9:55 am Aug. 8, 2012
And here come the Baltimore Orioles, dramatically.
Last night, the Yankees were trailing the Detroit Tigers, 6-3, after an uncharacteristically poor outing from Phil Hughes. Ichiro Suzuki slapped an R.B.I. single to center, Russell Martin doubled in another run, and Martin stood at second, Suzuki at third, the tying and go-ahead runs in place. But Curtis Granderson popped out to end the game. And the Yankees dropped to 6-12 in their last 18 games.
About an hour later, the Orioles were still going against the Seattle Mariners in Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles, down 7-2 in the sixth inning, rallied to tie the game, 7-7. A Seattle bullpen, thanks in part to two innings from a dominant Oliver Perez (yes, same guy) had kept the Orioles from the win well into extra innings.
But a single by Omar Quintanilla, a Mets scrap-heap pickup, a single by resurrected star Nick Markakis and then a line-drive single by standout Adam Jones* got the Orioles the win.
That put the Orioles just 4.5 games behind the Yankees, the shortest distance between the Yankees and any American League East rival since June 29.
There are some easily explainable reasons for the Orioles to be 59-51—I wrote early on in the season that their success wasn't a fluke—even though they've scored fewer runs than they've allowed. (Their Pythagorean record, which extrapolates wins and losses from run differential as an attempt to account for, well, flukiness, is 49-61; the Yankees, who are 63-46, have a Pythagorean record of ... 63-46.)
The Orioles are 22-6 in one-run games; that mark has a lot to do with a 3.06 E.R.A. from their bullpen, good for second in the American League.
Still, that doesn't quite explain it; the Tampa Bay Rays are just behind them in bullpen E.R.A., at 3.08, and their record in one-run games is 17-17. The Yankees, had they allowed four fewer runs all season, would have a lower bullpen E.R.A. than the Orioles; their record in one-run games is 13-17.
If the Yankees had a comparable record to the Orioles in one-run games, they'd lead the division by roughly 15 games. If Tampa Bay did, they'd be roughly tied with the Yankees, instead of six games back.
Considering that the Orioles are tenth in the American League in runs scored and 11th in O.P.S., the offense isn't the reason why. And a starting staff with an E.R.A. of 4.67, good for 23rd in baseball, isn't the cause for it either.
The Orioles are simply coming through when it counts. Call it a karmic bonus to their fans for putting up with Peter Angelos for the past decade and a half while a once-proud franchise sputtered. After all, The Oriole Way used to mean something far different than start April strong, then falter in spectacular fashion.
The odds are still pretty good that the Yankees will accelerate and pull away, and that the Rays will leave the Orioles behind, too. But it's August, 110 games in, and the Orioles are still here. Now they just need to make it happen over the last 52.
*CORRECTION: I mistakenly called Adam Jones "home-grown" in the original version of this article; he was in fact acquired from Seattle in the Erik Bedard trade.
Elsewhere in New York sports:
Jose Reyes extended his hitting streak to 25 games in a 4-2 Marlins victory over the Mets.
As with Pedro Feliciano, the Mets overworked Tim Byrdak, using one lefty where most teams use two. Now Byrdak, like Feliciano, has broken down.
Jason Bay will play a lot less, but the Mets won't send him packing yet.
Johan Santana expects to pitch on Saturday.
Jets owner Woody Johnson says is surprised by all the attention Tim Tebow is getting, and he doesn't seem to be joking.
Santonio Holmes isn't coming back quickly from his rib injury.
Second-round pick Reuben Randle looks ready to be the third wide receiver for the Giants.
The Red Bulls are hoping trialist Lloyd Sam can be the new Dane Richards.
In Olympic quarterfinals Wednesday afternoon, U.S.A. will take on Australia.