In the midst of a wild first inning that saw three straight singles capped by a Matt Wieters Earl Weaver Special off of Yankees starter David Phelps to give the Orioles a 4-0 lead, the sounds of Twisted Sister blasted over the public address system at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The crowd of 46,298 could feel every word: "We're not gonna take it! No, we ain't gonna take it! We're not gonna take it any more!" This, surely, was the magic that was meant to be on Cal Ripken Jr. statue night.
This was what needed to happen. The packed house was ready to explode with emotion at every appropriate moment. This is the first September game in Baltimore that has mattered since 1997. The fans knew it, too. There was no doubt that it would be a sellout. The legends were here. The good karma was here. And a win would put them back into first place - well, with a tie - in the American League East.
The train veered off the rails much later in the game. The familiar doubts crept back into all of our minds as Pedro Strop came on to relieve Randy Wolf with men on base, promptly giving up a base hit, back-to-back walks and another base hit. That escalated quickly. A 6-1 lead evaporated nearly in an instant, becoming a 6-6 tie that seemed like the ultimate disaster waiting to happen. Darren O'Day came on to get the last out - a first-and-third situation that was no sure thing - and I readied myself for a long night in the press box, perhaps a depressing night.
You can be forgiven for thinking that sort of thing after fourteen losing baseball seasons. Strop realized his manifest destiny as Armando Benitez. The Yankees were rallying, quieting the crowd in the Orioles' house. Of course this would happen! That's what is supposed to happen. They are the playoff-tested team with the $210 million payroll and the Orioles are the plucky upstarts, the team who has never been here before, the team that seems to be held together with duct tape and baling wire. They are not supposed to be here. They are not supposed to win games like this.
They don't care.
That 8th inning disaster for the Orioles turned into a wild romp in the bottom half of the inning. No matter that Joe Girardi called in David Robertson to hold the tie his hitters had patiently bought. The 2012 Orioles have other plans. The first batter of the inning was Adam Jones, who has done his share of hitting home runs to tie or give the Orioles a lead. They were looking lonely out in the bullpen after Strop's meltdown - so Adam gave them a souvenir.
Wieters followed with a little single off into right field. That gave us Mark Reynolds at the plate - Reynolds, who had already homered in the 5th inning, who'd hit 7 home runs in seven games. There could be only one result. As MASN's Gary Thorne likes to say: "GOOD BYE, HOME RUN!" 9-6 Orioles, just like that.
Girardi had seen enough. Robertson was sent packing without ever retiring a batter. Boone Logan came on to get a lefty-lefty matchup against Chris Davis. Oh, Joe, you're so cute with your platoon splits! Bringing on a lefty to face Davis is not a bad idea. Then you forget that sometimes Davis swings Mjolnir, for he is Thor, and he will muscle a pitch he didn't even get a great swing on and send it to the flag court or wherever it landed - I can't really say for sure because it was suddenly inexplicably dusty in the press box as that ball took flight.
The sellout crowd ate up every moment of this. Unprompted by any Jumbotron message, they cheered throughout the night. The 8th inning fury that sent the O's back into the lead was what they all knew would happen all along, it seemed. Disaster was averted, victory snatched from the jaws of painful defeat. This is not the kind of thing that happens to Orioles fans! Except this year, it is, and now the division is tied once again, and perhaps, dare we say, the Yankees are the snakebitten ones, the team that can't get out of its own way, the team that is headed for some kind of epic, Red Sox-like collapse.
Well, let's not get carried away here. It was still just one game. But at the same time, it was more than one game. This was the ultimate pressure cooker for an untested team and everyone except for Strop came through with flying colors. It was a test passed and a message sent - as if the team hasn't sent enough messages to the league this year that they mean business and that they aren't the Orioles of recent memory.
They're not gonna take it any more.
Jones, Wieters and Reynolds all had multi-hit games that included a home run. Reynolds hit two of them and walked once for good measure. Not to be lost in all of this excitement was the performance by Jason Hammel, who soldiered through five innings in his first start back from the disabled list - after being hit in the throwing elbow by a line drive from Robinson Cano to open up the fourth inning. Cano would score on a Curtis Granderson hit later in the inning, but that was all they would get off Hammel.
This could very well have been the greatest Orioles game of my lifetime. There is always that tendency to say that the most recent thing is the best. I try to avoid it. But man, if you weren't here, I really am sorry that you were not. This was an amazing night and the Orioles punched first, took the flurry of blows from the Yankees in response and still had enough left for the knockout punch.
They did it tonight, and they'll be back again tomorrow night to try to do it again, with sole possession of first place in the American League on the line. Wei-Yin Chen will take the mound for the O's and Phil Hughes will start for the Yankees.