to win “here and there.” Yes, July was a bad month, but they were literally one game under .500 for July. The vaunted Yankees, meanwhile, were .500 for July. The Orioles were a blown save away from having the same record as the Yanks in July. The Orioles have dealt with injuries, but they seem to be coming out the other side of it now without sustaining any catastrophic failure.

The Red Sox are finding ways to win “here and there,” as are the Toronto Blue Jays. Those teams had run out of gas a long time ago yet are still plugging along bouncing back and forth over the .500 mark. The Orioles, so far this year, have never been under .500. Let me repeat that: The Baltimore Orioles have never dipped below .500 this year.

People have been throwing dirt on this team for the better part of two months, and yet here they are. They are now only 1 1/2 games out of the wild card. And despite the bit of revenge the Yankees got on Zach Britton yesterday, sitting here on Aug. 1, the Yankees look a lot more human than they have in the past.

Each of the last two years, the Orioles have found a way to finish strong. Last year, the Orioles put up a 27-30 record in August and September. That may not look like much, but when you consider the Orioles went 18-34 in the previous two months, that is an accomplishment. In 2010, Buck Showalter guided the Birds to an impressive 34-24 record through August, September and October. Could this be the new trend of the Orioles? Finishing strong? It certainly isn’t something that any fan is used to in Baltimore and it would certainly be a pleasant surprise.

Dan Duquette has stated that the “future is now.” It truly is, the Orioles are sitting on the precipice of an actual playoff race and teams are going to begin to drop off as they play each other head-to-head. The Orioles may not be the most impressive team to still be five games over .500 in recent history, yet here they are. If they can continue this, then they may actually succeed in shocking the baseball world.

James Baker blogs about the Orioles at Oriole Post. His observations about the O’s appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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