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Mariners No Match For Whatever The F*** Is Powering The Orioles

this is Birdland
this is Birdland

I'm told it's a popular thing in other sports for teams to try to copy the model of the previous champion. When the New England Patriots were this whole NFL dynasty, other teams tried to do what they were doing. They might still be trying to do that, I don't know, I don't really understand football these days. This is why hockey fans loathe a successful team that plays the trap, because trap hockey is dull hockey and more of that style isn't in the best interests of the league. Maybe playing copycat isn't the best way to get your team to go where you'd like it to go, but if it worked once, who knows, maybe it'll work again. It's an experiment.

I really hope the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series. I really hope the Baltimore Orioles win the World Series, and other teams respond by trying to do what the Orioles have done. It's one thing to be the team that spends the most, or drafts the best, or trades the best, or focuses on undervalued skillsets, or whatever. It's quite another to be the 2012 Baltimore Orioles. This team doesn't count as proper science, because it can't be replicated.

GM: So, the Orioles won. We didn't. What can we learn?
Assistant: Well-
GM: First and foremost, we've focused too much on adding as much talent as possible.
GM: What we need is a roster that isn't actually very good at all.
GM: I mean, we don't want a bad roster.
GM: Nobody wants a bad roster.
GM: We just need to find the right mix so the team as a whole can overachieve.
Assistant: Your plan is to build a team that you hope will overachieve.
GM: The Orioles bottled lightning!
GM: We need to bottle lightning.
Assistant: This doesn't-
GM: I'm going to need you to go get some bottles.
Assistant: Nobody actually bottles lightning.

There's this perception that the Orioles played over their heads early on and have since gotten a lot better on talent. Indeed, the Orioles have improved, but they've completed five full months of regular-season baseball. In all five of those months, their actual winning percentage was higher than their run-differential winning percentage. So far in September they're about dead even, but September isn't finished. June and August were their wildest two months.

Make no mistake: there's not really a whole lot that's actually sustainable to this. People end up under the impression that a season is a big enough sample size, but it's really not. The length of the season is basically arbitrary and 162 is a fairly small number. Over several hundreds of games, the Orioles would regress, as their offense and pitching staff would cease to be so exceptionally clutch. Those one-run wins would balance out, those extra-inning wins would balance out, and whatever hidden edge the Orioles might have would be revealed to be far smaller than it seems to be at present.

But the Orioles aren't concerned about long-term sustainability, because they're just trying to win however they can win right now, every day. And even when you're aware of the unsustainability it can still feel like the Orioles are being powered by magic. Somehow this is a more satisfying explanation than statistical randomness. I guess numbers are cold and we want for our world to be warm and colorful, with magic in it. The Orioles lost Jason Hammel to injury, but whatever, no biggie. The Orioles lost Nick Markakis to injury, but whatever, no biggie. The Orioles have the best one-run-game record in baseball history. They've won 15 consecutive extra-inning baseball games. Last night they won in 18 innings because the Mariners went 0-for-17 with runners in scoring position, which was one of the worst performances ever. Tonight they won in 11 innings after starting Joe Saunders against Felix Hernandez, after scoring a runner from first on a single, after walking three Mariners in the bottom of the tenth. An errant pickoff throw that would've put a Mariners runner in scoring position bounced off the Mariners' first-base coach and kept the runner on first. The Orioles do not possess the gift of good fortune. They've just gotten a lot of it along the way to postseason eligibility.

After the Mariners failed to win in the bottom of the tenth, the Orioles surged ahead in the top of the 11th. Josh Kinney got Adam Jones to swing through a 3-and-1 slider. Josh Kinney didn't get Adam Jones to swing through a 3-and-2 slider that Kinney left floating, up. Jones homered to turn 1-1 into 3-1, and just to drive the point home, a few pitches later Jesus Montero caught a low curveball in the throat. The Orioles had nothing to do with it; it was a Mariner who threw the curveball, so it was a Mariner who hurt his own teammate's neck. The Orioles have a way of making other teams feel like they're beating themselves. It makes a hell of a lot more sense than having been beaten by the Orioles. If you can't tell I'm having trouble figuring out how this is our reality. The Orioles aren't magic, because there isn't magic. The Orioles might be the closest thing to magic that exists, aside from seedless watermelon on a hot day, and sour beer.

There are two silver linings to the Mariners having just gotten swept. One is that they got swept by the Orioles, and apparently teams are just helpless against the Orioles for reasons that no one can understand. This is a thing that happens now. The second silver lining is that the Orioles' playoff odds improved, hurting the Angels. See, the Mariners very successfully played spoiler. They just didn't play spoiler against the team they were directly playing.

You might remember that this was a Felix Hernandez start, and at least Felix was terrific. He snapped his skid of lackluster performances, and while he didn't win or get any run support, that just doesn't feel as devastating as it used to. I don't get irritated anymore when loaves of bread develop mold before I'm finished with them. The first time it was like, what the hell, that sucks, this bread is no good now, but now it's like, yeah, that happens to bread, you should probably just expect it. A difference is that I could choose to eat the bread faster if I wanted. Felix can't make the hitters hit. But in the end it's the same idea because I still don't eat my bread very fast.

The first batter of the game hit a ball sharply back up the middle, and the fourth batter of the game lined out to short. In the beginning, I wasn't sure if this would be another game where Felix allowed too much good contact. Things got much better from there, and even the Orioles' hits mostly came on quality pitches. In the fourth, Mark Reynolds batted with a runner on first and he scored him with a single. That came on a low 3-and-2 changeup on the border of the strike zone, and Reynolds was off balance as he swung. He's just a strong man who got the ball to the outfield, but Felix didn't do anything wrong.

The numbers are fantastic, even against a lineup with Endy Chavez first, Nate McLouth third, and Taylor Teagarden ninth. Of 103 Felix pitches, 69 were strikes. Of those, 18 were swinging strikes, and of the Orioles' balls in play, 15 of 21 were grounders. I read somewhere that the Mariners weren't worried about anything after Felix's latest struggle. They figured he was healthy and throwing good stuff, and just a few too many pitches were catching the plate. It looks like Felix just got back on track, and that's always reassuring, even in a season that died so long ago there are plants growing out of it.

Tom Wilhelmsen was good and Josh Kinney made a mistake. Defensively, Brendan Ryan was amazing. Offensively, Brendan Ryan wasn't amazing, and neither was anyone else. Franklin Gutierrez cleared the left-center power alley when Joe Saunders threw him a fastball down the middle, but Gutierrez also popped out in the tenth with the bases loaded. Michael Saunders singled once and walked twice, but he ended the game getting thrown out trying to steal second with John Jaso at the plate. Whenever a game ends with a runner caught stealing, the immediate response is that the runner shouldn't have been trying to steal. And, had Saunders stolen the base successfully, the Orioles might've walked Jaso and gone after the inferior hitter after him. But then the tying run would've been on second and the winning run would've been on first, and the next hitter might've been Eric Thames. I don't think it was a horrible idea to run; it worked out horribly. I think few things that happen in baseball are horrible ideas, because baseball is a living for these people and they try not to have ideas that are horrible.

Another point of controversy is that Jaso didn't pinch-hit until the 11th. In the tenth, the Mariners got their leadoff hitter on, then Miguel Olivo faced a righty, Trayvon Robinson faced a righty, Mike Carp faced a lefty, Dustin Ackley faced a lefty, and Franklin Gutierrez faced a righty. Eric Wedge's explanation was that he didn't want to use Jaso as long as the Orioles had a lefty warming or pitching, because platoon splits are important. That doesn't explain why Mike Carp faced a lefty. That doesn't explain why Franklin Gutierrez faced a righty after the lefty Brian Matusz had been removed. That also doesn't explain why Jaso didn't pinch-hit for Justin Smoak in the 11th, although Smoak has generated decent results lately and he's a switch-hitter. Ultimately, it's odd that the Mariners lost an 11-inning game in September with John Jaso collecting zero official plate appearances. I would care about this a lot more if I cared about the Mariners winning a lot more. As is, I understand the argument but I just can't get too worked up about it. Oh no, the Mariners lost. Big deal, I saw the Mariners lose at one in the morning on the same day. The Mariners have lost a lot.

Now the Mariners will have Thursday off, which they deserve after playing 29 innings in about 27 hours. It didn't take 27 hours to play 29 innings, there was a big break in between innings 18 and 19. Do you even know baseball?