Allegany Communications Sports

The Washington Nationals certainly showed their mettle this week against the Baltimore Orioles, not to mention the rising talent general manager Mike Rizzo has assembled.

The teams split their two-game series at Nationals Park, with the Nats dominating the Orioles, 3-0, on Tuesday, holding Baltimore to three hits, before the Orioles secured their 10th come-from-behind win of the season on Wednesday, coming back not once but three times against the young and relentless Nats, who fought back to erase two-run deficits in the 9th, the 11th and nearly in the 12th, as Jorge Mateo knocked in a run and scored another one in the 12th for the 7-6 Orioles win.

As we’ve said, Rizzo has done this before with great success and it certainly looks like the Nats are well on their way to being at least a .500 team this season because they have a solid young pitching staff, in the rotation and in the bullpen, and they force the issue on the bases with their speed and their game.

Some takeaways from this one? The young and talented Nationals are coming, and they play an exciting and aggressive style of baseball. And as they showed this week against one of the best teams in baseball, they don’t back down and are not intimidated by any team.

The biggest takeaway for the Orioles is they have a closer issue, despite what manager Brandon Hyde says (of course, what is he supposed to say, “We’re done!”?), as closer Craig Kimbrel, for the fourth time in five appearances, was unable to convert a save opportunity, allowing six earned runs in 2 1/3 innings (a 23.14 ERA) over that span.

“We’re going to stick with him,” Hyde said. “This guy’s got a big-time track record, he’s a Hall of Famer, and we need to get him right. He’s big for us.”

There can be no denying he’s going to be a Hall of Famer, and there can be no denying he’s big for the Orioles. But he’s 35 (I’d hate to be that old again) and that “big” can cut both ways, but in a deeper way when it cuts the wrong way.

The good news is it’s only May, so there’s time for the Orioles to figure and to adjust. Until they solve the Craig Kimbrel puzzle, Jacob Webb has stood tall in a couple of instances of need. Albert Suarez seems to have the grit, the stuff and worlds of life’s experiences to go multiple innings in the end until the Orioles do figure and adjust.

Even with the best of outcomes, the Orioles bullpen seems to be the biggest area of need.

That said, the most striking takeaway from the two-game set was that both games played in Nationals Park felt like legitimate rivalry games between Baltimore and Washington for the first time since the Adam Jones Orioles and the Bryce Harper Nats were contenders at the same time.

The games played to big crowds with plenty of fans of both teams in attendance and there was a buzz to these crowds and constant noise going both ways as both games played like tense late-summer stretch-drive games.

That’s been missing from the so-called “Beltways Series” the past few years as the Orioles have pretty much had their way with the Nats, holding a 10-2-7 advantage in what fans have come to call the MASN Cup.

There is plenty for both cities to legitimately dislike about the other one, beginning with the Nats coming here in the first place and being given by MLB the Orioles’ most affluent regional revenue markets. The D.C.-Baltimore tension is real and is as old as Washington and Baltimore themselves, yet this is the most hostility I’ve sensed coming from the D.C. side of it.

In the past D.C. has been kind of meh about the whole thing, with the prevailing feeling being Baltimore is too far beneath D.C. for D.C. to give Baltimore a thought – unless, of course, it was to go to Memorial Stadium and Camden Yards in Baltimore to be Orioles fans from 1972 until 2005, which far too many D.C. types (aka Suits or Swells) did for Baltimore’s liking.

Baltimore has never liked Washington and has never done anything to hide its dislike for Washington. When the Colts left Baltimore and the city was without pro football for 12 seasons, did Baltimore root for the Redskins? Ain’t no way, no how, although, oddly enough, there are a good many Capitals fans in Baltimore, but very few Wizards fans.

The Wizards, of course, used to be the Baltimore Bullets, so that likely has something to do with it. Most likely, it’s just because it’s D.C., which makes the Caps thing even more confusing.

For the most part, Baltimore has always been Baltimore when it comes to D.C., yet most of the current Nationals fans grew up Orioles fans, and many went back last year as the Orioles were winning 101 games and the Nats struggled in the earlier stages of their rebuild (fairweather fans, according to Baltimore).

Perhaps the Nationals being very competitive and getting better by the game has added some extra bounce to the step of this unspoken Orioles-Nationals rivalry.

I believe it still means more to Baltimore than it does to Washington, but for the first time that I can remember, there was some extra juice and an extra sense of dislike on the part of the Washington fans.

They do it again August 13-14 in Baltimore

Should be fun. We’ll see.

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]. Follow him on X at @MikeBurkeMDT