Left for dead after a 2-16 start, the Orioles showed signs of life with a surprising sweep of the reeling Red Sox over the weekend.
Some might chalk up the three-game sweep as a case of a team with a little momentum and nothing to lose kicking a perennial powerhouse while it was down. But by emphatically booting their nemeses back to Boston empty-handed, the Orioles showed they are a much better team than the one that face-planted out of the gate in April.
How much better? We'll have to check the Orioles' pulse after a three-game series in the Bronx and a four-game stop in Minnesota. (The Orioles lost to the Yankees, 4-1, Monday night.)
But at least we know that after their first home sweep of the Red Sox since 1998, the once-lifeless Orioles are alive and kicking.
"Anytime you can get some wins against Boston, you're accomplishing something," Ty Wigginton said Sunday, a spot-on comment from a hot hitter who has seldom missed against the Red Sox this season.
Wigginton was the biggest of the team's many heroes this weekend, hammering a pair of solo home runs in Saturday's 12-9 win and smacking the game-winning, extra-innings hit into left center Sunday.
Miguel Tejada carried the Orioles on Friday with a couple of clutch hits. Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Luke Scott joined Wigginton at Saturday's home run derby. Kevin Millwood stymied Boston hitters Sunday, but somehow remains winless despite his stingy 3.15 ERA.
It was more or less a total team effort.
Finally, after the Orioles couldn't catch a break in the first month of the season, they played well enough to win a series even if the ball had not been bouncing their way.
"It's just great for the team, individuals who have gone through a lot of pain and mimicry for 30 days," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said Sunday. "I believe we've gotten through the worst. The good days are ahead."
Obviously there is plenty of room for improvement when you go 5-18 in April. (And it's not that we wanted to make fun of your squad, Dave. It's just that it was playing so poorly it was impossible not to.) Suddenly, though, the 7-19 Orioles look like a determined and resilient, yet loose, bunch eager to prove their many haters wrong with a nice little turnaround.
The Orioles have broken out the bats after keeping them locked away in the clubhouse for most of April. Besides Brad Bergesen, the starting pitchers have kept the team in games. The bullpen has been somewhat stabilized. Most importantly, the Orioles didn't crumble in critical late-inning situations against the Red Sox.
Don't get me wrong, the Orioles won't be in the playoff hunt when August rolls around. And while most fans would be quite content with a winning season, that's not happening either.
But the definition of success this season hasn't changed from what it was a month ago. The Orioles just need to be competitive so their young cornerstone players continue to develop and figure out what it will take to become winners beyond 2010.
"I think we've got a really good team," Millwood said. "We haven't played like it. On top of being good, we're young, and we have to learn how to win. We're learning a little bit more and more every week."
The knowledge gained from some of those tough early-season lessons was on display this weekend. It was nice to see the Orioles get rewarded for their perseverance with a rare sweep of the Red Sox.
The Orioles still have the worst record in the major leagues. But at least all their vital signs check out fine, giving Birdland hope they won't be in the cellar for much longer.
Photo by The Baltimore Sun