Once this whole crazy ride is over, maybe we'll refer to it as the all-nighter or the 3:55 a.m. game. It'll rank right up there with the 17-inning win closed out by the pitching designated hitter.

The Orioles left their staunchest fans rubbing eyes and stifling yawns Wednesday in the aftermath of an 18-inning win in Seattle that lasted nearly until dawn. Of course they won, because that's what this team does when the games are longer than "Lawrence of Arabia" and tighter than the gears of a Swiss watch.

The improbable is probable, the bizarre routine.

Orioles fans could only smile sleepily and look ahead to the next wonder in a year full of them. With every game a must-have, they had found another way to recapture a share of first place with two weeks left in the regular season.

"I've stopped trying to figure it out," said state Del. Samuel I. "Sandy" Rosenberg, one of the faithful who watched until the end.

Rosenberg, a Baltimore Democrat, is an Orioles season-ticket holder. But he hasn't stayed up to watch the club's West Coast games in years. On Wednesday afternoon, however, he was trying to figure out how he'd sneak in a nap so he would be fresh for the last game of the Seattle series at 10:10 p.m.

Earlier in the day, the Orioles had called up super-prospect Dylan Bundy to fortify a pitching staff worn thin by the 18-inning game.

Rosenberg was already looking forward to seeing Bundy pitch. "You've got to stay up for that," said the 62-year-old delegate, speaking with the pep of a school boy.

Fans around the area and across the country voiced similar sentiments as they reflected on the Orioles' improbable run to pennant contention. This team gives them another reason to watch every night.

"Oh yeah, that's what I'm going to be doing for the next two weeks," said Rishi Kadiwar, a management consultant who lives in Connecticut and works in Manhattan.

When Kadiwar got home Tuesday evening, he paid $9.99 for Major League Baseball's online viewing subscription so he'd be able to watch his Orioles for the rest of the season (they're rarely on television in the New York market). Little did the Rockville native know what he was in for when he clicked to the Seattle game on his laptop.

Inning after inning, the Orioles failed to score as Kadiwar's eyes darted between the game and President Barack Obama's interview with David Letterman. When they tied it in the ninth, he brewed himself a cup of coffee. "I guess I'm hooked now," he thought.

By the time Orioles closer Jim Johnson snagged the last ground ball, Kadiwar had only two hours to sleep before waking for his daily commute. But he took energy from thinking of all the New York Yankees fans who are getting nervous about the upstart Orioles.

"You can see we're getting under their skins a little bit," he said.

Orioles players showed appreciation for those who spent the night with them. "Whoever stayed at the park or stayed up and watched the game tonight," tweeted center fielder Adam Jones. "UR KINDA AWESOME."

About 38,000 people in the Baltimore area were watching the game on the Mid-Atlantic Sports Network between 2 and 3 a.m., the last hour for which MASN had received data as of Wednesday afternoon. That was down from a peak of about 86,000 between 10:45 and 11 p.m. Tuesday.

The game was not the longest, by innings, in Orioles history.

It fell one inning short of the club's 7-5 triumph over the Washington Senators on June 4, 1967, which made a hero of light-hitting catcher Andy Etchebarren. His walk-off, two-run home run ended that 5-hour, 18-minute contest at Memorial Stadium.

Had Etchebarren been able to bunt, as asked, that game might still be going.

"Twice, I tried to sacrifice Brooks [Robinson] to second base. Couldn't do it, so I hit a home run," said Etchebarren, now manager of the minor league York (Pa.) Revolution. "I guess it worked out alright."

As Jones noted, a few lucky O's fans caught Tuesday's (and Wednesday's) epic live.

Seattle resident Phil Greene was so roused leaving Safeco Field that he blasted the song "Orioles Magic" on his car stereo as he pulled out of the stadium parking lot.

"I had on my Orioles' shirt, and my cap, inside-out," said Greene, 26, who is from Bel Air. "My girlfriend sat next to me, laughing at how ridiculous I am. But it took me a long time to wind down after that one.

"The Orioles have played so many awesome games this year, but that had to be in the top five."

In the 16th inning, when Greene began nodding off in his seat behind the visitors' dugout, Wayne Kirby, the Orioles' first base coach, tossed him a baseball.

"That woke me up," said Greene, an IT manager. "I took it as a cool sign and thought, 'We're gonna have to win this one now.'

"This whole season has been kind of magical, and now they're bringing up Dylan Bundy? I'm lovin' the moves that [executive vice president] Dan Duquette has made. He's got some guts, for sure."

If the Orioles had to go 18 to force Bundy's call-up, it was all worth it for Don DiBastiani.

"Having an extra arm throwing 98 miles an hour is a big thing," said DiBastiani, a Norrisville native who lives in Tacoma, Wash. He attended Tuesday's game clad in orange, despite working as a group events coordinator for the Mariners' Triple-A team.

"To the end, there were folks along the third-base line, spelling out O-R-I-O-L-E-S," he said. "At the finish, I think there were more Orioles fans there."

Andrew Gorman is the rare fan for whom the 5-hour, 44-minute Seattle win unfolded at a perfect time.

In Beijing, where the Baltimore native lives, he followed the game on ESPN.com from about 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.. He was only sad that he didn't wear the Wei-Yin Chen shirt with the Chinese characters that his mother shipped him.

"I've been an O's fan my whole life, and I've been waiting 15 years for this playoff run," wrote Gorman, a veterinarian, in an e-mail. "And now I'm not in the country to appreciate it!"

childs.walker@baltsun.com

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