Buck Showalter played it low-key after the Orioles fell a hit short of upending the Red Sox on Tuesday night, but you could tell he was proud of the way his team forced Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon to pitch the equivalent of two innings to squirm out of the ninth and record his 31st save.
"The potential's there,'' Showalter said. "We put a lot of the phases of the game together, but you've got to do it over a longer period of time like they have. We know where the benchmark is at 90. You come out of Sarasota, if you're not going to approach 90, you're not going to be playing meaningful games late in September. I'm not a big believer that this exactly means this is going to happen in the future, but it's a good experience for everybody."
The Orioles trailed, 8-4, going into the bottom of the eighth, but scored twice in the inning and kept the pressure on right to the end. After J.J. Hardy opened the ninth with a single, Nick Markakis staged an 11-pitch at-bat before grounding out to first. The Orioles closed to within a run and had the potential tying run on second before Adam Jones came to the plate and dueled Papelbon for 10 pitches before finally bouncing out to end the game.
"You already know we ain't going to quit,'' said Jones, who hit his 25th home run of the year in the sixth. "You've got the crowd behind you. We didn't quit."
It wasn't enough to prevent Zach Britton from evening his record to 11-11 in the final start of his rookie year. There's no doubt that the Orioles are satisfied with Britton's overall performance, but Showalter is glad that Britton isn't.
"What did he end up, 11-11?" Showalter said. "If you asked Zach would he have taken that coming out of camp, he would have said 'no,' but that's the drive he has. He'll go home and take it all in and learn from it and he'll figure it out. This guy's 23, 24 years old. The experience that he's picked up this year will be important to him, but it's no precursor to go to another level, and he knows that."
So it comes down to another tense matchup tomorrow night, with Alfredo Simon closing out the season for the Orioles against Red Sox ace Jon Lester, who is 14-0 in 17 lifetime starts against the Orioles.
"That's not really a topic of discussion that our guys will have tomorrow,'' Showalter said. "He's had some no-decisions where he didn't pitch particularly good here either. So that's why it's the big leagues. It's good. They're good. We've got the chance to compete tomorrow and I think with very few exceptions, you've got a lot of people looking forward to tomorrow instead of some sense of finality, even though it is."