Any day now, the Red Sox will sew up a wild-card berth and then the American League East. Honest. But in the interim the wild-card race is both intriguing and stupefying.
Intriguing in that after Wednesday night’s results, which included a 5-3 Orioles win over the Red Sox in 12 innings and a 12-inning Rays walkoff win over the Rangers, there are five teams within 2½ games of a second wild-card berth. The Indians and Orioles are separated from the second wild card (currently held by the Rangers) by a half-game and game respectively, while the Yankees and Royals are 2½ games back.
Stupefying in that the reason there’s such a logjam is because of the incompetence of the Rays and Rangers, who had strangleholds on those wild-card spots only to play so poorly, it allowed the four teams a chance to live this deep into the season.
Right here we must insert kudos to the Orioles.
When you come into Fenway Park in must-win situations against the best team in the division and all of baseball, and you win two games, it’s impressive.
“[The Red Sox are] a good team and this is a tough place to play,” said Chris Davis, whose two-run, bases-loaded single up the middle off Franklin Morales provided the margin of victory in the 12th inning.
“It’s not like they’re going through the motions,’’ Davis said. “They’re trying to win the division and to come into this ballpark in a hostile atmosphere isn’t easy, but we know what we need to do. Have to keep winning games. There aren’t many left and we know we have Tampa Bay and Texas playing each other and Cleveland ahead of us. We’ve got some teams we need to climb over, but all we can do is go out in every game and do what we need to do to win.’’
Whether these wild-card contenders are good, bad, or ugly, they’re waging a race that has Major League Baseball absolutely giddy. This is what the league anticipated when they instituted the second wild-card team.
While Boston, Detroit, and Oakland have for all intents and purposes wrapped up the division crowns, the wild-card spots remain up for grabs.
The Orioles are intriguing because if they make it, they will have done so by beating the Red Sox. With one game remaining in this series and three remaining in the final three games of the 2013 season at Camden Yards, the Orioles, who are 9-6 against the Red Sox, have a chance to gain a playoff berth by beating the best team in the league.
Buck Showalter downplayed beating the Red Sox in particular, feeling the Orioles just have to win games no matter they are playing. He didn’t seem to think that beating the Red Sox would give his team any added boost and he felt momentum “is your next day’s starting pitcher.”
But seriously, if you’re the Orioles and you’re beating the Red Sox in Boston before 38,000 plus, that has to give you some adrenaline rush.
To come and win the first two games of a must-win series, is huge. The Orioles have saved their own hides by doing so. The Orioles have some interesting pieces that could make them a tough team if they get in.
Davis is No. 1. The big first baseman has 51 homers and 134 RBIs. He is a threat every time he steps to the plate. And even though the Orioles have at times left runners on base, the Manny Machado-Davis-Adam Jones-Nick Markakis middle of the order is troublesome.
And now you can add Danny Valencia to the mix. The Twins and Red Sox castoff is hitting .467 in his last 17 games with eight doubles, a triple, four homers and 13 RBIs after going 2 for 5 Wednesday night. Against Boston, Valencia is hitting .500 (11 for 22) with three doubles, a triple, and a home run.
There’s also Matt Wieters, J.J. Hardy, and Brian Roberts at the bottom of the order. It’s a tough team to pitch to. And the Red Sox have found that out time and time again.
The other thing the Orioles are beginning to get better with is close games. Last season they were 29-9 in one-run games. This season they’re 17-28 but 20-9 in two-run games.
“We’ve been here before,” Davis said about close games. “We know what it takes to compete in those games.”
The Orioles bullpen has also been tough. Rookie Kevin Gausman tossed two perfect innings, striking out five. Tommy Hunter was also tough, throwing in the high 90s. Closer Jim Johnson collected his major league best 47th save. In 15 appearances against the Red Sox since June 6, 2012, he hasn’t allowed a run and has converted all 13 save opportunities.
The Orioles failed to turn a couple of double plays, which didn’t hurt them Wednesday night. Roberts muffed a grounder and Davis couldn’t handle a liner. Both of those plays were ruled hits, which gave them 114 errorless games, passing the 2008 Astros for the most such games in a season since 1900.
The Orioles will indeed have earned it if they reach the postseason because after Boston comes four games at Tampa Bay, a showdown for the wild-card for sure. The Orioles then host the Blue Jays for three and the Red Sox for three.
Showalter wants his players to enjoy the challenge that each day brings. He wants them to feel an accomplishment every day.
And lately, especially the last two nights, the Orioles have shown they want to earn their way into the playoffs. And they know beating the Red Sox now and in those final three games in Baltimore, can get them to where they need to go.Nick Cafardo can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @nickcafardo.