BOSTON -- If revenge really is a dish that is best served cold, Sunday's sports menu in Baltimore and Boston could end up looking like an all-you-can-eat sushi buffet.
The Red Sox certainly have a score to settle after the Orioles knocked them out of the playoff picture in dramatic fashion last year on the final day of the regular season at Camden Yards. The Ravens would also like to get even after the New England Patriots ended their season with a late score in the AFC Championship Game in Foxboro, Mass.
Just another strange, amazing and wonderful moment in time for Baltimore sports fans, who have rode this magic bus of an Orioles season to within wishing distance of the World Series. Now, they get to mix and match their Orioles and Ravens jerseys on a day that includes the finale of a critical series against the Red Sox at Fenway Park and a nationally televised Sunday night showdown between the Ravens and the Patriots at M&T; Bank Stadium.
The last time the Orioles and the local NFL team were so important at the same time was in the early 1970s, when the O's featured a super team that included Brooks and Frank Robinson and the Colts won their last Super Bowl in Baltimore. The last time the Orioles pulled off a turnaround this stunning was in 1989, during what came to be known as their "Why Not?" season. They can only hope to extend this season a few days longer than that one.
Want a hint that it's getting real? BWI was a sea of orange Friday morning as Orioles fans caught flights to Boston for Friday night's game. Some are staying the whole weekend and some are rushing back on Sunday to back the Ravens at a very important moment early in their season.
"It's just unbelieveable," said Jeremy Martin of Glen Burnie as he boaded a Southwest flight at BWI. "It's great how Buck Showalter was able to turn this team around in just two or three seasons."
Barry Richards, a federal government worker from Virginia, drove up with his father for the series opener at Fenway and said he will be back home in time to shout down Patriots quarterback Tom Brady from his seat at M&T; Bank Stadium.
"My dad is a Red Sox fan and he had never been to Fenway Park … it's on his bucket list," Richards said. "To be here watching the Orioles with a chance to make it to the playoffs is great, and then to have a chance to get some revenge for what the Patriots did to us last year, you can't beat that."
It's been 15 years since the Red Sox had reason to look up at the Orioles in the standings and just 12 months since they had to watch the last-place O's celebrate after driving the final nail into their playoff hopes.
The venues have been reversed and so have the roles. The O's appear to be playoff bound with just 11 games left on their regular season schedule and the Sox have deteriorated into a fourth-place team that has been in turmoil all season. But now it's personal.
"I think we'd like to return the favor," said Red Sox president Larry Lucchino, who was the president of the Orioles when they enjoyed that amazing "Why Not?" season. "We remember what happened. I'm not predicting that's going to happen, but it would be nice. We still have a highly competitive group of players, most of whom were around last year and should have some extra motivation."
The Red Sox may hold the key since they entered the weekend representing about half of the Orioles remaining schedule.
"The tables have indeed turned," Lucchino said. "The first 10 years we've been here, we averaged 92 wins a year. This is our first losing season. The Orioles are in a different position. We find ourselves looking up with some admiration for what they've done, but we still want badly to beat them."
There will be no such immediate playoff implications Sunday night when the Patriots take the field, but the Ravens and Pats have developed quite an AFC rivalry over the past several years.
The Ravens crushed the Patriots in the 2009 playoffs at Gillette Stadium after Ray Rice took the first play from scrimmage the length of the field and Terrell Suggs harrassed Brady to set up another quick score. The Patriots came back to hand the Ravens a particularly gallling defeat in the AFC title game last January, though a lot of the post-game frustration of Baltimore fans was focused on Ravens receiver Lee Evans, whose drop in the end zone kept them out of the Super Bowl.
Still, there will be no shortage of motivation. Both teams suffered frustrating losses last week — the Ravens allowing a big lead to get away in Philadelphia and the Patriots getting upset at home by the Arizona Cardinals. Both teams came into the game among the top five in most of the major NFL Power Rankings, but one of them is going to go home on Sunday night with a losing record (1-2).
It's early, but every game can come back to haunt you in the NFL. The Ravens likely would have been playing that AFC title game at home last year if they had been able to beat either the Jacksonville Jaguars or Seattle Seahawks on the road. They'll get a do-over on their home turf, but they'll be playing without their best pass rusher (Terrell Suggs) and with a banged-up Joe Flacco, their quarterback.
The Ravens are a slight favorite, but just about anything could happen. The Orioles have a long string of games against teams with losing records, but they know that the Red Sox did before this weekend doesn't matter a bit.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.