Orioles 9, Athletics 5: A winning season at last

Endy Chavez, a .195 hitter thrust into the lineup by injuries, went 4-for-4 to lead the O's to their 82nd win. This is Birdland. (Photo by Jason O. Watson/Getty Images)

82 wins. It's finally happened.

The Baltimore Orioles, for the first time since 1997, will win more games than they lose.

Sure, over the past few weeks there wasn't much doubt that the O's would eventually reach this milestone victory. And we certainly hope that they don't plan to stop here, not when there are many more lofty goals in sight. Nobody's going to be popping champagne corks in the clubhouse or mobbing each other in an on-field pileup. But I still can't help but smile when I consider that the Orioles are officially a winning team for the first time since I was a high schooler. I'd almost forgotten what it was like to root for a team and be able to expect a win more often than not.

More impressively, the Birds notched this momentous win in an unfriendly ballpark that's been their own personal house of horrors for years. The O's entered the day a horrific 2-16 in their last 18 games at Oakland Coliseum, including a pair of frustrating losses over the weekend that left them on the brink of a three-game sweep. But thanks to offensive heroics from sources both familiar (Matt Wieters) and unexpected (Endy Chavez?!?), the Birds busted loose with the bats to come back from an early deficit.

O's fans certainly weren't thrilled that their hopes of averting a sweep rested on the shoulders of Randy Wolf, who was making his first start as an Oriole after three relief appearances. And Wolf didn't exactly do his best to lead the Birds to victory. He worked just four innings and put eight runners on base, but somewhat miraculously was able to hold the A's to just two runs (on Josh Reddick's first-inning homer) thanks to a slew of nifty escapes. Wolf stranded two runners on base in the first, one apiece in the second and third, and two more in the fourth thanks to a pair of strikeouts that ended the inning. It was clear that Wolf was living dangerously, and so Buck Showalter removed him after the fourth with a pitch count of 72.

The O's offense wasted little time in erasing the Athletics' early 2-0 lead. Matt Wieters got the ball rolling by smacking a solo homer in the second off A's starter Dan Straily. It was Matt's 20th of the year, making him the fifth Oriole this season to accomplish the feat. And he wasn't finished, either. After J.J. Hardy's game-tying infield single in the third, Wieters struck again in the fourth, blasting another prodigious roundtripper to deep right field to put the Birds on top. Wieters now has three multi-homer games this year.

The Orioles mounted a two-out rally in the fifth, putting three runners on base before Mark Reynolds worked a bases-loaded walk that chased Straily from the game. Still, the O's missed a chance to blow the game open; Manny Machado grounded out with the sacks packed to end the fifth, and Adam Jones struck out to waste another bases-loaded opportunity the very next inning. During that sixth inning, by the way, Athletics manager Bob Melvin used FOUR different relievers to face four consecutive batters. Somewhere, Joe Girardi is beaming with pride.

It was only a matter of time before the O's erupted for some pile-on runs, and it happened in the seventh against reliever Tyson Ross. Wieters and Reynolds began the inning with walks, and Machado laced an RBI double to plate one.

That brought up the ever-unpopular Endy Chavez, a hitter who wouldn't sniff the Orioles' starting lineup if not for injuries to about 8 other Orioles. Just the sight of Chavez's name in the O's lineup is enough to make fans grimace and flip the channel whenever he comes to bat. But wouldn't you know it, folks? Today, Endy Chavez had the game of his life. He was already 2-for-2 as he strode to the plate in the seventh...and he promptly made it 3-for-3, grounding a single up the middle that plated two more runs. We'll be hearing more from Endy in just a little bit.

Meanwhile, the Orioles' bullpen kept Oakland off the board for the middle innings. Tommy Hunter stranded two runners in a scoreless fifth, and Brian Matusz-- who has been a revelation as a reliever-- retired all six batters he faced in the sixth and seventh (and ultimately earned the win). Darren O'Day, however, had a misstep in the eighth, surrendering a two-run homer to Stephen Drew that cut the Orioles' lead to 7-4.

The O's got those two runs right back in the ninth with somebody named Jesse Chavez on the mound. The rally was sparked by-- you guessed it-- Endy Chavez, who decisively won the Battle of the Chavezes by roping a leadoff double. That capped an unbelievable 4-for-4 afternoon for Endy (who also drew a walk). I think that doubles his hit total for the season. I didn't look that up, but it feels more or less correct. Nice job, Chavez! Thanks for finally contributing.

Even Robert Andino got in on the fun with an RBI double, and he later scored on a Chris Davis single to make it 9-4. The O's were well on their way to a satisfying victory in the finale, but not before Pedro Strop suffered through another discouraging outing. The Birds' struggling setup man got two outs in the ninth but also allowed a walk, a pair of singles, and a run.

With two men aboard and the possible tying run on deck, Buck Showalter turned to closer Jim Johnson, who induced the final out on a Chris Carter grounder to short. JJ owes Strop a steak dinner for gifting him with a cheapie save chance. Or maybe Strop owes JJ a steak for cleaning up his mess. Either way, someone better be eating steak on someone else's dime.

There it is: win number 82. Before the season began, if you had told me that this would be the year that the O's would finally have a winning record, I would've thought you were talking nonsense. I was more pessimistic about the Orioles in spring training than I can ever remember being in past seasons. Looking at the threadbare roster, I just didn't see any reasonable way that the O's could have a good year. By all reports it was shaping up to be another lost, last-place season. Yet here we are-- it's the middle of September and the Orioles are 18 games over .500, just one game back in the AL East, and on track to make a postseason appearance.

It's simply incredible what this team has accomplished...and there's no letting up now. It's time for the Orioles to give ‘em hell, step on the accelerator for the final 16 games, and make this season truly special.

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