James Baker: It’s not over

The Orioles finished Game 162 with a 4-1 loss at the hands of a scrappy, prideful, Tampa Bay Rays team. But for the first time in more than a decade, the season is not over. As a result of the their loss and the Yankees’ win, the Orioles are the second wild card team and must fly to Arlington, Texas, to face the suddenly mortal Texas Rangers.

The 2012 season will go down in Baltimore lore as one of the most amazing spectacles. The Orioles finished with the best record in one-run-games in the last century of baseball history. Finishing at 29-9, the Orioles winning percentage in these nail-biters is a mind-boggling .763. To find any teams with that high a win percentage you have to return to the legendary Gilded Age squads of the 1883 Cleveland Blues and the 1893 Brooklyn Bridgegrooms.

And while everyone has completely heard of those 19th century powerhouses, and I know my Oyster Burns poster was hanging in my room as a kid, the Orioles’ accomplishments are not diminished by the comparison. All kidding aside, the Orioles’ record in close games has existed in the valley between weird and random all year, and will continue to baffle experts for years to come.

There were so many magical nights this year, the one that sticks out in my mind was the extra-inning affair against the Tigers. Taylor Teagarden’s walk-off homer was improbable, but only slightly more ridiculous than seeing J.J. Hardy hit a two-run homer to tie the game while being mired in one of the worst slumps I think I had ever seen. The Orioles may need more of the magic going forward in the playoffs as they face the Rangers tomorrow.

The Rangers have completely owned the Orioles this year, but there is something wrong with this team. The Rangers have lost eight of their last 10 games, surrendered the American League West to the upstart Athletics (I think that clinched Bob Melvin’s Manager of the Year award from Buck Showalter) and look a bit shell-shocked from the journey. The Rangers have their home field going for them, so there is that.

Many are upset that the Orioles seem to be “limping” into the playoffs, as one blog put it this morning, but I don’t see it that way. The Orioles went 6-4 over their last 10 games and they played a team in the Rays which simply did not quit. You have to commend the work of Joe Maddon; he has his team going nonstop until the very last out. And that must be hard in St. Petersburg, Fla., where it appears even when you are really good, no one seems to notice very much.

On Friday, the Orioles will play their first playoff game in 15 years against a team that was essentially supposed to be the Yankees of the West. They will most likely be going up against one of their top pitchers and their bats, while seemingly dormant now, only need to wake up for one game to advance. Buck’s Magical Birdshow will need to pull out all the stops to win in a notoriously tough park for traveling teams.

Win or lose, this has been a fantastic season, but I feel this team has some more magic left.

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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