As we progress through the final series of the year, we do in fact have meaningful baseball for the Baltimore Orioles. It isn’t meaningful to the O’s per se, however the idea of being the coup de graceon the utter collapse of a division rival is something that’s appealing to the Orioles’ fanbase. Last night’s 6-3 win over Boston at Oriole Park was the beginning of that process. With that, and the Rays’ victory over NY in Tampa, the Red Sox are now tied with the Rays for the wild card spot in the AL playoffs.
However these games should be important to the Orioles for their own sake as well. This past month of games should prove once and for all that this team can in fact compete with the likes of the bigger teams…if they put their minds to it. That last part is paramount. In 2011, the Orioles never had the talent to be able to “wing it” the way that some teams can get away with doing. The team in the opposing dugout, the Red Sox, are a perfect example. If they do manage to get into the playoffs (and that’s a big if right now), they’ll have done so by winging their way through a tailspin over the course of the last month. As I’ve said in this column over various points in time, we always knew that things would have had to have gone perfectly for this Oriole team. And by now of course, we know that they didn’t.
Nevertheless, the Birds can serve up an imperative lesson to opposing teams, but more importantly to themselves for 2012…don’t be taken lightly. All athletes in all sports will tell you that they aren’t taking anyone lightly. However we all know a mismatch when we see one; just ask anyone who saw Sunday’s Ravens/St. Louis Rams game. (And without a doubt, anyone can beat anyone else on any given day.) But more importantly, the O’s need to prove to themselves as they prepare to depart for the winter that they aren’t in effect taking themselves lightly in a sense. The “human condition” as they say is often a fragile thing. When you’ve had your brains beaten in time and time again by a bully, no matter how much you might will yourself to fight back it often becomes a challenge. The fact is that the Orioles aren’t playing against the Red Sox, Yankees, Rays, etc. in many of these games, they’re playing against themselves. Being a driving force in keeping the Red Sox out of the postseason might give them a building block upon which to build moving into next year.
The highlight of last night’s game was by far Robert Andino’s inside-the-park home run. In a statistical oddity, Andino because the first Oriole to hit an inside-the-parker in the history of Oriole Park. However that’s not the end of this story; Andino’s father was in attendance at the game, and he saw his son play for the first time in person as a major leaguer. Speaking for myself, I could only imagine how proud my father would have been in that situation. (In actuality he probably would have focused more on me swinging at a slider in the dirt with a two-strike count later in the game; but you get the point. You wouldn’t understand, it’s an Italian thing!) With the 6-3 win, the O’s served notice to the Red Sox, the league, and most importantly to themselves that these games are no cakewalk. Again, in my opinion these games should mean more to the O’s because they need them to prove to themselves that they belong in a sense as we move into next year. However there is in fact a bit more there than meets the eye…it would also be nice to send a division foe home early.