Machado's late HR has O's tied for first in East

Machado's late HR has O's tied for first in East

Machado's late HR has O's tied for first in East
BALTIMORE -- On a night the Orioles honored the greatest third baseman in franchise history, Hall of Famer Brooks Robinson, 20-year-old rookie Manny Machado left plenty of hope for the future.

But as Machado -- whom Robinson praised for his natural ability and athleticism prior to the game -- rounded the bases following a go-ahead seventh-inning homer, there was only one thing a sold-out crowd of 46,311 at Camden Yards was concerned with, a feeling that's been foreign in recent years until this improbable 2012 season: the present.

Led by Machado's clutch knock, the Orioles edged the Red Sox, 4-3, on Saturday for a series victory that puts Baltimore in a first-place tie in the American League East with the Yankees losing in Toronto earlier in the day. The win also puts the O's on the cusp of the organization's first postseason berth in 15 years, its magic number down to two with four games to go.

"We had a lot of pressure for us to win with Brooks here," manager Buck Showalter said of a pregame ceremony and statue unveiling attended by numerous members of his club. "It was pretty apropos that the third baseman made a couple of really nice plays."

If these Orioles are feeling any pressure, they sure aren't showing it. Saturday's win improved the O's to 28-9 in one-run games this season and gave them their seventh series win in their last eight tries against the Red Sox. It also puts them in a potential clinching situation on their home turf Sunday afternoon with a chance to celebrate before flying to Tampa if they win and the Angels -- who were rained out in Texas -- lose the first game of a split doubleheader against the Rangers.

"It's like a quiet confidence, calmness," first baseman Mark Reynolds said of this Orioles group, a sum-of-their-parts bunch that has stuck together and proved skeptics wrong all season. "We're playing with house money. We're not supposed to be here. We're just a bunch of kids having fun."

And it was the young Machado -- who has less than two months of Major League experience -- leading the latest celebration, wiping off remnants of another shaving cream pie. While Machado admitted the homer was the biggest since he's been in Baltimore, he deflected flattery and comparisons to Robinson, telling reporters he is just trying to be himself.

"I don't think you can say enough about how he's handled himself," Chris Davis, who belted a two-run homer, said of Machado, who also went yard off Red Sox starter Felix Doubront. "Not only be able to take the emotion out of an at-bat, to stay even-keeled the whole game. ... He continues to impress. That's what we've come to expect."

The bar has been raised for the Orioles since this spring, when Showalter challenged his club to be more accountable and set its standards higher than anyone outside of the clubhouse believed was possible.

"That's why I have a great seat, and it's an honor to sit there and watch it and marvel at what these guys can do, especially when certain things start snowballing," Showalter said. "You create your karma. These guys have done a good job of doing that, where they're expecting good things to happen."

Following five innings of three-run ball from starter Steve Johnson, the O's received a solid outing from Tommy Hunter -- who went two scoreless innings -- and lefty Brian Matusz came on to record the first two outs of the eighth before leaving for right-hander Darren O'Day. Closer Jim Johnson extended his Major League lead in saves, picking up No. 49 as the O's improved to an incredible 72-0 this season when leading after seven innings.

"I'm just going out there trying to be competitive and these guys are making a lot of plays behind me," said Johnson, who was hit with a comebacker -- X-rays were negative -- and had a walking boot for his bruised right foot. "You saw it. [The defense] was pretty awesome."

In an increasing trend, the Orioles had several stellar plays in the field. Catcher Matt Wieters threw out Cody Ross trying to steal in the second inning, while Machado started an impressive inning-ending double play in the fourth. Reynolds, who has been fabulous since switching infield corners, grabbed a foul popup to end the top half of the fifth, falling over the tarp and coming up with the ball to a roar of applause.

"They just keep doing what they have to do," Red Sox manager Bobby Valentine said. "Buck knows what he's doing. Puts a defensive replacement [right fielder Endy Chavez] in, he makes a diving catch."

Chavez, who secured the second out in the ninth inning, came on to replace Davis, who homered in his third straight game with a two-run shot in the fourth inning. Davis crushed 1-0 curveball over the center-field wall, marking his 30th homer of the season and joining teammate Adam Jones (32) as the sixth pair of Orioles in team history to hit 30 or more homers.

"He's in a good place, and I think he's not assuming anything or taking anything for granted," Showalter said of Davis, who has stepped in to play outfield, designated hitter and even pitch this season.

"It's been a crazy year," Davis said. "It's been a lot of fun. I've got to give Buck credit for putting me in there every day and really sticking with me. When it gets bad, it's ugly. He's stuck me in there time and time again. It means a lot just to play every day and to contribute to being on a winning team. Words can't express it."

Machado, whom Reynolds joked doesn't know how he's just 20, also struggled to put his contributions in perspective.

"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 gonna try to go out there and give everything I can to try and help this team win."

Fellow rookie Johnson has also helped the Orioles' cause, and he was solid early before taking Dustin Pedroia's single off his foot in the fourth inning. Johnson allowed a two-run homer to Jarrod Saltalamacchia the following frame, and exited after putting two runners on in the sixth.

"It kind of threw me out of my groove a little bit," said Johnson of Pedroia's comebacker. "It did affect me, I was cutting the ball a lot. Just tried to do my best after that.

"You give up a couple runs and the game's tied and guys just keep coming back for you. [It's] just a good feeling and a good win."

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.