If the Orioles end up going to the postseason, Wednesday’s victory over Tampa Bay might be looked back upon as one of the bigger wins of the year. First off, it goes without saying that the entire series was tough on the Orioles and on the fans. Dropping two of three to a team that you’re chasing in the standings is never a favorable result. The mere fact that the Orioles salvaged one game was a moral victory.
However, that game should be looked upon as one where the Orioles finally stepped up and fought back. The Birds had left a small army on base in the first two games of the series, and they just seemed a step behind Tampa Bay in certain senses. Believe me folks, I watched those games with the same amazement that most people (along with the Orioles) did. The Rays are a team that comes across as not overly intimidating in terms of their lineup. They do have a couple of power guys, but nobody in the category of Adam Jones or Chris Davis. And that’s precisely why so many people are surprised that they’re able to be as successful as they are.
As I said, Tampa Bay appeared a step ahead of the Birds for most of the series. Just when the Orioles thought they had the Rays all figured out, they’d pull some other bizzare shift or quirky motion. It almost gets to the point to where they go so far against the grain of traditional baseball that the opponent takes pause to figure out what they’re doing, which is when they pounce. They wear out your pitchers, who in turn push things to the point that they almost seem to wear out your hitters. Their games certainly have an interesting dynamic, and that comes from manager Joe Maddon.
Nevertheless, in that third game Wednesday, it was the Orioles who had an answer for everything that Tampa Bay threw out there. They had that determined look in their eyes, and took a two-run lead into the ninth inning with two down and runners at the corners. Maddon again attempted one of those quirky moves that tends to leave people scratching their heads wondering how it was possible something like that could work. However this time it didn’t - the Orioles were ready for them. When Maddon called for an unorthodox steal with two outs in the ninth, Matt Wieters gunned the runner down at second base to end the game. Didn’t Maddon get the message when it comes to Wieters? Don’t. Run. Ever.
The point here is not that the Orioles defeated Tampa Bay or anything along those lines. The point is that they stood up and fought back. Through 162, games you’re going to go through some adversity, and you’re going to have moments where you aren’t looking so strong. However, it’s how you react to those moments that decipher who you are at the end of the season.
The Orioles now find themselves in a position where seemingly everyone’s coming for them, with Cleveland, Tampa Bay, Oakland and now even New York bunched close together with the O’s in the playoff race. So knowing that they can stand up and fight back is something that will serve them well down the stretch. Going back to that particular series, Tampa Bay is a team that literally will make you tear your hair out. But by the time that third game rolled around, the Birds were ready for them. Baseball has always been a thinking man’s game, which is why it’s my favorite of all the sports.
Being a contending team means making adjustments, and that’s precisely what the Birds did in that final game with Tampa Bay last week. Perhaps those adjustments aren’t exactly tangible, per se, but to say the least, they were ready for what Tampa Bay was throwing at them. And that kind of nimbleness is exactly what we’re going to need to see more of if the Birds are going to overcome the surge that’s being mounted by some of these teams.
One game a season does not make, especially when you play 162. However, as I said, if the Orioles qualify for the postseason I believe we’ll be able to look back on that game last week as one of the biggest of the year - and for that reason. Winning is tough at this level, and often it’s he who makes the best adjustments that’s standing at the end.
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.