By Eduardo A. Encina
The Baltimore Sun
6:00 AM EDT, September 29, 2013
Despite not making the playoffs this season, the Orioles can say they got the best of the American League East champion Boston Red Sox.
The Orioles’ 6-5 comeback win over Boston clinched a season-series win over the Red Sox, 10-8, making them the only AL East team to have a winning record against Boston this season.
They also clinched their first back-to-back season-series wins over the Red Sox since the 1991-1992 seasons.
The Red Sox will still have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, while the Orioles still will empty their lockers after Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale and part ways for the offseason.
** It’s been a long season for Orioles outfielder Steve Pearce, who drove in a season-high three runs on a pair of doubles, including a two-out, two-run double in the eighth inning that gave the Orioles a 6-5 lead.
It doesn’t seem all that long ago that Pearce earned the team’s final roster spot with a sensational spring training. But he opened the season 0-for-17 and kept grinding to get himself out of an early hole.
As a player who didn’t play every day, he retreated to the cages, taking extra swings whenever possible. But he probably took too many swings, and ended up on the disabled list twice with left wrist tendinitis.
“It was almost hard to picture anything good coming out of this year on a personal note,” Pearce said Saturday. “It’s definitely gratifying, especially in a game like this. It was a fun game out there tonight.”
Orioles second baseman Brian Roberts gave the Orioles an early boost with his third homer in his past five games. Roberts now has hit more homers this season (eight) in 291 plate appearances than he did in the previous three seasons combined (seven in 513 plate appearances).
The future isn’t guaranteed for either Pearce or Roberts. This afternoon could be their last in an Orioles uniform.
Pearce will be in his second season of arbitration eligibility. He’s undoubtedly a valuable piece, but there’s no certainty that he will be tendered a contract, especially given how fellow right-handed bat Danny Valencia has performed over the past month.
You know Roberts’ story. His four-year, $40 million contract ends at the end of the year, and while Roberts said he would like to return to the Orioles and continue to be a part of the club’s resurgence, the Orioles have other options at second base in Ryan Flaherty and Jonathan Schoop.
So these games, while unimportant on the surface, are incredibly meaningful for players like Pearce and Roberts. Both can find jobs elsewhere if not in Baltimore, but one of the curses of success is having to weed through a roster crunch. The Orioles will have to make tough decisions on both.
** Jim Johnson recorded his 49th save of the season and 100th since the beginning of the 2012 season.
Only three other closers have recorded as many saves over a two-year span: Eric Gagne (107 in 2002-2003 and 100 in 2003-2004), current Oriole Francisco Rodriguez (102 in 2007-2008) and John Smoltz (100 in 2002-2003).
Johnson will likely lead the AL in the saves (49) and blown saves (nine). And Saturday’s one scoreless inning gave him more innings this season (69 1/3) than last year’s 51-saves-in-54-opportunities year (68 2/3).
Of the top 14 save leaders in the majors, just one, White Sox closer Addison Reed, has logged more innings than Johnson this year. Reed has thrown 71 1/3 innings, but most of the top closers are in the low 60s in terms of innings.
Eighteen of the Orioles' past 21 games and 21 of their past 25 have been decided by two runs or fewer. And for the year, 84 percent of their games have been decided by four runs or fewer, the highest mark in the major leagues.
Because the Orioles play so many close games, Johnson is used often. There isn’t much time to rest, but if Johnson is going to be used to the best of his ability, you have to think the Orioles will have to figure out how to manage Johnson’s innings more effectively.
There’s no secret that fatigue played a factor in the Orioles’ September slide. There’s something to be said about players playing every day — and the Orioles had many who did, playing through bumps and bruises. But over the final month of the season, you could tell some of the Orioles' top players were tired.
And, now that he's more rested, it's easy to see that Johnson looks stronger on the mound and has more movement on his pitches.
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