Following the Orioles’ 5-4 comeback win over the Washington Nationals, a victory that completed their three-game sweep of their regional rivals, the talk was less about retaliation from the previous night and more about the team’s late-season surge into the playoff picture.
Manager Buck Showalter acknowledged that the Orioles entered Thursday’s series finale against the Nationals with a chip on their shoulder after third baseman Manny Machado was plunked by a Jonathan Papelbon fastball in the ninth inning of Wednesday’s game, after Machado hit the eventual game-winning homer in his previous at-bat. Before the game, Showalter said that the best payback would be a sweep-clinching victory over the Nationals.
In that case, the Orioles reaped their revenge without further incident, earning their third straight win over the Nationals on Thursday afternoon in front of an announced 28,456 in the makeup game of Monday’s rainout.
“You punch back,” Showalter said. “Our guys have been punching back. They’re refusing to give in, still trying to get to our goal that we started in Sarasota a long time ago. … I still like our storyline, especially when you put a little chip on the shoulder, and people keep counting them out. There’s a lot of passion and energy out there. This time of year, to be emotionally and mentally strong is the challenge, to concentrate like that.
“They certainly helped us make [that chip] bigger last night,” Showalter said of the Nationals. “… I think after what went down last night, I think it really helped our guys really come in with extra focus to try to win a ballgame.”
After the Orioles bullpen gave up a seventh-inning lead, catcher Matt Wieters — a career-long Oriole who could be playing his final games with the cartoon bird atop his head — crushed a go-ahead two-run homer off Nationals right-handed reliever Blake Treinen in the eighth.
With that blast, the Orioles (76-76) won for the 11th time in 15 games and moved within 3½ of the Houston Astros for the second American League wild card with 10 regular-season games remaining. As they trekked to Boston for their three-game weekend series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park, the Orioles are at the .500 mark for the first time since they were 63-63 on Aug. 26 .
“We feel good, but it doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the last 15, we need to carry it out for the next  that we have left,” Wieters said. “Move on to Boston. We can’t dwell on what we did today. It’s nice to get a win, it’s nice to get a win on what was going to be an off-day, but we’ll move forward to Boston. Win as many as we can.”
For the second straight day, the Orioles — who took four of six from the Nationals this season — received a clutch late-inning homer from one of their power bats.
On Wednesday night, Machado hit a two-run go-ahead shot in the seventh to seal a 4-3 win, only for the spotlight to be stolen when Papelbon hit Machado high, emptying both dugouts.
On Thursday night, it was Wieters, a pending free agent, who had the winning blow, taking a 97-mph sinker well over the center-field fence with Steve Pearce on first base to give the Orioles a 5-4 lead.
As Wieters rounded the bases and disappeared into a dugout of high-fives, a small group of Orioles fans behind the dugout filled a mostly empty Nationals Park with cheers of “Let’s go, O’s.”
For the third straight game, Darren O’Day preserved the lead with a scoreless ninth while filling in for ailing closer Zach Britton, who has been unavailable since his last appearance Sunday because of a sore left lat muscle.
Despite being just 24-25 in one-run games this season, the Orioles have won seven of their past eight one-run decisions dating to Sept. 2.
“This team, we're built to win close games,” said O’Day, who retired the top of the Nationals lineup in order in the ninth. “Obviously, we're missing a big weapon in Zach for a couple days, but it’s next man up. … Guys like to be in these situations and they're cherishing the opportunities.”
Rookie right-hander Tyler Wilson, making just his fourth major league start, didn’t expect to be carrying the Orioles’ postseason hopes on his shoulders in late September. But he held the Nationals to two runs on six hits over six innings, leaving the game with a 3-2 lead. He didn’t figure into the decision.
Two other pitchers who split the season between Triple-A Norfolk and Baltimore — Chaz Roe and Mike Wright — failed to hold the lead for Wilson, allowing two runs in the seventh.
Roe allowed a game-tying homer to Wilson Ramos, then issued a one-out walk to pinch hitter Matt den Dekker.
Wright then entered the game and immediately allowed a single to Anthony Rendon to put runners at first and second. Yunel Escobar then doubled over Gerardo Parra in center field to score den Dekker. But Jonathan Schoop’s relay throw two-hopped home to nab Rendon at home plate, a call that was confirmed after a Nationals challenge.
Earlier in the game, Schoop hit his 15th homer of the season, a two-run shot in the fourth off Nationals starter Tanner Roark that gave the Orioles a 3-0 lead. The Orioles went up 1-0 two batters into the game when Parra led off with a double and Machado followed with an RBI single.
The only runs off Wilson came in the fifth. Wilson allowed back-to-back hits to open the inning, a single to Ramos and a double to pinch hitter Trea Turner.
Ramos scored on Rendon’s sacrifice fly and Turner came home on Escobar’s RBI single. But Wilson induced a 1-6-3 double play from Bryce Harper to end the inning.
“That was a pretty defining moment given [it was the] fifth inning, dead middle of the game,” Wilson said. “Couple leadoff hits there that ended up both scoring, but that’s a matter of minimizing the damage right there. They even had a third hit in the inning. So, obviously with their best hitter at the plate, to get a big double-play ball like that was a game-changer.”