By Dan Connolly
The Baltimore Sun
6:00 AM EDT, September 11, 2012
In the past couple seasons, whenever someone tried to give Buck Showalter a reason for why his club struggled in the mighty American League East, the Orioles manager was quick to make a statement:
"The Tampa Bay Rays have eliminated a lot of excuses."
Tonight, the Rays come to Camden Yards for a huge three-game series. The former division doormats are separated by one game in the AL East and wild card races.
It's the first time in history that both clubs have been over .500 at the same time in September. It's the first time they've ever played a meaningful game against each other.
And the leader of those Rays couldn't be happier.
"I think it is great," said Rays manager Joe Maddon in a telephone conversation Sunday. "I'm really happy for Baltimore and that organization, having been such a wonderful organization in the past."
Maddon knows more than most what it takes to turn a team around, to extricate a losing atmosphere and replace it with positive vibes. So he's watched the Orioles and Showalter with admiration.
"I think Buck has done such a great job and there's a lot of respect there from my perspective," Maddon said. "I love the idea of meaningful games there in September and the idea of a packed Camden Yards."
Usually when the Rays come to town -- even since they've been good -- Camden Yards has been a ghost town. Shouldn't be like that this week, especially with the Orioles slashing ticket prices for the series.
There likely won't be 40,000 each game, like there was for the Yankees this weekend. But I'd be surprised if there weren't 25,000 plus, at least for the two night games in what could become a budding rivalry between the East's old upstart and its current one. Although there may be too much mutual respect there for a true rivalry.
"It's about having opportunities and taking advantage of it. I love it and my team loves it and we are looking forward to it," Maddon said of the Orioles' resurgence. "I want to say congratulations to the Orioles to put themselves in this position. It's all based on hard work."
Maddon said he believes the loss of Nick Markakis is a huge blow for the Orioles. But it's not one they can't overcome. The Rays have dealt with plenty of injuries this year, losing superstar Evan Longoria for months. Yet they found a way to recover and end up in the postseason hunt again.
"It's definitely difficult. We've gone through it early in the year and it happens. But then there's always the possibility of it being a rallying cry. It lends opportunities to people that maybe you haven't heard from," Maddon said. "The game goes on. You can't cry about it. Nobody felt sorry for us early in the year, and nobody feels sorry for them.
"But Buck will make the best of it."
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