Only the smart fans saw it coming

Not only did the smart fans predict back in March that the Orioles would be tied for first place on Sept. 5, they also knew that Miguel Gonzalez would be on the mound tonight with a chance to give them sole possession.

They followed his progress in the Mexican League and his recovery from injuries that robbed him of two full seasons of pro ball. Oh, they knew.

machado-fielding-white-sidebar.jpgThey knew that Nate McLouth, released by the Pirates after batting .140 in 34 games, would be hitting .255 with the Orioles and playing left field like he owned it. They actually predicted his release first, then his rebirth in Baltimore.

Don't ask me how, but they knew that shortstop Manny Machado would make the jump from Double-A Bowie to the majors fresh off his 20th birthday - the smoke from his candles was still swirling in the air - and look like a plus-defender at third base while also batting .273.

They knew that Nick Markakis, handled with care in spring training after abdominal surgery, would make an ideal leadoff hitter. (Actually, a few of you are on record as saying it.)

They knew that Mark Reynolds wouldn't heat up until August, and then he would be a menace at the plate and Gold Glove caliber at first base.

They knew that leading the American League in errors wouldn't destroy the season, just as leading the majors didn't, you know, destroy the season.

They knew that on this date, the Orioles would be 39-29 on the road and 30-21 against the American League East. Because that always happens. And by "always," I mean "never."

They knew that the Orioles would be 60-0 when leading after the seventh inning, because they also knew that the bullpen finally would be a strength instead of the usual mix of washed up veterans and castoffs, and not-ready-for-primetime farmhands.

They knew that Zach Britton, with recurring inflammation in his left shoulder that required a medical procedure in spring training and later banished to Triple-A Norfolk, would run off four straight wins beginning on Aug. 18 and hold opponents to three earned runs in 28 2/3 innings. And strike out 29 batters in the process.

They knew that a minus-31 run differential before a Sept. 4 game wouldn't make the least bit of difference in the Orioles' pursuit of a playoff berth. They also knew that it would go down to minus-19 after that game, which really boggles the mind. How is this possible?

They knew that Brian Matusz would be getting key outs ... as a left-handed specialist. They also knew J.C. Romero would not. And in the strangest twist, they knew Romero would opt out of his contract at Triple-A Norfolk, sign with the Indians and be traded back to the Orioles. It gives me chills.

They knew that Dan Duquette, out of the game since 2002, would be one of the leading candidates for Executive of the Year honors. Heck, they knew he would be interviewing for the job before Andy MacPhail decided not to return, which again boggles the mind.

They also knew about Lew Ford, Omar Quintanilla and Joe Saunders. They knew about Bill Hall, and that whole Jamie Moyer thing. They probably know who the PTBNL is in the Matt Lindstrom trade.

I really wish they would share that one with me.

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