MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Late Friday night, a lot of Baltimore Orioles fans, particularly trolls on social media, were ready to open a vein … and to take somebody with them. I felt like I was watching AMC on a Sunday night before the WGA strike. Bleh!

Late Sunday afternoon, those same Orioles fans, as well as the scores of others who opted not to seek the comfort of a zombie apocalypse, wore smiles on their faces as they watched in delight to see the Orioles celebrate their clinching of a postseason berth for this 2023 season.

Yes, the Baltimore Orioles, two seasons after losing 110 games and four seasons after losing 115 games, 83 wins in 2022 later and 93 wins into 2023, fought back from having lost their four-game lead in the American League East, fought back from dropping the first two games of the four-game series with the Tampa Bay Rays and fought back from a 4-2 eighth-inning deficit on Sunday to split the series with an 11-inning 5-4 win to bump their AL East lead back up to two games (three in the loss column) in clinching their first postseason berth since 2016.

Conversely, the Rays, the team the Orioles came back to defeat on Saturday and Sunday, thanks to the Texas Rangers’ loss on Sunday, clinched a postseason berth as well. That’s just how good the American League East is, as the Orioles and the Rays are the first two teams in the American League to reach the postseason.

The Orioles are young and they are inexperienced, but they are, oh, so talented and fearless; and they are steadied by the collection of veterans brought in by general manager Mike Elias, who, along with manager Brandon Hyde, has built this entire operation from scratch, beginning when they were hired in 2018.

These Orioles have had a winning record in every month of the season. Their longest losing streak of the year is four games. They have not been swept in a multi-game series since May 2022, an AL-record that began when they promoted catcher Adley Rutschman.

They are such a fun team for any baseball fan to watch, but they have gone beyond being fun as they were last season, and are now very dangerous and just very, very good. To that the Tampa Bay Rays will attest after losing the regular-season series to the Orioles, 8 games to 5, which, for the Orioles, is as good as picking up another game in the standings because it is the first tiebreak of postseason seeding.

There are just 13 games remaining in the regular season for the Orioles and it won’t be easy, as they open a three-game series tonight in Houston with the defending world-champion Astros, who seem to be rounding into form as October approaches.

Yet nothing has been easy for this team from the beginning. Yes, they have 93 wins, but the great majority of those wins have come by less than two runs and after the eighth inning. That’s why it was silly for anybody to have counted them out after eight innings on Sunday when they were down 4-2 and about to go into the belly of the beast known as the Tampa Bay bullpen. That’s why it was absurd to be throwing people under the bus after they dropped the first two games of the four-game series to the Rays.

With MLB scheduling, because of interleague play, two-game series and four-game series are now part of the routine. Since the beginning of time — baseball time, that is — the rule of thumb is to hope for a split of any four-game series, be it against the Chico’s Bail Bonds Bears or the 1927 New York Yankees. Anything more than two out of four is a bonus for either team, even if the ’27 Yankees are playing the Bad News Bears, because four-game regular-season series are just hard for both teams. They’re not natural, but now they’re a part of life.

That said, Saturday night’s win over the Rays was the critical win for the Orioles, whether they would go on to lose Sunday afternoon’s game or not. It was critical because it assured the O’s the season series, and it assured they would hold first place, even by percentage points, if the Rays would win Sunday’s game, which they nearly did.

But now the Orioles are two games up over the Rays in the AL East, which is remarkable when you consider the start to the season that Tampa had. As for the three-game lead in the loss column, that will even out in time, one way or another, as the Rays have played two more games than the Orioles have played, which means Tampa will have three off-days in the next two weeks, while the Orioles will have just one.

An American League East title would be a nice start for this upstart team, but, of course, nobody said it would be easy. Of course, the more we see of these guys, that seems to be just fine with the young, talented and fearless Orioles.

I wouldn’t put anything past them at this point.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT