BALTIMORE – It might have been hard to imagine a couple of days ago, but the team that could not be swept during the regular season could very well be swept right out of the playoffs.
Of course, I’m not telling you anything you don’t already know. The Orioles, who have not been overmatched by anyone in the American League this season, were shut down by the streaking Texas Rangers in Game 1 on Saturday and pushed to the brink of elimination in Sunday’s 11-8 loss at Camden Yards.
Do you believe in miracles? Well, you better, because that’s about what it will take for this amazing Orioles season to extend into the American League Championship Series. Two raucous sellout crowds could not propel them to victory and now they must win two games at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, to force the best-of-five series back to Baltimore on Friday.
Okay, make that a minor miracle, since the O’s played better on the road than at home this year, tying the Atlanta Braves for the best road record in the major leagues. They also won two of three games in their only regular-season series in that part of Texas.
And if that isn’t enough to boost the flagging spirits of Orioles Nation, they did rally in the late innings on Sunday to put some lipstick on what started out to be a double-digit blowout.
Manager Brandon Hyde conceded that his team is in a very tough spot, but – like most everybody else – is pinning his hopes on the resilience his team has shown all year.
“We have to go to Texas and play well,’’ he said. “We haven’t played our two best games here. We played well on the road all year, so hopefully we can play well on the road.”
Leftfielder Austin Hays also leaned on his team’s ability to bounce back during the regular season and the stubborn refusal to give up on Game 2 as reasons for hope that the Orioles can stage a long-shot comeback.
“Nobody laid down,’’ he said. “We didn’t give away any at-bats. We continued to fight. We were able to get into their bullpen and work on those guys a little bit. I feel good moving forward, but I know we’ve got our work cut out for us.
“We had a tough night tonight. It’s unfortunate that it was tonight, but that happens. We’ve just got to move on from it. Move forward. Flush it down the drain and get after these next three games.”
Perhaps the thing that makes it seem so bleak, other than the obvious mathematical disadvantage, is the pitcher they will face in Game 3. Nathan Eovaldi arrived in the postseason after struggling through three straight mediocre starts in the second half of September, but – like his team – he woke up just in time to dominate the Tampa Bay Rays to complete the Rangers’ two-game sweep in the wild-card round.
Eovaldi gave up just a run on six hits and struck out eight, at times looking unhittable, albeit against a Rays offense that had lost three of its top hitters during its late-season attempt to chase down the Orioles in the two-team American League East race. The way the O’s have swung the bats over the past 2 ½ weeks – aside from the late-inning awakening against a so-so Rangers bullpen on Sunday – it’s hard to envision them taking out their offensive frustration on him.
Hyde has not announced his starting pitcher for Game 3, but it obviously will be a choice between veteran Kyle Gibson and young Dean Kremer. Gibson was throwing in the bullpen during the ninth inning on Sunday, which could have been a side session in anticipation of starting either Game 3 or a possible Game 4.