I spent most of September fretting over all of the various scenarios and permutations that would put my favorite team in the playoffs, obsessively ticking off a magic number that barely seemed to budge. The O's just kept on winning, but the Rays, Angels, and Athletics never took their collective feet off the gas either. Finally, over the last weekend of the regular season, Tampa Bay and
But there's no time for the Fighting Showalters to exhale. With three regular-season games left against that barely-alive Tampa club, the O's have a fair shot at skipping the cockamamie wild card contest altogether. Through 159 games, the Orioles and the Yankees are deadlocked atop the American League Eastern Division, each with 92 wins and 67 losses. An early summer swoon put Baltimore 10 games behind the Bronx Bombers as of July 18; it took them 44 games to erase that deficit. Throughout September, the Orioles never grabbed sole possession of first place, but never lost sight of it. In the past four weeks, the Birds have spent each day either tied with the Yanks, or 0.5, 1.0, or 1.5 games back. A three-day blip last week interrupted an unprecedented streak of 21 days during which the two teams were always within a game of each other in the standings, but the indefatigable O's clawed back into a dead heat with their current four-game win streak and a bit of help from Toronto, who split a four-gamer with New York.
So here's the scenario: If the Orioles win one more game than the Yankees between tonight and Wednesday, they take the A.L. East and dump Derek Jeter and company into a sudden-death game. Easier said than done, since the Rays are a very good team and the Red Sox (who visit New York) are very...not good. No margin for error here; hope for a sweep at Tropicana Field and keep your fingers crossed that Boston steals one in the Bronx. If the O's take care of business, there's even an outside chance that they could wind up with the best record in the American League, and home field advantage until the World Series (should they make it that far, and if they do, I may be reduced to banging my head on the keys in bewilderment). If the A's somehow sweep the Rangers to capture the Western Division flag, the best record in the entire 14-team American League could belong to your Baltimore Orioles. Lots of if's, but I'm done worrying over what can and can't and probably will and won't happen.
This week is making for some strange bedfellows. While I have a celebratory beer this evening as my own one-man clinching party, I'll be watching the O's and pulling for the A's and Red Sox. And yes, the beer will be cold.