|Through Friday, the O's have been outscored by 39 runs but are just two games out of first place in the AL East. (Getty)|
NEW YORK -- In a year where the Nationals are making the playoffs and the Pirates might join them, there's plenty of competition for the title of "baseball's best story."
There's no competition for the title of "baseball's craziest best story."
There's no team like the Orioles.
They have tons of starting pitchers, but no real rotation. Miguel Gonzalez didn't start for 10 days, and then he was manager Buck Showalter's pick to start Friday night's opener of the Orioles' biggest series in 15 years.
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Of course he was.
Gonzalez shut out the Yankees for seven innings on four hits, with nine strikeouts.
Of course he did.
The Orioles won 6-1 and entered September just two games out of first place.
Of course they did.
Look, there are reasons that the Orioles are better than anyone anticipated (great bullpen, great manager, great under-the-radar acquisitions by general manager Dan Duquette, underrated catcher Matt Wieters, who Orioles people insist saves them a run a game by the way he calls pitches), but in the end none of this really adds up.
In the end, it's a lot easier to appreciate this team than it is to explain it.
There are reasons that Gonzalez got 10 days off (the Orioles believed he could use the rest), but when it comes down to it the Orioles are still piecing their rotation together in the most important games of the season.
They're still piecing their lineup together, too.
The guy who bats third for this team was in the minor leagues four weeks ago. It's not because he's some hot-shot prospect whose call-up was eagerly awaited. It's because Nate McLouth was picked up by the Orioles after he was released by the Pirates . . . because he was hitting .140.
"You never know," McLouth said Friday.
Right, and that's another Orioles theme: You never know.
"It's no formula," center fielder Adam Jones said.
It's no formula. It just is.
We're beyond the point of asking whether the Orioles can stay in the race, because they have stayed in it.
We're beyond the point of trying to make sense of the Orioles, because there's really no sense to be made of this team. They've been outscored by 39 runs, the stat guys at Baseball Prospectus say they should be 10 games under .500 -- but instead they're starting to make the Yankees nervous.
Friday's game began a stretch of 10 games where the Yankees will play the two teams directly behind them -- seven games against the Orioles sandwiched around at three-game series against the third-place Rays.
This is either where the race for the division title gets interesting, or where it basically ends.
Obviously, it would be a huge accomplishment for the Orioles to simply make the playoffs. They haven't been there since 1997, and haven't even really been a contender since then.
But Showalter insisted Friday that when he looks at the standings, he looks "up" at the Yankees rather than "down" at the teams behind the O's in the wild-card race.
"Our guys are focused on trying to catch the Yankees and win the division," he said.
It's crazy to think that the Orioles could do it. But crazy fits this team.
Remember, the Orioles are winning 80 percent of their one-run games (24 of 30). Only one team in history has won even 75 percent of its one-run games, and that was 31 years ago, and in a strike-shortened season (1981 Orioles).
The Orioles haven't lost a one-run game since the Mets beat them 4-3 on June 20. They've won 13 straight since then.
"The question I always get asked is how we do it," said McLouth. "I don't know. It comes down to just do it, and don't try to explain it."
And that's the Orioles.