This is Baltimore Orioles baseball.
This is Seattle Mariners baseball.
Watching the last few innings of their game against Seattle, you knew how it would end: The Orioles would win. They'd wait out Felix Hernandez. They'd wait out Tom Wilhelmsen. They waited 18 innings to win on Tuesday and they'd wait as long as it took to win their 15th consecutive extra-innings game on Wednesday. Eventually, they'd run into a Mariners reliever who didn't have it. Or maybe they'd wait for the Mariners to make a mistake or Eric Wedge to make a dumb move or Jeff Reboulet to come off the bench and hit a home run.
You knew. You knew BECAUSE THE ORIOLES DON'T LOSE IN EXTRA INNINGS. GOT THAT? THE ORIOLES DO NOT LOSE IN EXTRA INNINGS. The game was over. It was just a matter of how the baseball gods wanted the O's to win on this night.
It didn't take 18 innings. Adam Jones belted a two-run home run off Josh Kinney in the 11th, off a "hit me hard, please" 3-2 hanging slider. It was Jones' 30th long one of the season, his fourth go-ahead home run in extra innings (no other player has more than two) and his sixth in the seventh inning or later (no other player has more than four). You don't have to call that clutch if you don't want to, but you can call it awesome.
As for the bottom of the 11th, the Mariners' first two hitters singled. I'll let Joe Sheehan take over from there:
First and second, no outs. Two pitches later you've given away the game. Hard to believe the Mariners haven't made the playoffs in 11 years.
— Joe Sheehan (@joe_sheehan) September 20, 2012
Joe wasn't quite accurate on the pitch count, but you get the idea.
Justin Smoak, displaying all the speed of a Molina, grounded into a 3-6-1 double play, pitcher Jim Johnson making a nice scoop to complete the play. Michael Saunders walked. Wedge then pinch-hit his best hitter, John Jaso. At least he managed to get him in the game this time; in Tuesday's loss he was outmaneuvered by Buck Showalter, pinch-hitting Jaso only to see Showalter bring in a lefty, which forced a pinch hitter for Jaso.
Trouble is, Jaso never got a chance to swing the bat. Saunders tried to steal on the first pitch. The Orioles saw it coming, as Johnson threw a high-and-away fastball, the perfect pitch for catcher Taylor Teagarden to gun down to second base. He nailed Saunders with a perfect throw right on the corner of the base.
Orioles baseball. Mariners baseball.
It wasn't necessarily the worst move to send Saunders, who had been 20-for-23 in steal attempts. Give credit to Showalter or Teagarden for reading the tea leaves, as Johnson normally throws his heavy sinker pitch after pitch.
* * * *
I'm jealous of Orioles fans right now. I want to be in your seat, rooting for a team I've suffered with for far too long, to keep doing the improbable, to keep winning games like this. There is nothing in sports more exciting than the daily adrenaline rush of pennant-race baseball, sweating through every pitch and sometimes forgetting to breathe. Orioles fans deserve this; there are high school seniors who had never seen the O's even experience a winning season until this year.
Earlier in the day, I wrote a post titled "It's just an Orioles kind of season." Indeed. I've never seen anything like this; and unless you were rooting for the 1949 Cleveland Indians -- who won 17 straight in extra innings -- neither have you.
The Yankees swept a doubleheader from the Blue Jays on Wednesday, leaving the Orioles a half-game behind their wealthy neighbors in the American League East. But the remaining schedule seems to slightly favor Baltimore: The O's have a day off on Thursday and then three at Boston, four against Toronto, three against Boston and three at Tampa Bay. The Yankees have one with Toronto, three against Oakland, three at Minnesota, four at Toronto and three against Boston.
When Bobby Thomson beat the Dodgers to win the pennant in 1951, Red Smith wrote, "Now it is done. Now the story ends. And there is no way to tell it. The art of fiction is dead. Reality has strangled invention." When Don Larsen pitched his perfect game in the 1956 World Series, Dick Young wrote one of the great first sentences in sports writing: "The imperfect man pitched the perfect game."
The Orioles' story in 2012 is far from its end, but that's how I feel about this group: The imperfect team has strangled invention.