The Orioles have been out of the pennant race for months, their season now focused on setting a strong foundation for the future, but in their last 10 games, they play three teams jockeying for playoff positions.
That season-ending stretch started Friday at Yankee Stadium, where the New York Yankees went into the weekend clinging to a slim over the Oakland Athletics for home-field advantage in the American League wild-card game.
After three games in the Bronx, the Orioles head to Fenway Park to play the Boston Red Sox, who celebrated winning the AL East on Thursday in the same visiting clubhouse the Orioles occupy this weekend. The Red Sox have nearly wrapped up home-field advantage in the AL, and the AL West-leading Houston Astros, who end the regular season with four games at Camden Yards, could have the division wrapped up over the upstart Oakland Athletics by the time that series opens Thursday.
But for veterans such as Alex Cobb, this is why he’s hoping to get back on the mound Sunday after a blister on his right middle finger has kept him sidelined since he last started Sept. 11. That’s why he worked to get the starting assignment for Sunday’s series finale against the Yankees.
Cobb remembers the role an out-of-contention Orioles team played on the playoff race on the final night of the 2011 season. That’s when the Orioles’ game-162 walk-off win over the Red Sox at Camden Yards, coinciding with the Tampa Bay Rays’ walk-off comeback win over the Yankees sent the Rays to the postseason in Cobb’s first big league season.
“I think the biggest thing for us as an organization — the team obviously hasn’t met the expectations. We’re far beyond all that,” Cobb said Friday. “I think it’s important to show your professionalism when you’re a team in the situation that we’re in. I remember being on the 2011 Rays team when the Orioles beat the Red Sox and how much that affected the outcome of everything. So I think there’s due diligence on our part to go out there and be professional and compete to the best of our ability.”
This season’s end won’t likely script out like the “Curse of the Andino” game and Evan Longoria’s walk-off homer at Tropicana Field, but Cobb said there’s still a lot of play for.
“Everybody appreciates that, whether you’re the team that you’re playing against or you’re the team that is relying on you to play spoiler,” Cobb said. “Whatever the case may be, obviously that moment stuck out and it will for the rest of my career, and the way we felt about the Orioles that time when they took care of their business and won a game that got us into the playoffs. So I always kind of feel like no matter what situation you’re in, you want to be the best team you can be, the most competitive team you can be.”
Orioles manager Buck Showalter said he reminded his team of the impact it can make in the pennant race this weekend during the team’s advance meeting that takes place before each series.
“I don’t need to [remind guys], but I did and we do,” Showalter said. “We talked about it in the advance meeting. Everybody shook their head. They know. I know what it’s like when you’re on the other side of that, counting on people to be competitive. So it is something that we talk about and whether it’s the lineup or [something else]. I talk to y’all about the things that go through my mind about what’s best for the Orioles and what’s best for our fans and what’s best about the competitive integrity of the schedule. It may change sometimes from game to game. I haven’t gotten to what it means for Boston and Houston, but we’ll consider that when we get there.”
The Orioles, who have already set a new franchise mark for losses in a season and entered Saturday 42 games below .500 on the road, have played their best road baseball at Yankee Stadium, winning four of six games there before Friday. The Orioles’ four road wins at Yankee Stadium accounted for 23.5 percent of their road wins this season entering the series.
While the Orioles likely won’t be a part of any final-game drama this season, Showalter remembers how their season-ending win over Boston set the stage for an Orioles playoff berth in 2012.
“I remember at that time, should we not be happy? It’s not because we were inflicting pain on Boston. It’s just from a competitive standpoint,” Showalter said. “I think in a lot of ways, it catapulted us to more competitive baseball.”