The Orioles have moved ahead of the Rays by percentage points for first place in the American League East, the result of winning 18 of their last 23 games, including a doubleheader sweep of the Indians at Camden Yards.
The Orioles are seven games above .500 as they wait for the Rangers to arrive for the next series.
Manager Buck Showalter doesn’t make a daily check of the standings before the All-Star break. Still too soon.
“It’s a return for that (good play), but it can be very fleeting,” he said following an 8-0 win in Game 2 before 40,006. “The only thing I look at is the loss column every now and then. I don’t pay much attention to the other part of it.
“See if you can stay engaged and roll the dice in September. That’s what it’s about. Position yourself to be in it in September and play meaningful games when the leaves start turning. It’s not complicated. To stay engaged in our division is a challenge and our guys have done it.”
The Orioles posted shutouts in both ends of a doubleheader for the first time since Sept. 6, 1974 with Dave McNally and Mike Cuellar starting the games. The complications involved in managing a doubleheader lessen when the starters put up zeros, as Ubaldo Jimenez (eight innings) and Chris Tillman (seven) did today.
“It’s a lot easier,” Showalter said. “I don’t take for granted how hard that is. You see right-handed pitchers go through that many left-handed hitters and have success. The second game is so hard to pitch because you know there are a lot of things working. It’s so hard to sweep a doubleheader in the major leagues.
“Tilly was pretty hungry. He’s always hungry, but you could tell he was on a little mission there tonight. He was real crisp. Had good command of his fastball, a lot of strike ones. Some things he hasn’t been doing.”
Tillman was working on two extra days’ rest and used them to his advantage to prepare for tonight’s outing.
“I think the two work days, sometimes you get in a routine and... What’s the definition of insanity? Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Sometimes, you get a good result by doing the same thing over and over again,” Showalter said.
“If you’re not getting a return for some stuff, you’ve got to tweak some things. It’s a game of constant adjustments. Guys make adjustments all year long, whether it’s a work day, whether it’s Wally (Dave Wallace) talking to Mac (T.J. McFarland) between innings about something, about maybe overthrowing. That’s why Mac’s so valuable, because he doesn’t implode.”
McFarland tossed two scoreless innings to complete the Game 2 shutout before returning to Triple-A Norfolk.
“It’s very big to pitch those two innings,” Showalter said. “I thought we’d get through these two games and not have to pitch Zach (Britton) or Darren (O’Day) or Tommy (Hunter), that was big for us. We play a very good offensive team the next four days.”
Showalter has often stated how hard it is to sweep a doubleheader. His team did it today.
“It means we’re not overtaxed in the bullpen starting tomorrow, but that could change in one night,” he said. “But the job the starters did ... I was talking to Darren coming down the hall. I thought if he didn’t pitch either one of these games, or Zach, and we won, that says a lot.
“Mac pitched big innings. I thought Chaz (Roe) gave us a good finish in that game. They take a lot of pride in doing their job and trying to keep Zach out of those games if we can. I think Zach’s close to the league lead in games finished, not innings pitched, but because he’s had to come in and do a job for us there.”
Tillman has been hurt by walks this season, but he didn’t issue a free pass tonight.
“It was real good,” Showalter said. “It was something he was capable of and one of the reasons why he pitches on opening day and does a lot of good things for us.
“Chris, I try to have a long memory. Sometimes we live in a what have you done for me lately world and nobody understands that more than him. They understand what this is about. He takes it personal. He wants to be one of those guys we can depend on and throw 200 innings.”
The Orioles hit three home runs in the fourth inning while breaking open Game 2. It seems as though the entire lineup is heating up at the same time.
“I don’t know if it’s contageous,” Showalter said. “We’ve got a lot of guys with a track record and they’re going to do certain things. I think they’re in different stages. Matt (Wieters), it’s probably going to take him 100 at-bats. You see J.J. (Hardy) is starting to get a better feel for it at that same mark. Jon (Schoop) will go through that a little bit when he comes back, so I think you get a lot of guys. And when somebody tails off a little bit, you’re hoping somebody picks up the slack.
“You’re not going to have nine guys clicking. It’s just too hard to do. And when a pitcher’s on top of his game, it doesn’t really matter. We were fortunate to catch them with a spot start there and were able to take advantage of that. But it shows a lot of intensity not being satisfied with that one game.”
Adam Jones didn’t play in Game 2 after making his return to the lineup in the opener.
“He wanted to play both of them,” Showalter said. “He knows. Could have. He’ll play tomorrow unless there’s some problem between now and then. It would have been easy and nice to write his name in the lineup again, but with the doubleheader, take some caution there. But he came through that pretty good. It’s going to take him a few games to get going again. He’s had some time off.”
Travis Snider made an incredible diving catch in left-center field in the sixth to rob Francisco Lindor.
“Geez. Competition is great,” Showalter said.
“Travis came over with a good reputation defensively. You won’t find a better play made this year than him. My gosh. I had a good angle at it, too. I know Chris was thrilled with it. He had a pretty good reaction.”
Jones pied Snider and a Showalter garden gnome after the game.
It seemed like the appropriate finish.