The situation was dire Sunday afternoon in the Bronx. The Orioles were on the verge of getting swept by the New York Yankees, a team that had been written off by some just a week ago. The 1-0 deficit seemed pretty much insurmountable, and that was before the greatest closer in major league history took the ball in the ninth.
But in an instant, All-Star center fielder Adam Jones turned the tide for the Orioles, hitting a two-run home run to left center field off of closer Mariano Rivera to give the Orioles a 2-1 lead in the top of the ninth inning.
“It’s off the greatest closer in the history of the game. I’ll always remember it,” Jones said after the game.
Embattled Orioles closer Jim Johnson came in for the bottom of the ninth and got a quick 1-2-3 inning to temporarily silence his critics and secure the critical victory for the Orioles.
The 49-40 Orioles have had many big wins this season. There was the six-run comeback against the Minnesota Twins in early May, Nate McLouth's walk-off homer against the Yankees, that thrilling ninth-inning comeback versus the Detroit Tigers on the final day in May, Chris Davis' game-winning bloop single in extra innings to beat Boston Red Sox three weeks ago.
But Sunday’s win might have been their biggest one to date.
“You don’t want to get swept any time,” Johnson said. “We lose the first two [games] of the series, you’ve got to try and find a way. And it came down to the last inning of the last game of the series. Obviously, it wasn’t the kind of road trip we wanted. But hopefully it gives us a little bit of momentum going home.”
After sweeping the Yankees the previous weekend, the Orioles had lost four of their first five games in July. The Yankees, who had reeled off six straight wins, had overtaken the Orioles in the standings, sinking them to fourth in the A.L. East.
A loss on Sunday would have dropped the Orioles to 5 1/2 games behind the first-place Red Sox, with a tough seven-game home stand starting at Camden Yards on Monday night. They will play four against the Texas Rangers then three against the Toronto Blue Jays, who swept the Orioles last month. Maybe this win will snap the Orioles out of their funk.
The last thing they want to do is stumble into the All-Star break, when they will have a few days to let their struggles marinate in their psyches before starting the season’s second half.
“You’ve got to win, and we haven’t been playing that well,” Jones said. “We need to tighten up. We need to clean it up around here. Need to play better baseball as a team, as a unit.”
For eight innings, Sunday’s game wasn’t one they Orioles deserved to win. But thanks to Jones’ ninth-inning heroics, the Orioles found a way to stun the Yankees at Yankees Stadium.
This might be a win we are still talking about in September.