BALTIMORE — In Baltimore, it’s the first glimpse of a pennant scramble since Armando Benitez and B. J. Surhoff were in town. Way back in 1997. Hardly a person was able to deal with life without a cellphone. But Baltimore baseball had substance. It was more than the cellar dwellers of recent vintage.
And now these Orioles of 2012 have won 16 of their last 17 one-run games. The last one of those 16 came on a picture-perfect baseball afternoon at Orioles Park at Camden Yards when the Bords toiled through 14 innings (leaving 16 runners stranded) and five hours and 14 minutes before rookie Manny Machado dumped a soft single just in front of the glove of diving Tampa Bay outfielder Matt Joyce. Machado was 0-for-5 before scoring Adam Jones with the extra-inning run that lifted the Orioles to a 3-2 win and an important sweep of the three-game series with the Rays.
No clouds in the powder blue sky.
The temperature announced at 75 degrees.
Over five hours of pennant-race baseball.
And Baltimore winning again . . . by the one-run margin the Birds of old with the pitcher-rich, pennant-winning teams of 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979, and 1983 had done.
Baltimore used seven pitchers, with starter Wei-Yin Chen reaching into the eighth inning. The final 6.2 innings authored by the bullpen of Darren O’Day, Jim Johnson, Luis Ayala, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, and Randy Wolf were all scoreless. The mostly punchless Rays managed a run in the fourth to lead 1-0 and another run in the eighth make it a 2-2 game. But the nine pitchers Tampa Bay tried were just holding the line because its unproductive lineup batted .233 (12-for-51) for the afternoon, had one extra base hit, and left 10 runners on base. The Rays struck out 16 times as a team.
Baltimore had all of the scoring chances in the extra innings, even going without a run when it had the bases loaded and nobody out.
Unusual sights found their way into the five hours of pennant-race drama.
Tampa Bay manager Joe Madden made enough lineup changes and pitcher moves that he had to insert designated hitter Evan Longoria into his defense at third base. That meant his last pitcher had to bat twice, predictably fanning both times with men on base.
The Rays also escaped one time while they were using a five-man infield defense when Baltimore had the bases loaded and no outs. When Oriole infielder Robert Andino batted against the five-man infield, the righthanded swinger saw an outfield that had no leftfielder but only a centerfielder and rightfielder. Andino, who was 0-for-5, did not harm the Rays.
The pulsating win gave the Orioles a temporary half-game lead over New York. But the Yankees later posted a 2-0 shutout win over Boston . . . and when the Orioles’ charter flight to Oakland for last weekend’s crucial series landed by the bay the two teams were back in a flat-footed tie for first place in the America League’s East Division.
Pennant fever in Baltimore. The euphoria of that mental condition hasn’t been caught near the Inner Harbor since 1997. Many persons though the “disease” had been eradicated in Baltimore by the owner’s infernal meddling, a barren farm system, and the dominance of New York and Boston.
But on Sept. 13, it was in full glory for 14 tasty innings of baseball on a Chamber of Commerce-perfect afternoon for the one-time National Pastime.