All of Birdland can rejoice that the Orioles’ discouraging string of 14 losing seasons officially came to an end on Thursday afternoon at Oriole Park – and marvel at the irony that it took a 14-inning game to make that so – but manager Buck Showalter didn’t view it as a huge accomplishment.
“That wasn’t the goal from the first day of the season,’’ he said. “We’ve been watching other teams for years and saying ‘We want to do what they’re doing.’ We want a chair at the dance.’”
The three-game sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays certainly didn’t guarantee that, but it did push the Rays four games back in the AL East and created a small cushion in the wild-card race with 19 games left to play. The Orioles are 19 games over .500 for the first time this year and they obviously have some serious mojo working, but we’ll have to wait and see if it works the same way on Pacific time.
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Manny Machado again was the man on Thursday, delivering a soft single with two outs in the bottom of the 14th to score Adam Jones with the winning run and send the club into another big series in Oakland with four victories in their last five games.
If there was any lingering doubt about this team’s ability to compete with the best teams in the American League, it should have evaporated over the past week. The O’s played seven games against the Yankees and Rays and won five of them and moved into sole possession of first place pending the outcome of tonight’s game between the Yankees and Red Sox.
Now, everyone is going to focus on the six games on the West Coast and wonder if the Orioles can stay on track. It certainly won’t be easy with the Oakland A’s mirroring their surprising season and Felix Hernandez set to face them when they get to Seattle, but they have overcome every obstacle so far and they stored up an acorn or two with their strong performance the past week.
They don’t have to win every game out there. They might be just fine splitting the six games and coming back to face the banged up Blue Jays and decimated Red Sox for seven games at Camden Yards.
Or not. The only thing that’s guaranteed is that it’s going to be an exciting ride.