ANAHEIM - It's September pennant-race baseball and no one cares about style points. Or shutouts, or blowouts, or a game with a lot of runs and numerous well-struck shots in the gap. That's all nice and always welcome, but just win.
Win and hold onto a season-best 3.5 game lead atop the AL East.
Down to the last bullpen pitcher they had available and their eighth of the night, the Orioles did that last night at Angel Stadium.
They grinded out a 5-4 win in 10 innings over the Los Angeles Angels that was beautiful only where it counts most - in the standings.
A 2-0 lead in the third became a 3-2 deficit and became a 4-3 lead in the ninth. But it became 4-4 in the last of the ninth. Then they got the lead again and now Japanese right-hander Shintaro Fujinami was going to try for a save.
Everyone in Birdland knows he has been inconsistent, and you don't know whether he will blow the opposition away or walk the ballpark. This time it was more the first one.
Up 5-4 he gave up a long fly ball and the placed runner, Randal Grichuk moved to third base. But this lead would be held. He got a strikeout with a 100-mph fastball and that was followed by one with a 93.8 mph splitter and the game and save were secured.
Fuji got it done.
He was their seventh pitcher out of the 'pen and the O's didn't want to use Yennier Cano for a third straight game. So, it was Fuji at the end.
Manager Brandon Hyde wanted him to start an inning so there he was in the tenth.
“Just because of the extra inning rule. You need punchouts there," explained Hyde of why he didn't pitch him earlier. "I like to have him start an inning kind of right now. So, start the inning - for me he’s our best punchout guy with the guys we had available. And take a chance.
“The stuff is there. And he’s throwing 101. And that last split to end the game, that is not normal. That’s next level.”
Said Fujinami through interpreter Issei Kamada on the feeling at the end: “It was two strikes and I wanted to make sure my split would not go top of the zone. Make sure my fingers were on the top of the ball. Almost to throw it in the dirt. I trust Adley (Rutschman), and he does a very good job of stopping the ball. I trusted him and threw the split.
“Each outing I feel like I get better. Tonight’s outing gave me more confidence," he said.
O's starter Dean Kremer went just 4 2/3 allowing four hits but no runs and his pitch count, good early on, ballooned to 92 with a couple of long innings. So, he had an early exit, but he was impressed by Fuji in the tenth.
"Huge. Every time he steps out there and has a good one or a clean one, it’s definitely a confidence builder for him and for us as well.
“His stuff is different. I mean he throws 100 mph with ease and his splitter is really, really good," said Kremer.
So now, with 24 games left in the regular season, and seven until the huge series with Tampa Bay, last night the O's matched the Rays with an extra-inning win, just as they had versus Boston.
The Rays are pushing to catch the Orioles, but the Birds have won four straight on this trip, 10 of 13 and 24 of 34 to hold them off. The Orioles have won six straight series and are 38-16 (.703) since July 5.
After going 18-9 in August, Baltimore is 4-1 in September and looking for a ninth sweep of the season and a 5-1 road trip to this point tonight.
“I think it is just another example of how we approach the game," said Ryan O'Hearn, whose pinch-hit single tied it in the ninth. "The never say die attitude. Guys taking every at-bat one pitch at a time. Not trying to get ahead of ourselves. Trust your teammates. No one trying to do it all themselves with a big homer or anything. We’ve got really talented hitters up and down the lineup and depth like that helps."
O'Hearn said the guys on the bench were into the game and staying ready in the late innings and he and Adam Frazier had big pinch hits.
“We care a lot. We want to win. We want to win the division," O'Hearn said. "We want to continue to just win every game we get a chance to play. We love each other, play for each other and trust each other.
“It’s been fun (the pennant race). I don’t think anyone is worried about the month (it is) or trying to focus on how many games are left or what the Rays are doing. Just focusing on ourselves. Realize that things can change fast in this game. Show up to the park, have fun and do everything we can to win."
The victory was the O's 44th comeback win of the year, tied with the Reds for the MLB lead.
Baltimore has won this series and is now 29-13-3 in series play and 15-6-2 in road series.