To suggest that there has been a reversal of fortune — that after an 11-3 bludgeoning of the New York Yankees on Saturday night at Camden Yards the Orioles and Bronx Bombers have swapped places — would be premature.
The Yankees, after all, won the American League East last year, kicked the Orioles out of the playoffs and, despite their injuries and recent struggles, are currently in third place in the division.
Yet the gap seems to have shrunk considerably between baseball's ultimate “Haves” and the league's perennial ‘Not quite yets.”
“I think it's just a testament to how good of a baseball team we are now,” said Orioles starter Zach Britton. “A lot of young players with talent; it's kind of showing that talent now over a consistent basis. I think in the past, it was kind of you'd see flashes. But now just the atmosphere in this clubhouse, it's great. It's great to be around. You are excited to come to the park and you know that we have a chance to win every time we come here.
Case in point: With Saturday's victory before a sold-out, announced crowd of 46,607 and a Fox television audience, the Orioles (46-36) have taken five of eight this season from the Yankees (42-38).
The Orioles haven't won a full season series against New York since 1997, but they inched closer last year by splitting half of the 18 regular season games. Entering 2013, the Orioles hadn't won a single home series against the Yankees since 2009.
They've won both so far this year at Camden Yards — the first time they've captured consecutive series at home against New York since 2008.
They'll go for the three-game sweep — this time in ESPN's “Sunday Night Baseball” telecast.
“They're a tough opponent, and we get a chance to see them a bunch during the season,” said first baseman Chris Davis, who reached a big league-best 30 home runs with two more longballs and had five RBIs Saturday night. “But we have a chance to go for the sweep tomorrow, and it would be huge for us.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter — a former Yankees farmhand, coach and skipper — has said since he took over the Orioles in 2010 that his goal was for the squad to be as consistent as the rival team in pinstripes.
“It's a high bar. We've got a long way to go to do the things that they're doing and have done. Our guys really want to be a part of that,” Showalter said. “It's hard to do. That's why it's so gratifying if you can do it.”
These, of course, aren't the Bombers of recent memory. Curtis Granderson, Mark Teixeira (Mount St. Joseph), Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez, among others, are on the shelf. It's Robinson Cano, Brett Gardner and a collection of aging veterans (Vernon Wells, Ichiro Suzuki) and unproven kids (Austin Romine, Zoilo Almonte).
These Yankees have now lost 15 of 26 games in June thanks to an offense that ranked among the worst in most offensive categories this month.
Britton, the Orioles' 25-year-old lefty making just his fourth start of the season, took advantage of the startlingly weak Yankees offense.
Despite allowing nine baserunners, Britton threw five scoreless innings before giving up two runs (one earned) in the sixth on a sacrifice fly and an error. Britton (2-2) fell one out short of posting a quality start. All three walks he allowed came in the sixth.
“I would say the first five [innings] were good. But in order to go deep into a game, you need to make an adjustment if you want to be a consistent contributor in this rotation,” Britton said. “You've got to go deep into games, especially with a nice lead. It was a good time to give the bullpen a rest. So I just need to be better at that.”
Jair Jurrjens, who was called up from Triple-A Norfolk on Saturday to provide bullpen insurance, helped save Britton's line by getting a deep fly out from pinch-hitter Travis Hafner to strand the bases loaded in the sixth.
“They were a Hafner home run away from being right back in it,” Showalter said.
Jurrjens, who may be sent back to Norfolk on Sunday when second baseman Brian Roberts is activated from the disabled list, threw 2 1/3 scoreless innings. Struggling right-hander Pedro Strop allowed one run in the ninth, but by then the outcome was determined, thanks to a four-run first and a five-run third against Yankees right-hander David Phelps (5-5).
The Orioles began the game with three consecutive one-out singles and then a three-run blast into the home bullpen by Davis.
In the sixth, Davis homered again to become the only Oriole besides Brady Anderson in 1996 to have 30 home runs by the All-Star Break. And Davis has 14 more games before the break to pile on. He's on pace for 59 homers, which would shatter Anderson's single-season franchise record of 50. Three of Davis' six career multi-homer games have come this season.
“Chris knows what we think of him and how proud we are of the year he's having,” Showalter said. “He's not satisfied. He wants to continue to contribute at a high level for his teammates.”
The big blow in the third against Phelps was Ryan Flaherty's sixth homer of the season, a three-run shot that followed a two-run single by Chris Dickerson.
Flaherty extended his career-best hitting streak to eight games and improved his season average to .215. He is 14-for-29 (.483 average) with four homers and nine RBIs during his streak. It's fortunate timing for Flaherty. With Roberts reclaiming the starting job at second base, Flaherty has presumably made a case to get some starts at designated hitter.
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“I’ve been getting into better counts and I’ve been positioning myself to have some more success,” Flaherty said. “I’ve been laying off some pitches that I might have been swinging at before.”
Saturday night's victory, paired with the Boston Red Sox's loss to the Toronto Blue Jays, pulled the Orioles within 2 ½ games of first place with 80 games remaining in the regular season.
It's a long way to go — and the Yankees are far from out of the postseason picture. But the Orioles, who will finish June with a third consecutive winning month, appear to be right there for the second consecutive season.
Perhaps that alone is a minor victory for a franchise trying to re-establish winning ways.
“It was a good game for us, and it will all be forgotten tomorrow at 8 o'clock,” Showalter said. “I'm just proud that we're going to have our third winning month in a row, which is something we really wanted.”