Over the last decade or so I’ve been critical of baseball fans — and Orioles’ fans in particular — for having a football mentality.
It seems like many O’s fans live and die on one game or one series these days, and I try to explain that this is not football. There are 162 games in a MLB season and 16 in the NFL.
Baseball teams lose several in a row throughout the season. It’s not the end of the world; it’s part of the game.
The clubs that don’t panic, the ones that don’t put too much emphasis on one loss or a series of losses are seemingly the ones that are best prepared for lasting success in a long season.
So I realize this entire premise is hypocritical. My apologies in advance.
But Saturday’s 11-3 demolition in Detroit was huge. It was as close to a must-win as a team can have with a few weeks left to play. It may be one of the biggest wins this season, and I’m not just talking run differential.
First of all, it gave the Orioles the season-series victory. No matter what happens in Sunday’s rubber match at Comerica Park, the Orioles will have won at least four of seven matchups between the two squads this year.
That could be critical because the Orioles are again one game up on the Tigers for the second Wild Card spot. If these two finish in a two-way tie for the first or second Wild Card at season’s end, there’d be a one-game showdown at Camden Yards and not Comerica Park based on head-to-head record.
And given how the Orioles play at home versus on the road, hosting any winner-take-all contest would be a huge advantage.
But even if that scenario doesn’t happen, bludgeoning the Tigers on Saturday night carries some serious significance.
The Orioles are on a nine-game road trip to Tampa, Detroit and Boston. Anything less than 4-5 in those nine would be a disaster at this juncture of the season. With Saturday’s victory, they’re 3-2 on the trip and already have avoided a sweep in Detroit. Now, if they win two of their next four – certainly possible – that would give the Orioles a 5-4 mark on the trip. And that definitely would register as a success. Winning just one of the next four puts them at 4-5; not ideal but acceptable.
Also, winning Saturday takes the pressure off Chris Tillman, who is coming back from a shoulder injury and hasn’t pitched since giving up six runs in two innings to the Houston Astros on August 20.
The Orioles need Tillman to be his usually solid self down the stretch, and so not asking him to do too much on Sunday is preferable. If he were forced to be the stopper Sunday – something he’s had to do a lot this season – perhaps he pushes himself a little further than he should. Who knows if that has future consequences?
Winning the rubber game Sunday would be great, but the need isn’t as dire following Saturday’s victory.
There’s one more component that lifts Saturday’s win over most others this year: Another inspiring performance from Ubaldo Jimenez – two runs allowed in seven innings pitched. Granted, the Orioles’ bashing of Detroit’s Jordan Zimmermann was the difference-maker, but Jimenez turned in another quality start, his fourth straight since Tillman went on the disabled list.
Jimenez couldn’t have picked a better time to turn around his dreadful season. A confident Jimenez is a dangerous Jimenez, and if he can continue this roll, it will give the Orioles a monumental lift.
Add it all together, and I’m officially doing what I’ve chastised many of you for doing over the years.
I’m saying Saturday’s blowout of the Tigers wasn’t just one game in a long season.
I’m saying – against my better judgment – that it meant a little, and maybe a lot, more.