The Baltimore Orioles tied atop the AL East with the New York Yankees with four games left, a scenario that might cause a team unaccustomed to being in a pennant race to stumble under pressure.
Not these guys.
After Baltimore beat the Boston Red Sox 4-3 Saturday night to earn a share of first place, Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds described the mood of the team as ”a quiet confidence.”
”Calmness,” Reynolds said. ”We’re playing with house money. We’re not supposed to be here. We’re just a bunch of kids having fun. We go out every night believing we’re going to win the game, no matter what the situation and no matter who we’re facing. It’s just fun to be a part of.”
Chris Davis hit his 30th home run and rookie Manny Machado lined a go-ahead shot in the seventh inning for the Orioles. After finishing in the division cellar in each of the previous four seasons, Baltimore (91-67) is tied with a team very much accustomed to finishing in first place.
The Yankees lost to Toronto before this game started, so the Orioles knew they would earn a share of the lead with a win. Baltimore went ahead 3-0 in the fourth, then let Boston pull even before Machado homered, a liner into the second row of the left-field seats off Felix Doubront (11-10).
Machado has been a major leaguer for all of 47 games after being summoned from Double-A Bowie on Aug. 9.
”I’m just trying to play the game,” he said. ”Obviously, it’s bigger than any other games I’ve played before. I’m just going to try and go out there and give everything I can to help this team win.”
It was another tight victory for the Orioles, their trademark in this unimaginable season. Baltimore is 28-9 in one-run games and 72-0 when leading after seven innings.
”It’s an honor to sit there and watch it and marvel at what these guys can do, especially when certain things start snowballing,” manager Buck Showalter said. ”And you create your karma. These guys have done a good job of doing that, and they’re expecting good things to happen.”
Tommy Hunter (7-8) pitched two innings, Brian Matusz and Darren O’Day shared the eighth and Jim Johnson got three outs for his 49th save.
A sellout crowd of 46,311, a majority of them clad in Oriole orange, brought Camden Yards back to a time when the home team was a force in the AL East and the ballpark was packed on a nightly basis.
The fans got to cheer a Baltimore great before the first pitch, too. A statue of Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson was unveiled during a ceremony in the flag court beyond the center-field wall.
The Orioles’ goal is to capture the division, but if they win two more games they are at least assured of their first trip to the playoffs since 1997 – their last winning season before this year. Baltimore now is 41-27 in the division and New York is 37-31, so if Baltimore wins one more game, it will have home-field advantage if there’s a playoff to decide the AL East title.
”The pressure’s on both of us,” Reynolds said. ”Four games left, dead heat. I guess there’s a possibility of two playoff games. It’s what we play for, and it’s fun.”
In addition to hitting two homers and limiting Boston to five hits, Baltimore also played well defensively. Machado, the third baseman, ranged far to his right in the fourth inning to start a double play, and Reynolds tumbled over the tarp roll and got wedged behind it after catching a foul pop. Endy Chavez, who entered as a defensive replacement in the ninth, made a sparking diving catch of a sinking liner to right field.
”They just keeping doing what they have to do,” Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said of the Orioles. ”Buck knows what he’s doing. He puts in a defensive replacement and he makes a diving catch. They’ve done a great job with that young third baseman. He beat us tonight. He played excellent defense all year.”
Jarrod Saltalamacchia homered for the Red Sox, who fell into last place with their 15th loss in 21 games. Boston has not finished in the cellar since 1992.
Doubront allowed four runs, three earned, and seven hits in seven innings. He struck out 10, walked one and hit a batter.
Red Sox leadoff hitter Jacoby Ellsbury went 1 for 4 after being sidelined since Sept. 20 with an unspecified injury. Ellsbury has only four homers and 26 RBIs after finishing second in AL MVP voting last season.
”I didn’t see him play that way this year,” Valentine said before the game. ”He did not quite hit his stride this year.”
Orioles rookie Steve Johnson took a three-hitter and a 3-2 lead into the sixth inning but was lifted after giving up a single and a walk. Hunter got Dustin Pedroia to hit a force at second, but a run came home when Cody Ross hit a sacrifice fly to right field that Davis dropped after Adam Jones drifted over from center and called for the ball. Hunter avoided further damage by getting Mauro Gomez to bounce into a double play.
Baltimore went up 1-0 in the second when Machado singled in a run after Doubront hit Davis with a pitch and Reynolds reached on a slow roller to third.
In the fourth, after Jones reached on a throwing error by shortstop Mike Aviles, Davis drove a 1-0 pitch far over the right-field wall for a 3-0 lead.
Saltalamacchia hit his 25th homer in the fifth after Gomez drew a leadoff walk.
NOTES: The Robinson statue stands alongside the team’s five other Hall of Fame members, all of whom were in attendance: Earl Weaver, Frank Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr. … Joe Saunders will pitch for the Orioles in the series finale Sunday. Zach Stewart will pitch for Boston. … Baltimore claimed OF Steve Pearce off waivers from the Yankees. He will join the team in Tampa Bay on Monday. … Boston has lost 17 of 24 to Baltimore since September 2011.