Even as improbable as the past six weeks of this once-disastrous Orioles season have been, Sunday's come-from-behind, 4-3, 11-inning victory over the New York Yankees has to claim the prize for the club's most unlikely win of the year.
First, the Orioles had to survive Yankees left-hander Andy Pettitte, who came off the disabled list just in time for one more outing against his personal pinatas, an Orioles club he has beaten 27 times in his career.
They had to stay close despite watching enigmatic 22-year-old right-hander Chris Tillman walk six batters in 3 2/3 innings, including four in the fourth inning.
They had to scratch back in the ninth against likely future Hall of Famer Mariano Rivera, who had allowed just one homer all season before serving up the tying solo blast to Luke Scott, who was 1-for-12 previously against Rivera.
They had to overcome a dreadful, two-base error in the top of the 11th by reliever Michael Gonzalez on a pickoff attempt that set the Yankees up with a runner on third and no outs.
They had to do it in front of an announced crowd of 39,357 at Camden Yards, which was again turned into the Bronx South by a sea of white-and-blue-wearing, Yankees-loving fans who seemingly had no interest in the Ravens' game in Cincinnati.
And, remember, the Orioles had to complete this comeback against the American League East-leading Yankees (90-59), who had beaten them 13 of 17 times this season and were looking for a three-game sweep in the final meeting between the clubs in 2010.
But these are the Buck Showalter-led Orioles, the resurgent squad that is 27-17 since the Aug. 2 managerial change. Improbable is part of the shtick around Eutaw Street these days.
"We haven't been swept by a team since Buck got here," said Gonzalez (1-3), who picked up his first win as an Oriole. "There was no chance we wanted that to happen."
The Orioles (59-90) have won their past eight extra-inning games. They won their 13th of 16 this season Sunday when Ty Wigginton's single landed in right-center field, scoring Scott, who had doubled against Yankees reliever David Robertson (4-5).
"The way I was looking at it was, I've got to get him to third base regardless. He left me a breaking ball in the zone, and I was able to hit it in the gap," Wigginton said. "Today's game was a lot of fun."
The Orioles' 12th walkoff victory of 2010 -- and sixth under Showalter -- was set up by Scott's homer on Rivera's second pitch. Rivera had previously converted 31 of 34 save chances.
"As soon as he hit that, we knew we were going to win," Gonzalez said. "We were going to do everything we could to win that ballgame. You hit a home run off the greatest closer in baseball, Luke goes out there and gets that home run like that, we had to prove we could get it done."
After Scott tied the score at 3, Koji Uehara entered in the 10th and struck out the side, an impressive rebound from his outing Friday, in which he was one strike away from a save before surrendering a game-breaking, three-run homer to Alex Rodriguez.
"That's about as impressive a thing as happened today," Showalter said about Uehara's performance. "If you had any questions about the moxie a little bit ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ not that I did ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ but that's one of the reasons we put him back out there."
Uehara led a group of five Orioles relievers who combined for 7 1/3 scoreless innings after starter Chris Tillman allowed three runs on three hits and six walks in 3 2/3 innings.
Gonzalez contributed a scoreless 11th inning, but it was anything but smooth. He walked pinch hitter Rodriguez to lead off the inning and then threw the ball into the stands while trying to pickoff pinch runner Eduardo Nunez.
Nunez went from first to third, igniting a war of strategy between Yankees manager Joe Girardi and Showalter.
Girardi pinch hit Marcus Thames for Ramiro Pena, even though Pena, who was at the plate to bunt, was already in a 1-1 count. Gonzalez struck out Thames, and Showalter ordered him to intentionally walk pinch hitter Mark Teixeira and shortstop Derek Jeter to load the bases with one out for Lance Berkman.
"You always feel like you are going to go out there and get them, but that was a good thought [by Showalter]," Gonzalez said. "We went out there and got the double play, and that's what we needed to do."
Berkman hit a high bouncer to rookie third baseman Josh Bell, who was in for defensive purposes. Bell started the 5-4-3, inning-ending double play with a perfect throw to second.
"That was a terrible pitch. It hung right in the middle of the plate," Berkman said. "There was no reason not to hit the ball hard. I just didn't do it."
It gave the Orioles one more chance at toppling the Yankees, something that seemed highly unlikely once Pettitte stepped onto the mound in the first. He hadn't started in the majors since July 18 because a strained left groin, but he looked like the Pettitte who has made a career of befuddling the Orioles.
In 41 previous games against Baltimore, Pettitte was 27-6 with a 3.57 ERA. Only Yankees Hall of Famer Whitey Ford (30) has more wins over the Orioles. Pettitte allowed just one run on three hits in six innings, but was denied the win by the Orioles' unlikeliest of comebacks.
"They let us hang around and hang around and hang around," Showalter said. "And I think as each inning passed and the score stayed there, once it goes to 3-2, there was a real positive feeding frenzy."