Obviously, Sunday’s marathon 5-4 victory over the Toronto Blue Jays could have gone the other way at a number of junctures in the game, but it didn’t.
That’s what’s important heading into a big three-game home series against the American League wild-card-leading New York Yankees. The Orioles staged a ninth-inning comeback, then toughed out a 12-inning victory less than 48 hours after needing 13 innings to score the only run Friday night at Camden Yards.
It’s September, and losing either of those games would have been both painful and counter-playoff-productive. The fact that Welington Castillo saved the day in the ninth inning Sunday with his second home run of the game — off closer Roberto Osuna, no less — showed that the O’s are a stubborn group. The fact that Mark Trumbo shook off a couple of disappointing late-inning at-bats with runners in scoring position to deliver the walk-off hit with two outs showed the resilience that the O’s have displayed as they have fought their way back into very realistic playoff contention.
When Jonathan Schoop crossed the plate and touched off a crazy celebration around Trumbo at second base, they inched back to within 1½ games of the second AL wild-card slot when the Minnesota Twins lost a one run game to the Kansas City Royals.
The overtime victories improved the Orioles’ record in extra innings to 12-2, which is probably more a testament to the performance of the bullpen, but also reflects the kind of defense the O’s are capable of playing under pressure and the persistence of the hitters.
“I think especially at home, you have to like our chances, top to bottom, anyway,’’ said Trumbo, who also homered and singled earlier in the game. “Everyone has 20 homers or more. If you give us enough chances, I think we can come through. I think it’s a credit to our pitching because we have to get those opportunities, and they’ve held the game and given us that opportunity every time.”
The similarities to Friday night’s game were tough to miss. The mainstays of the bullpen were used up after the 10th, and each game came down to a solid performance by winning pitcher and roster-expansion call-up Jimmy Yacabonis (2-0). Both games also came down to a pair of clutch hits at what appeared to be the witching hour for the depleted bullpen and featured terrific defense.
In the 25 innings of the two victories over the Jays, the only error by the Orioles was a rare off-target throw by catcher Caleb Joseph on a stolen base attempt.
“It's just really hard to do what they did today and have been doing,’’ manager Buck Showalter said. “It's just there are so many lures to give in and our guys never did, and they [the Jays] didn't either. That's why these guys perform at this level. Toronto is 10 days away from flipping a lot of things around.
“You can't sit here and talk about all the contributions and things that had to happen to get to that opportunity. You had some situations where you look like you're going to push it across and you let that snowball. You can't let things snowball, especially this time of year, where something negative happens, and when something positive happens get comfortable with it. The players are just too good.”
The key defensive gem came in the 11th inning, after Yacabonis walked the first batter he faced (Jose Bautista) and Kendrys Morales hit a shot down the first-base line that Chris Davis stabbed and relayed to a shifted Manny Machado at second. Machado whipped the ball back to Yacabonis covering first, and the rookie right-hander retired the next four batters he faced in a two-inning appearance.
“It would take too long than the time we have here to rattle off the things that happened in that game that mattered,’’ Showalter said. “Chris' play on the double play. That's one of about 20.”
The Orioles won for the second straight time with Chris Tillman taking the mound, but he wasn’t out there long. He allowed three-run homer to Jays slugger Josh Donaldson in the third inning and allowed a double and a walk to the first two runners in the fifth to bring Showalter to the mound with an early hook.
Maybe Tillman would have gotten a little more slack if this were June, but he could not have been happy to come out of the game after allowing just one really damaging swing, but it isn’t June and Showalter is playing for keeps.
“Does it bother me … yeah,’’ Tillman said, “but when we win that’s more important. I think it kind of doesn’t really matter what I do as long as the team wins. That’s the way I think everyone in here feels. Right now is the time of year we’ve got to win, especially in September. You see it all the time. I feel like you’ve got all the call-ups here and there’s a chance for that game to get away with one more swing. I think I saw it coming, especially after I walked the guy.”