When the Orioles were in the process of being swept at Yankee Stadium last week, manager Buck Showalter attempted to settle the mounting criticism of his team as underachievers by proclaiming, "The sky isn't falling."
After the Orioles' 2-0 victory Wednesday night that cemented a sweep of the Atlanta Braves and extended his team's winning streak to five games, Showalter was asked about his now-prescient statement in the Bronx.
"It sounded like the right thing to say at the time, maybe it was," Showalter quipped, drawing laughter during his postgame conference. "I was just being frank. I'm not ever going to give in; we're not [giving] in."
The Orioles (51-49) seemed to be toeing the line between buyers and sellers at Friday's nonwaiver trade deadline. But on the strength of their second-longest winning streak of the season, they are now just one game behind the Minnesota Twins (52-48) for the second wild card in the American League.
Although they likely won't be able to make major additions to the roster because they lack depth in the organization, it certainly appears that this team will stay together — despite having seven pending free agents — and attempt to defend their AL East crown.
"I think Buck is always preaching to us: The answers are here in the clubhouse. We're firm believers in that," said starter Chris Tillman, who excelled again Wednesday with 8 2/3 scoreless innings. "He definitely preaches that to us, and when it's not going so well, we know we need to get better. I think everybody in here said that."
Tillman and the Orioles emphatically made that point at Camden Yards in front of an announced 29,328 that patiently waited out a 33-minute rain delay before the first pitch to witness the Orioles' first sweep since June 26-28 versus the Cleveland Indians. The crisp contest was played in 2 hours, 15 minutes.
"We've had stretches early in the year where we played well. I think the key is just to keep it rolling and keep coming in with [the mentality] that whatever date we're at is the most important date of the year," catcher Matt Wieters said. "This team's a grinding team, so we're going to have to grind it out the rest of the way."
Tillman continued his tremendous roll that began directly after his worst start of the year June 21 in Toronto, when he allowed six runs and recorded just four outs. Since then, Tillman has allowed five total runs in six outings, five of them quality starts. In that span, he is 3-0 with a 1.09 ERA while his season ERA has dropped from 6.22 to 4.35.
"I don't think confidence was ever an issue. Early in the season, it wasn't going well but I felt like it was close," Tillman said. "I felt like I was one pitch away at all times, my misses were close. I just missed too much and had to fight back into the count."
Tillman nearly had his second complete-game shutout — his only one was May 16, 2014 in Kansas City — but he allowed a two-out double to Cameron Maybin in the ninth on his 95th pitch. Closer Zach Britton entered and picked up his 26th save by getting left-handed slugger Freddie Freeman to ground out to preserve the shutout, the Orioles' eighth this season.
Showalter, who was booed when he came out to get Tillman, said it was a tough call. But Britton's stellar season — the left-hander now has converted 22 consecutive saves — certainly played a part in his rationale.
"[Tillman] was great. And that's obvious, but we also have a pretty good option there with Zach Britton," Showalter said. "I wanted to get [Britton] back on the horse, too. If it had been somebody other than Freeman, we might have looked at that differently."
Tillman (8-7) has now won six straight decisions, putting his record over .500 for the first time since his third start of the season.
He didn't allow a hit until the fourth, when his old teammate, Nick Markakis, led off the inning with a single. Markakis ended his first three-game series as a visitor to Camden Yards with five hits in 13 at-bats. Overall, Tillman allowed just four hits, walked none and struck out two.
The Orioles didn't muster much offense against 23-year-old right-hander Mike Foltynewicz (3-3), who was recalled from Triple-A Gwinnett on Wednesday to make his 10th big league start. He replaced scheduled starter, lefty Manny Banuelos, who was placed on the disabled list Tuesday with elbow inflammation.
Foltynewicz didn't have a clean inning until his sixth and final frame, when he struck out the side. He allowed six hits and two runs, both on solo homers, while walking two and striking out eight.
Jonathan Schoop homered into the Orioles bullpen in the third inning for his seventh of the season. J.J. Hardy hit his seventh of the season in the fourth inning, a liner over the left-field wall that extended his hitting streak to 12 games.
Now, 100 games are officially in the books, and the Orioles are alive in the postseason race, which was far from a certainty a week ago when the sky may or may not have been crashing down.
"The great thing about it is, there's an opportunity around every corner to get things going, good or bad," Showalter said. "You try to maintain the good spells. Obviously, this time of year, it gets tougher to withstand a long tough spell."