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Richard Justice

Orioles' 18-inning win exemplifies club's toughness

Justice: Orioles' 18-inning win exemplifies club's fight

Orioles' 18-inning win exemplifies club's toughness
It was just one game. One game in a long, grinding season. One game that didn't guarantee the Baltimore Orioles a thing. The O's will be right back at it on Wednesday.

Still, it was a game that said so much about this team, about its will to win and its toughness and all the stuff that's so tough to measure. It was a game that spoke volumes about the roster Dan Duquette has constructed and the environment Buck Showalter has created. It was a game that says so much about Adam Jones and Matt Wieters and all the guys who've endured the tough times.

The Orioles rallied for two runs in the ninth inning to force the Mariners into extra innings Tuesday night at Safeco Field. And then the teams played on, for 18 innings, for almost six hours.

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At some point, it ceased becoming a normal baseball game and became a war of wills or something like that. The O's desperately need every victory at this point in the season as they attempt to grab their first playoff spot in 15 years.

They're improbably tied with the Yankees in the American League East, this with a patchwork roster, with a bunch of players grabbed from here, there and everywhere.

For instance, outfielder Nate McLouth. He had to wonder what his future in the game was when the Pirates released him on May 31. McLouth was 30 years old and he was hitting .140. Was this it?

McLouth is one of a long line of players that the Orioles found work for. Duquette has empowered his scouts to give their opinions and to tell him how certain players might fit onto Baltimore's roster.

Lo and behold, McLouth is hitting .283 for the O's and has found himself in a pennant race. He got on base in the ninth and scored the tying run. McLouth got on base in the 18th and scored the winning run.

Let's not forget the Mariners in all of this. They're playing for nothing.

OK, that's ridiculous. Seattle is playing for the same things other clubs are playing for at this time of the year. The Mariners are playing for pride. They're playing because they're professionals. Seattle has been one of baseball's better teams in the second half of the season (34-28 since the All-Star break), with a roster composed of gifted, young players. The club's future is bright.

It's not a stretch to see the Mariners leaping into contention in 2013 the way the Orioles have done in '12. When Seattle let a ninth-inning lead slip away on Tuesday, it refused to go quietly.

Manager Eric Wedge will remember it as one of those games that reflects his team's toughness and also how it still has some work to do. The Mariners left the winning run in scoring position in five of the last nine innings of the game.

Showalter needed eight pitchers to finish the deal. Jake Arrieta, the Opening Day starter who was sent back to the Minor Leagues at midseason, continued to emerge as a contributor with 3 1/3 shutout innings in relief of starter Wei-Yin Chen.

Arrieta was followed by Brian Matusz, another young guy who was sent to the Minors and has flourished out of the bullpen since being recalled. Steve Johnson, who made his Major League debut two months ago, pitched three shutout innings to keep the game going.

Finally, Baltimore won it in the 18th when McLouth drew a leadoff walk. J.J. Hardy followed with a single, and Taylor Teagarden got what turned out to be the winning run home with a single.

At 84-64, the Orioles have again caught the Yankees. It's the seventh time this month the two clubs have been tied, but the Yanks have relentlessly held onto at least a share of the top spot.

By now, the Yankees know the Orioles aren't going away, that they're the real deal and they're a tough team, a resourceful team and a really good team. Way back in Spring Training, a lot of us wise guys believed the O's would finish dead last. Since then, they've taken us on a wild, wonderful ride, and the best part of it may be yet to come.

Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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