BOSTON - One big series down, another one coming up.
The Orioles took two of three games from the Red Sox, last night's defeat leaving them two back in the wild card race. They flew into Tampa early this morning and begin a four-game series tonight at Tropicana Field, with Jason Hammel opposing left-hander David Price.
I'm booked on a 6:20 a.m. flight out of Boston that stops in Atlanta for a scheduled 1 hour, 10 minute layover. Once I arrive in Tampa, I'll make the drive to St. Petersburg and, hopefully, have a few minutes to check the blog before heading to Tropicana Field.
The Orioles have scored three runs or fewer in four of the last five games, and five runs or fewer in their last 16 games.
"If you would have asked me, I would have had no idea what our run scored was like," said second baseman Brian Roberts. "I don't think anybody's trying to do anything different. You come in here to a place like this, and you're going to get three good pitchers. We're going to go to Tampa and get four good pitchers. I don't think anybody expects to go out and score 10 every night at this point. We've got our work cut out trying to score just to score more than the other team. That's all we're trying to do at this point."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter was asked yesterday how the possibility of playing the wild card game dictates the way he sets up his rotation over the final week of the regular season.
"We've looked at it somewhat, but that's getting way ahead," Showalter said. "Right now, we're trying to win as many games as we can between now and the end of the month, and if you're left standing on the last day of the season...
"Kind of like last year. We got in that situation some. I'd a lot rather get in than have our best pitcher pitch in the first game of the playoffs. That's pretty easy."
Reflecting on his thought process toward the end of last September, Showalter said, "We were thinking about getting in. Getting in and then seeing how many options we had to start, and we felt like Joe Saunders was our best option. Well, I don't know if 'we' is the right word there. Joe and I, for sure."
The Orioles won that game, of course, before the Yankees eliminated them in the American League Division Series.
Left-hander T.J. McFarland's last three appearances have come with the score tied in the later innings, a switch from his role throughout the season. He's thrown 2 1/3 scoreless innings, with three hits, an intentional walk and two strikeouts.
"There's definitely more pressure there, but (the first two) outings, I was getting warmed up and we weren't tied," he said. "We scored two runs in Toronto and we scored a run here. But for me, it makes me feel like they have a little more confidence in me, putting me in a situation like that. And I've proven that I can go out there and get some outs.
"When I go out there, I kind of just pitch like any other outing. You can't get lost in the, 'Oh, now that the game's tied, I've got to pitch differently.' Since we do have a lot of arms down there, the long man role could be bounced around a little bit if needed. But yeah, the past few outings, I've definitely come in tie games. Fortunately, I did well."
With Darren O'Day unavailable before last night, Showalter has been using rookie Kevin Gausman in situations that normally might have been reserved for the veteran reliever. Does Gausman's role change now that O'Day is back in the bullpen?
"I'm not going to sit and let the player get boxed into one role or whatever," Showalter replied. "It depends on what the game dictates and whatever. Each game presents a different challenge. We've got quick turnaround games ahead of us. Crazy starting times in Tampa."
Showalter was determined to get O'Day in last night's game, using him as Chris Tillman's replacement to face Mike Napolis leading off the bottom of the eighth. Napoli grounded out and O'Day was removed.
"Unless Tilly really made it tough on us with a 90-pitch complete game, O'Day needed and was going to pitch tonight," Showalter said. "I just wanted to get him hot, get him in, because I don't want to go into Tampa with not knowing if he's going to warm up and have a problem, not knowing the next day. At least we'll know tomorrow how he feels and he'll be a piece for us.
"I had about three things I wanted to get done tonight regardless of the score if we could and Tilly barely cooperated. We solved that riddle with the exception of tomorrow. We still don't know how he's going to come back. I called down there while he was warming up and there wasn't a problem. He threw some breaking balls warming up. He didn't get a chance to throw one in a game, though."
The Japanese reporters here keep asking Showalter whether Tsuyoshi Wada will join the team. The latest question arrived following last night's loss - odd timing, to say the least.
Showalter jokingly asks whether doing so would make their lives easier. If so, he's all for it.
In reality, the Orioles aren't likely to summon Wada unless it's simply to allow him to soak in a little of the atmosphere. Or if they're eliminated from playoff contention. In that case, he'd probably pitch.