Two straight losses to the Rays and a pending trip to Toronto were supposed to finally break the Orioles. The skeptics keep circling the dates for the club’s demise. Waiting for players to start turning into pumpkins.
Well, here they are, a half-game behind the Blue Jays for the last wild card spot and having a chance at a sweep.
The Orioles have won five consecutive games against the Jays in the same season for the first time since 1994. They won a road series against them for the first time since July 2019.
They totaled five wins over the Jays in 2021, one fewer than this year.
Overall, the Orioles have won 10 of the last 14 games, 12 of 18 and 26 of 37. They’re 25-27 against division opponents after going 20-56 last season.
It’s dangerous to keep doubting them.
Alek Manoah was dominating the Orioles until Cedric Mullins and Adley Rutschman hit back-to-back home runs in the fifth inning to tie the score. Ramón Urías delivered a clutch two-out single in the sixth to score rookie Terrin Vavra, who drew a walk. Jorge Mateo walks to extend the inning and bench player Ryan McKenna, a night after collecting a career-high three hits, greets reliever Anthony Bass with an RBI single.
The latest example of how this year’s team varies from others during the rebuild.
Dean Kremer is behind 2-0 after only two batters – George Springer reaches on an infield hit and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. reaches the seats again – and he gets into a groove. Manoah normally would have kept rolling into the late innings after holding them to one hit through four scoreless, but the 2022 Orioles have a swagger.
They put together quality at-bats. They get clutch hits. They get clutch outs on the mound, especially from a bullpen lacking big names. The defense turns spectacular double plays.
Where was the tension last night in the bottom of the ninth? Félix Bautista was tasked with protecting a two-run lead in an unfriendly environment and steamrolled the Jays.
My beat writer life is filled with hurried rewrites in the ninth, starting with a leadoff walk, a ball hit in the gap, the crowd whipped into frenzy. A walk-off was inevitable. Just like me wishing I had chosen another profession.
Whatever happens from now until Oct. 5, the Orioles won’t carry a white flag with them, let alone pull one out and wave it.
They lose Trey Mancini and Jorge López to trades, but they don’t concede a thing.
It’s amazing to watch.
One of the questions raised after Mancini’s departure was who’s backing up Ryan Mountcastle at first base? Nothing to lose sleep over, but it still required an answer.
Tyler Nevin is the first option, and batting practice and early infield work has become a little more interesting to watch.
Anthony Santander has been taking ground balls at first for much of the year. He’s played the position, as the Orioles remind us, but only nine games at Single-A Lynchburg in 2016. They selected him in the Rule 5 draft in December.
Vavra went through drills at first base at Tropicana Field after batting practice. He’s played three infield positions as a professional. First isn’t one of them.
Rutschman played first at Oregon State when he wasn’t catching. He made 30 starts at the position in the minors. Manager Brandon Hyde said after Rutschman’s promotion that the kid would catch or serve as designated hitter, but he reportedly took ground balls there yesterday at Rogers Centre.
Hyde told the media that he’d “probably rather stay away from it, but I think in a huge need, possibly.”
So, he’s saying there’s a chance.
Hyde wore a big smile on his face last night as players filed off the field. Slapping hands high and low in the victory line.
It's confirmed. Winning is fun.
So is proving people wrong night after night.
“We’re having fun right now,” Kremer told the media afterward, offering further confirmation. “Standings or not, we’re having a blast.”
Like the way they’re blowing up the preseason projections.