TAMPA, Fla. - I've lost track of my road record this season, but I'm pretty sure that I've captured one of the wild card berths. I may lead my division.
Tack on four more wins while I catch this 7:05 a.m. flight back to Baltimore and try to remember where I parked my car at the BWI train station.
Garage 1, I believe. Or maybe it was 2. I've got a 50-50 shot at being right.
The Orioles are living right these days.
They scored five runs in three games at Tropicana Field, and they went 2-1 in the series. They lost Jim Thome on the trip, and he's not expected to return anytime soon, but they went 4-2. Lew Ford and Nate McLouth are platooning in left field - just as you envisioned it in spring training, except neither guy was in the organization. Wilson Betemit and Robert Andino are platooning at third base - where neither one was expected to get regular at-bats. Miguel Gonzalez is an important member of the rotation - which you would have envisioned in spring training if you knew he existed, and if he had actually been invited to the major league camp.
It's simply crazy and there's no reason to waste energy trying to make sense of it.
Gonzalez has ice water in his veins, which could explain the long sleeves. His emotions stay the same no matter what's happening or where he's pitching. That's the part that's really impressed me. You can't rattle him. He almost looks bored on the mound.
I can confirm, however, that he does smile. Just not on the mound or in the dugout.
Jim Johnson showed his value again yesterday by retiring the side in order in the 10th inning on two ground balls and a fly ball. As manager Buck Showalter noted, preserving a one-run lead on the road in the American League East isn't easy. Johnson just made it look that way again.
I can't walk into The Trop without being reminded of all the blown saves over the years, of all the rewrites, of all the times I cursed Jorge Julio and Michael Gonzalez and others who owe me a dinner or at least a heartfelt apology. Johnson is nailing down victories like a carpenter on "Extreme Makeover: Orioles Edition." He deserves a lot of the credit for this season's turnaround.
Mark Reynolds is having a terrible year - I won't sugarcoat it - but he's really been a defensive upgrade at first base. At least once a game he digs out a throw in the dirt that saves an error. That doesn't make up for the strikeouts or the low batting average or the eight home runs. I'm just saying that he deserves recognition for the work he's done at first.
The Orioles face another left-hander tonight, Seattle's Jason Vargas, who was linked to them during the non-waiver trade deadline. Look for Ford to make another start in left field and Andino to make another start at third. Chris Davis should get back in the lineup as the designated hitter, with Matt Wieters moving back behind the plate.
Wieters is 5-for-10 lifetime against Vargas. Nick Markakis is 1-for-14 with five strikeouts, but he'll stay atop the order.
Chris Tillman makes his third career start against the Mariners, the team that drafted him and later traded him to the Orioles. He's 2-0 with a 0.63 ERA, and they're batting .102 (5-for-49) against him.