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Orioles show plenty of grit in dog-day win in the Bronx

That sigh of relief you heard a little after 4 on Sunday afternoon came from Orioles Nation — yes, there is one again — which had been watching the drama unfolding up in the Bronx with a mixture of dread and resignation.

I don't even want to think about what it would have been like in this town today if the O's had been swept by the New York Yankees over the weekend.

The moaning, the wailing, the gnashing of teeth — and that would have just been in the MASN booth.

Instead, the Orioles pulled out a 2-1 win on Adam Jones' two-run shot in the ninth inning off the great Mariano Rivera, putting a little bounce in their step as they begin a seven-game home-stand before the All-Star break.

"We avoided a sweep," Jones said on the post-game broadcast, looking drained from the steam bath that was Yankee Stadium. "But we gotta get better."

Amen. This was no time to have the wheels fall completely off the cart, not coming off the feel-good vibe of having four Orioles named to the All-Star Game.

Speaking of Jones, who'll start for the American League in center field, how about his mom scolding him for smashing his batting helmet after he struck out in Friday night's game?

Is that a great story or what?

You talk about Big Brother watching. What kind of country do we live in where you can't even take a Louisville Slugger to your helmet without having a TV camera catch you and your mom finding out?

What is this, North Korea?

And it wasn't like Jones did it in the dugout, where the cameras pick up everything. He did it in the tunnel leading to the clubhouse, the sanctum sanctorum, where you should be allowed to smash things to pieces without your mom laying a guilt trip on you.

"I think it was needed," Jones said of flipping out on his helmet. "I hadn't performed the way I would like to, so hey, it's better than me hitting something [else]."

The only things he smashed Sunday, though, were a Rivera cutter and the great Yankee's pride.

This is Rivera's farewell season after a brilliant 19-year-career. But watching Jones' low line drive clear the fence in the ninth inning for only his second blown save, Rivera had to be thinking one more time about the capricious nature of being a closer, about how one tiny mistake can cost your team a ballgame.

On the other hand, the Orioles' closer, Jim Johnson, seemed to get his mojo back, which has to be a great sign for the O's.

He came in and pitched the ninth like he had a taxi waiting, bouncing back from Friday night's blown save with a 1-2-3 inning that even brought a smile — I swear I saw one — to Buck Showalter's stony game-face.

Johnson wore a determined scowl and over-powered the Yankee batters with fastballs that hit 96 on the radar gun after recent outings that saw him throwing in the low 90s.

It was like seeing the Jim Johnson of old, the J.J. of last season. The guy gets killed around here by the fans every time he blows a save. But that effort against the Yankees was his MLB-leading 30th save. And the way he blew away Lyle Overbay and Luis Cruz on strikes and got Eduardo Nunez on a weak bouncer was vintage Johnson, pounding the strike zone and attacking the hitters as he did last year.

So now the Orioles play four against the Texas Rangers at Camden Yards — oh, does Showalter hate four-game series — and then three against the Toronto Blue Jays, hoping to get some momentum going again before the All-Star break.

The second half of the season begins with a seven-game road trip — three against AL West-leading Texas, four against Kansas City — when the Orioles will have to grind out wins the way they did Sunday.

"These are the dog days, between now and the middle of August," Showalter said after the game, a weary look on his face. And two four-game series plopped in the middle of the dog days represent a unique form of hell to the Orioles manager.

But the win over the Yankees left the Orioles tied for second place in the AL East with the Tampa Bay Rays. And they have a great chance to make up ground on the division-leading Boston Red Sox with these next seven games at home.

They stole one in the Bronx on Sunday, all right, stole one off the inimitable Rivera and a Yankees team that had won six in a row and is somehow in a pennant race despite missing a raft of injured stars and fielding a lineup as anonymous in parts as a beer-league team.

Now the Orioles need to keep it going. Showalter's right: the dog days are here. But now isn't the time to roll over.

Not if you want to be playing in October, when the best teams do.


Listen to Kevin Cowherd Tuesdays at 7:20 a.m. on 105.7 The Fan's "The Norris and Davis Show."

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