Resilient Orioles rally to grab rubber game

Resilient Orioles rally to grab rubber game

Resilient Orioles rally to grab rubber game
DETROIT -- Maybe there is something to this Orioles club and all its "want to," an oft-used phrase by manager Buck Showalter that, like most things Showalter has professed in two-plus years at the helm, has become ingrained in the team's psyche -- interwoven into the ebb and flow of each game.

The Orioles have said all year, regardless of circumstance, they never feel like they can't win. This fearless club continues to prove it. For the third time in 18 games, Baltimore rallied from a five-run deficit, snatching a 7-5 series-clinching victory over Detroit on Sunday afternoon to secure its spot in the American League Wild Card race.

The victory kept the Orioles, trying for their first postseason in 15 years, rolling. They silenced a sellout crowd at Comerica Park that watched the Tigers drop a pair of games after winning 18 of their previous 20 home contests.

"There's a lot of trouble lurking in that lineup," manager Buck Showalter said of a Tigers team that dropped its first home series since June 5-7 versus Cleveland, "I'm glad they're somebody else's problem now."

As for these plucky O's, well, they continue to wreak havoc on preseason prognosticators, eschewing any conventional wisdom about having a negative run differential, inconsistent starting rotation and more roster moves than games. Maybe they aren't supposed to be winning. But nobody try to tell that to this group.

"We are confident," shortstop J.J. Hardy said of a close-knit club that has 26 come-from-behind wins and is an incredible 51-0 when leading after seven innings. "Obviously, we feel like we can win every game. We didn't know we were going to score more than five, but we knew we could."

"This is baseball, you never know what's going to happen," Orioles starter Wei-Yin Chen, who battled back after a five-run first inning, said through his interpreter. "You never give up, you just keep fighting."

Particularly when you've been in this predicament before. In an almost identical performance to their win on July 31 in New York -- in which they went down 5-0 before scoring 11 unanswered runs -- the O's offense propped up Chen, who battled through five innings before turning the ball over to the bullpen.

Luis Ayala, Darren O'Day, Pedro Strop and closer Jim Johnson combined to post four scoreless innings, lowering the 'pen's ERA to 1.56 over the last 16 games. Johnson, who is on pace for a record-breaking season, picked up his 37th save, second most in the Majors and putting him in a tie for the second most in a single season in Orioles history, with a 1-2-3 ninth.

"There is no doubt they are awesome," Chen said of a relief corps that has been the team's strength all season. "After I walked to the dugout, I was thinking, 'I got a win today,' because we have a really good and strong bullpen, and they will save the win for me."

Down five runs almost immediately, the Orioles' offense roared back with a four-run second inning that started with a solo homer by Chris Davis. Davis, who delivered his 20th homer of the season, went yard for the second consecutive game, while Nick Markakis and Hardy -- celebrating his 30th birthday -- delivered a pair of RBI doubles.

Nate McLouth's triple to right field gave the Orioles the lead in the fourth inning, scoring Markakis and Hardy -- who both walked. Adam Jones extended the lead to two with an RBI single that spelled the end of Tigers starter Doug Fister's day after 3 2/3 innings.

Fister's seven earned runs allowed matched the total in his previous five starts combined -- a 38 1/3-inning stretch -- and left the Orioles with another improbable win. Just more of that want-to?

"I leave it up to you [to figure it out]," Showalter said of pinpointing what makes this Orioles' club so resilient. "They don't have to do it here on Aug. 19 in Detroit to know that it's an attribute of this clubhouse. If you could sit in the dugout for one game, [you'd see] it's a very workman-like clubhouse. It's, 'OK, here's what we've got in front of us.'

"Guys kept battling. I actually thought Chris' home run kind of got everybody thinking this wasn't going to be a rollover day, which never [it] is with our guys."

Chen, who forced the bullpen to start stirring one out into the game, outlasted and outpitched Fister, retiring 10 of his last 11 batters and allowing two hits after a 41-pitch first inning. He managed to work his way through five frames, getting a key inning-ending, double-play ball from Prince Fielder in the second to strand a pair of runners.

"He could've caved in, but he didn't," Tigers manager Jim Leyland said of Chen, who became the first Orioles rookie since Daniel Cabrera in 2004 to collect 12 wins. "That was pretty impressive."

"Every game is challenging for me," Chen said, "and every game is challenging for this team. Right now, my only hope is to help the team get to the playoffs. That's my only dream right now, my only goal."

Chen exited in favor of Ayala, who pitched around a one-out single in the sixth, and O'Day recorded four outs after that.

"We always like that game, figuring out who is going to pitch," O'Day said. "And this team, this year, you are never out of a game."

Strop came on after O'Day hit Delmon Young with a pitch in the eighth, getting Andy Dirks to fly out and striking out Alex Avila to hand the game to Johnson.

"The quality of [relief] pitching, it kind of is momentum," Showalter said. "If you can pitch well, it's the one position you control. Everybody came in and did their job. That chain only works if there's not a weak link in it."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.