Stealing bases isn't the Orioles' forte — they have just 17 this season, last in the major leagues and 30 fewer than the second-worst American League club. But the August addition of speedy veteran outfielder Michael Bourn has given the Orioles a dynamic they've lacked on the base path.
"If it was our skill set, it would [be something we do]," Orioles manager Buck Showalter said. "You know, it's funny. Everybody's on their own here. Very few times do we shut people down."
Bourn gave the Orioles late-inning steals in both of the team's wins in Toronto this week, and while the Orioles still rely more on power than speed, their ability to move runners along the bases takes on more importance down the stretch.
"He's the type of guy you'd like to keep around," he said. "He's more than a fourth outfielder."
In the Orioles' series-clinching 4-0 win Thursday in Toronto, Bourn drew a leadoff walk from Blue Jays pitcher Marcus Stroman. On the next pitch, he stole second base, and later scored on Hyun Soo Kim's two-out RBI single to give the Orioles a three-run lead.
Before Kim hit his game-winning two-run homer in the ninth inning Wednesday, Bourn pinch-hit for second baseman Jonathan Schoop with one out in the inning. On the fourth pitch of Kim's nine-pitch at-bat, Bourn swiped second. He would have scored from first on Kim's home run anyway, but his base-stealing ability is one more thing an opposing pitcher must consider.
"The thing I like is that he's not afraid. I applaud him whether he's out or safe," Showalter said. "You have to have that attitude. … You've got to run well and you've got to be able to slide well. … That's why he's played so long and why we tried to acquire him, because he ain't scared. He knows what he's supposed to bring, and he's going to try to bring it. He's going to let it rip."
Orioles manager Buck Showalter talks about the performance of pitcher Ubaldo Jimenez in the win against the Toronto Blue Jays. (Eduardo A. Encina, Baltimore Sun video)
Bourn, 33, who has 341 career stolen bases and led the National League in steals from 2009 to 2011, said after Thursday's game that being thrust into a playoff race after playing for last-place Arizona has rejuvenated him. He was acquired by the Orioles on Aug. 31 from the Diamondbacks in exchange for minor league outfielder Jason Heinrich.
"It's been fun," Bourn said. "I enjoy it. You have to take advantage of being in this situation. It's fun to be a part of. That's why you play baseball. You want to play when it means something and matters most. I'm just happy they wanted me. [I'm] happy to come to the organization and that they sought me out with Arizona and brought me along."
A quicker hook? Because of the magnitude of each late-season game and the luxury of baseball's expanded rosters, Showalter acknowledged that he might have a tighter leash on his starting pitchers if they struggle early this weekend.
"Nothing's business as usual," Showalter said. "It also depends on who it is and how they've been pitching. … Every situation is different. You don't just paint with a broad brush. The other team usually gives you a good idea of how your guy's doing and if you think they're going to get back on task. "But I don't think there's a blueprint, that if this guy gets two on in the first inning, he's out of the game.
"You never know when there's a hitter or two from him getting on step and throwing seven shutout innings. You've got to be careful with that. We're fortunate to have guys with good track records pitching in games like this."
"We could do that, not tonight," Showalter said. "If we get to Sunday, we're going to put our best foot forward. And then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, if we get there."
Around the horn: Orioles closer Zach Britton and outfielder-designated hitter Mark Trumbo are finalists for this year's Players Choice Awards, which are chosen by a vote of major league players. Britton, who entered Friday a perfect 47-for-47 in save opportunities, is one of three finalists for the American League Outstanding Pitcher award, along with fellow AL Cy Young Award candidates Rick Porcello of the Boston Red Sox and Corey Kluber of the Cleveland Indians. Trumbo, whose 47 homers lead the majors, is an AL Comeback Player of the Year finalist. The Texas Rangers' Yu Darvish and Ian Desmond are the other finalists. … Left-hander Wade Miley, Saturday's scheduled starter, was slated to rejoin the team before Friday's game, flying into New York from his home in Louisiana. He left the club to be with his wife after the birth of the couple's first child, a baby boy. … The Orioles didn't arrive in New York until about 4 a.m. Friday morning after a lengthy delay in Toronto. … Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira (Mount Saint Joseph), a Severna Park native who is retiring after the season, was honored during a pregame ceremony Friday at Yankee Stadium as members of the rock group Twisted Sister presented him with an autographed guitar. Teixeira's walk-up song is Twisted Sister's "I Wanna Rock."