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News Maryland Howard County Laurel

Orioles and Nationals could be on collision course [Commentary]

Editor's Note: Former Laurel sports editor David Driver wrote the following commentary in late August. It's worth a fresh look on Wednesday after the Orioles and Nationals won their division titles on Tuesday night. The Orioles' 8-2 victory over Toronto touched off a memorable celebration, where more than 35,000 fans and manager Buck Showalter watched the players celebrate on the Camden Yards field of dreams, saw the champagne showers in the locker room and stayed late into the night when the players returned to the field, bringing family, friends and pies with them. The last item was delivered by Orioles center fielder Adam Jones, who gave the pie treatment to a number of fans in another @SimplyAJ10 joy-filled moment.

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"Orioles Magic" was born on a June night in 1979 when the Birds came back to beat the Detroit Tigers with a home run in the last of the ninth inning by Doug DeCinces at old Memorial Stadium.

The Orioles rode a late-season hot stretch — filled with comebacks, extra-inning victories and walk-off victories — to the 1979 World Series before falling to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

This scenario, call it "A Midsummer Night's Dream" if you like, is starting to sound familiar to baseball fans down the Baltimore-Washington Parkway from Charm City.

Some 35 years later "Nationals Magic" — or some form thereof — might have come to fruition during a 10-game homestand that ended Aug. 24 at Nationals Park.

In the last game of the homestand, on a beautiful Sunday afternoon with low humidity and puffy clouds blocking out some of the summer sun, the Nationals staged a memorable comeback.

Trailing 5-0 after three innings, the Nationals pounded the San Francisco Giants' bullpen and came back for a 14-6 win before nearly 35,000 fans. There have been larger comebacks, of course, but not many with 12 unanswered runs against a playoff contender after getting no-hit in the first three innings.

Washington ended the homestand with a record of 9-1 even though its franchise-record 10-game winning streak ended Aug. 22 against those same Giants. The Nationals had five walk-off wins and won six games by one run during the homestand.

So what about the rest of the season, as the first-place Nationals have a big lead over the Atlanta Braves in the National League East?

Jayson Werth was born in May 1979, just weeks before Orioles Magic took flight. He was drafted by the Orioles at the age of 18 out of a Springfield, Ill., high school in 1997 and played in the minors in Salisbury, Frederick and Bowie before he was traded to Toronto in 2000. These days he is a power-hitting right fielder for the Nationals.

"We are pretty hot. It should be exciting. Stay tuned," Werth told fans after the game Aug. 24 in an on-field interview.

The recent hot stretch has Nationals fans dreaming of a World Series. And if Washington gets that far they could face Orioles.

Going into Monday, the Orioles had the largest division lead of any team in the American League while Washington had the biggest lead of any team in the National League.

This baseball bliss may be too much for some local fans to handle.

Many fans in the Washington area grew up following the Orioles, since the Senators left town for Texas after the 1971 season and baseball didn't return to the nation's capital until 2005.

Both the Nationals and Orioles made the playoffs in 2012 but Washington lost in the opening series to the St. Louis Cardinals while Baltimore was eliminated by the Yankees.

But this year some national pundits, such as Richard Justice with mlb.com, think the Nationals and Orioles could be favorites to meet in the World Series.

Back in the 1960s the Orioles owned the Washington Senators, who rarely had a winning record.

But that is not the case in the current rivalry between the teams.

The Orioles won three of four games earlier this year to give them a 35-30 edge in the all-time series with the Nationals. Each team has been much stronger at home: Baltimore is 22-12 at home against the Nationals while Washington is 18-13 at home against the Orioles.

One common thread between each team is Steve Lombardozzi, the Atholton High graduate from Fulton who was part of the 2012 Washington team that won the National League East.

Lombardozzi was traded to the Detroit Tigers in December and then joined the Orioles late in spring training. He has played in 20 games this season for the Birds but has been at Triple-A Norfolk in the International League most of the year.

Meanwhile, Sports Cards Heroes on Main Street in Laurel sits in the epicenter of a possible Beltway World Series.

The sports card and memorabilia store is about 22 miles from Nationals Park and about 20 miles to Orioles Park at Camden Yards. Fans from both teams come to the store already. One can only imagine what happens come October if the Fall Classic pits the Orioles against the Nationals.


Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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