No one knows where this Red Sox season is headed. Every time the Sox start to slide, they do something to make you think maybe they can play deep into October. Case in point, Tuesday night’s 13-2 win over the Orioles. We know that this season is a gift, and suddenly there’s hope that it might be magical.
The only thing I know for sure is that somehow, someway, the Orioles are going to be a factor. That’s just the way it is with these two teams as we prepare for the final month of the 2013 baseball season.
The Sox crushed the Orioles Tuesday night but are still scheduled to play the Buck Showalter All-Stars eight more times in the final 29 games. The Sox finish their season with three games at Camden Yards, a schedule quirk that scares all thinking Red Sox fans.
Need we remind anybody that it was in Baltimore that the wheels fell off at the end of September 2011? Remember Robert Andino? The Sox lost two of their final three games in ugly fashion, triggering the departures of Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, Jonathan Papelbon, Marco Scutaro, Josh Reddick, and Heidi Watney. New England’s nuclear baseball winter led to the worst Red Sox season in 47 years.
And it all started in Baltimore.
There is considerable hardball history involving these Eastern Seaboard franchises.
Ted Williams hit his final home run against the Orioles in 1960. Willie Tasby — the guy who once took off his spikes while playing during a thunderstorm — played for both teams. The great Earl Weaver Orioles of the 1970s annually tortured the Red Sox, especially in 1974 when the Sox held a seven-game lead on Aug. 23, yet finished third, seven games behind the surging Birds.
Weaver tried to scare a nervous Sox Nation again a year later when he came to Fenway to face the first-place Sox in September and warned, “We’ve crawled out of more coffins than Bela Lugosi.’’
In 1977, the Red Sox hit five homers in a single game off Hall of Famer Jim Palmer.
“One of them was tipped over the fence by our outfielder, Pat Kelly,’’ Palmer remembered Tuesday night. “It actually ended up being a complete game. Earl came out once, but wouldn’t take me out of the game. He said, ‘You think I’m going to bring in Dick Drago for you?’ ’’
The ’77 Red Sox eliminated the Orioles at Fenway on the final Friday of the season, only to be eliminated by Baltimore one day later. The Sox and Orioles both won 97 games, finishing 2½ games behind the world champion Yankees.
The rivalry softened a little bit in the 1990s, and there was a long stretch in this century when Boston loved to face the cousins from Baltimore. From 2006 through 2009, the Sox went 55-17 against the Orioles, including 15-3 in 2006 and 16-2 in 2009.
Orioles leadoff hitter Brian Roberts was around for a lot of those losses and said Tuesday, “We had a tough time for a long time. They were just better. And the way our crowds were was a little demoralizing.’’
In the spring of 2011, Baltimore manager Buck Showalter threw down the hammer, telling Men’s Journal that he’d like to see how smart Epstein would be with Tampa Bay’s payroll. “That’s why I like whipping their butt,’’ said Showalter. “It’s great knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, ‘How the hell are they beating us?’ ’’
He made good on his words. The Orioles beat the Sox five times in seven games during Boston’s nightmare September. And it has carried over. The Orioles went 13-5 against the Sox last year and are 25-13 against Boston since the second half of 2011. The Orioles have won five consecutive series at Fenway, a feat matched only four times since 1969.
Need we mention that the current general manager of the Orioles is none other than Dan Duquette, the Western Massachusetts native who was fired by John Henry shortly after Henry bought the team in December of 2001?
“I’m not going there,’’ Duquette said, smiling, as he stood in front of the Baltimore dugout Tuesday night. “But our guys like to compete against the Red Sox.’’
The first-place Sox own a healthy 6½-game game lead over the Orioles after Tuesday night’s beatdown. The veteran Roberts was well aware of the stakes in this head-to-head competition.
“It might not make, it might not break,’’ said Roberts. “If somebody goes 5-4 or 4-5, it doesn’t change much. But if someone can go 9-0 or 8-1, that’ll play a big role.’’
“We compete with Boston now,’’ said Showalter. “It’s been a fine line. But they are an extremely talented team. There’s a reason they’re in first.
“I just think we’ve got a group here now that’s been together for a while and we don’t take anything for granted. Trends don’t mean much at this time of year and Boston has a lot better team than they had last year. We’re just trying to hang in there with them.’’