this past Thursday night.
Thanks in part to Junior's statue ceremony, the game was sold out in advance. I was excited to be a part of a capacity crowd for the first time since Opening Day, but dreading the possibility of that crowd being full of Yankee fans. That dread gave way to irritation as it took me more than an hour to navigate the rush hour traffic downtown. By the time my sister and I got into the stadium, the on-field ceremony was already underway. Though I didn't get to see it, I'm glad that Brooks Robinson is finally feeling well enough to make it back onto the field for this kind of thing.
As we took our seats in section 340, high above the backstop, I took stock of my neighbors for the evening. Only a few scattered fans in navy blue caps and pinstriped jerseys, and none of them looking like they would spend the night taunting the hometown fans if things went the way of New York. With the O's taking the field to a loud roar, I scanned the rest of the ballpark. There were bright orange shirts all the way around, and just a few lonely navy blue-clad fans sprinkled around. With the Orioles' stakes higher than they've been in a decade and a half, the Baltimore fans took back Camden Yards. The cheers were loud and spontaneous as Jason Hammel breezed through his first inning of work since July with three ground balls. That kind of positive buzz persisted all night, and the volume increased every time a Birds' pitcher got two strikes on a Yankee batter.
We really came unglued in the bottom of the first, as the O's offense gave rookie starter David Phelps a rude welcome to Charm City. After retiring Nick Markakis on a bang-bang ground ball to second base, the New York starter surrendered four consecutive hits, with Matt Wieters' three-run homer capping the outburst and giving the Orioles a nearly-instant 4-0 lead. As Wieters disappeared into the home dugout, the loud ovation suddenly transformed into the first of the night's many chants of "YAN-KEES SUCK! YAN-KEES SUCK!". I didn't join in, because maybe I'm maturing or some crap. But I will admit that my heart felt near bursting. It was sweet, sweet music to me.
The game proceeded without much drama until Hammel was struck on his pitching elbow by a Robinson Cano line drive to open the fourth inning. Nobody seemed to believe that he'd remain in the game, especially considering that the ball that deflected off of his arm caromed all of the way out to shallow left field. But after being examined by trainer Brian Ebel and manager Buck Showalter, the tall right-hander took a few practice throws and felt strong enough to continue. He ultimately allowed a run on a Curtis Granderson single, but Robert Andino got it right back with a solo home run to deep center field in the bottom of the inning. Mark Reynolds joined the big fly party by smoking a liner to left field to lead off the fifth, his seventh home run in as many games and his fifth in that span against the Yankees.
The score stayed put at 6-1 until the top of the eighth, when Oriole Park was reduced to a stunned murmur as the Bronx Bombers tied the game with a two-out, five-run rally against Randy Wolf and a troublingly wild Pedro Strop. It was discouraging to see the game slip from the Birds' control with only four outs left to get. But the crowd rose to its feet once again to urge on Darren O'Day, who finally secured that crucial last out of the inning by coaxing a popup to second base from Derek Jeter, stranding a pair of runners on base. With the contest already chugging toward 10:00, I had uneasy visions of extra innings on my mind.
I needn't have worried. Leading off against New York setup man David Robertson, Adam Jones battled back from an 0-2 count and answered a high and tight pitch that sent him diving for cover. Jones turned around on Robertson's very next pitch and lashed the ball to deep left-center field. As it sailed over the wall, we all came unglued. The O's took a 7-6 lead on Adam's 100th career home run with the team. Looking rattled, Robertson gave up an 0-2 single to Matt Wieters and had to face Yankee Killer Mark Reynolds. The resurgent first baseman worked the count full and then blasted the ball to left field for his second homer of the game, giving him three multi-homer games against the Yanks in a week. Only one other player ever accomplished that feat in a full season against the Bombers, and it was Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in 1938. 9-6, and Camden Yards was deafening as Joe Girardi got back to playing Bullpen Roulette. He brought in southpaw Boone Logan for the platoon advantage against lefty Chris Davis. Naturally, Davis crushed Logan's first offering to the back of the flag court in right field for the team's third round-tripper of the inning and their season-best sixth of the night. From 6-6 to 10-6 in a rapid burst of power. Girardi summoned Derek Lowe to get through the inning without further damage done, but the horse was already out of the barn.
Jim Johnson strode in from the bullpen to protect a four-run lead. He wouldn't earn a save, but he did get three crucial outs to close out the most important game of his career to date. He worked around a ground-ball single without much difficulty, slamming the door by striking out Eric Chavez on three straight pitches. When the home plate umpire punched out Chavez to make it final, there was one more roar, 46,298 voices as one. The Orioles were back atop the American League East, tied with those Yankees. There were 3 games left in the series and 25 more in the season, but the fans emptying out into the Baltimore night were jubilant. There were "LET'S GO O'S!" and "YAN-KEES SUCK!" chants still ringing through the stadium and out into the streets. They're back.