BALTIMORE — Enough with Selfiegate, Jenny Dell joining Red Sox wives on the White House lawn, and Jonny Gomes’s star-spangled sportscoat.
Let’s get back to baseball. What’s up with the Baltimore Orioles and why do the Red Sox seem to have trouble beating them?
The Orioles are difficult to project in the American League East. The New York Times picked them to finish first. The Baltimore Sun has the locals finishing in the basement.
The Sox certainly bring out the best in the Orioles, especially since Buck Showalter came to Crabtown and challenged the BoSox, saying, “I like whipping their butts.’’
Despite Wednesday night’s 6-2 loss, the Orioles are 31-15 against the Red Sox since September 2011. The Orioles went 11-8 against the world champs last year and roughed up the Bobby Valentine Sox, 13-5, in 2012. A lot of you probably remember September of 2011. Starting Sept. 20, the Orioles beat the Sox four times in five meetings, including the apocalyptic Robert Andino Game, which triggered the departures of Terry Francona, Theo Epstein, Jonathan Papelbon, Josh Reddick, Marco Scutaro, and Heidi Watney.
The Orioles mash and they play great defense, but three-time Cy Young-winner-turned broadcaster Jim Palmer warns, “It all depends on their pitching. And you’re not going to be able to tell much about them early.’’
General manager Dan (More Days In First Place) Duquette told the Baltimore Sun, “The time is now, right?’’
Bingo. No bridge building in Baltimore. The Orioles are going for it this year. The payroll is a franchise-high $107 million. The Duke invested $50 million (four years) in Wednesday’s meatball starter, Ubaldo Jimenez, and another $8 million in Cheatin’ Nelson Cruz, who won Monday’s game with a homer off Jon Lester leading off the bottom of the seventh after the ceremonial playing of John Denver’s “Thank God I’m A Country Boy,’’ then hit a two-run shot in the fourth inning Wednesday night. Baltimore shortstop J.J. Hardy is a free agent at the end of this season. The contracts of Nick Markakis, Chris Davis, and Matt Wieters are all up at the end of next year.
“I just want us to be as good as we’re capable of being,’’ says Showalter, who won’t have his superstar third baseman, Manny Machado (left knee), until late April/early May. “A lot of people wouldn’t make a very good case for us on paper. Sometimes you can get something out of that underdog status, having a chip on your shoulder, but it goes away. It’s still about playing the game. Sooner or later all of your strengths and weaknesses come out.’’
Pitching is Baltimore’s weakness. The Orioles had major league baseball’s 23d-ranked ERA last year. Orioles starters ranked 27th out of 30 teams. Jimenez, who failed badly Wednesday, was hired to improve things on the mound.
“Compared with the rest of the industry we really haven’t brought in big-money guys,’’ says Showalter. “Dan’s patience has really paid off. As far as I’m concerned, these are the good old days.’’
It’s certainly better than it was for Baltimore in recent years. The Orioles are celebrating their 60th season in the AL and a full quarter of that history was wasted with 14 consecutive losing seasons under owner Peter Angelos. The Red Sox benefited greatly from Baltimore’s prolonged slump, winning 55 of 72 games against the Orioles from 2006-09. The Sox went 15-3 against Baltimore in 2006 and 16-2 in 2009.
Today the pride is back and so is the talent. The Orioles averaged 89 wins over the last two seasons. Davis hit 53 homers last year and Adam Jones is considered the best center fielder in the American League.
“We always play like there’s a sense of urgency and a short window,’’ says Showalter. “When I came here I just wanted us to eliminate excuses. No whining about somebody else’s payroll. I don’t want to hear it. If I was Boston or New York, I’d do what they do. But they don’t handicap this game. There’s not a handicap system in the American League East. But how else would you want it?’’
He likes the attitude of his players. No Adrian Gonzalez types. No complainers.
“We were playing an exhibition in Norfolk and it was raining and pretty miserable,’’ says Showalter. “I was talking with [pitching coach] Dave Wallace and we had all of our regulars in the game in the third inning and I asked him if he noticed anything. He said, ‘Yeah, I’ve never been at an exhibition game like this in this weather and I haven’t heard one guy bitching.’ That’s our team. These guys are having fun. That’s why I don’t stay up worrying about our team. These guys get it. We’re a traveling vaudeville show. That’s what we do. We play games. We travel in luxury, we stay in nice hotels, the locker room is warm. Nobody wants to hear us bitching about having to start a game late. This group is fun to be around. They get it. When your best players play the game right, our jobs are easier.’’Dan Shaughnessy is a Globe columnist. He can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @dan_shaughnessy.