BALTIMORE -- We can safely set aside any lingering suspicions that the Orioles' trip to the playoffs last October was a fluke, the product of an impossible-to-sustain record of success in one-run games (29-9) and extra-inning affairs (16-2). Any objective viewing of Thursday night's 5-4, 13-inning Orioles win over the Red Sox only reinforces that conclusion.
And despite the outcome, you can also conclude that rookie Sox reliever Alex Wilson, despite being beaten by a two-out, nobody-on rally, won wall-to-wall respect in the Sox clubhouse for holding the Orioles at bay as Boston's sixth pitcher of the night.
Wilson, just called up Thursday, pitched a scoreless 11th and 12th and had retired the first two batters of the 13th before walking Nick Markakis on a full count. Adam Jones lined a single to right, and Chris Davis followed with an opposite-field flare that fell well in front of Jonny Gomes in left.
The Orioles are legit. That country squire from western Massachusetts, Dan Duquette of Dalton, in his return from a decade-long exile from the big leagues, has assembled/inherited a formidable team, one that has legitimate aspirations of permanently realigning the balance of power in the American League East.
The Orioles have star power in Jones and Matt Wieters, the league's leading slugger in Davis, one of the best young players in the game in Manny Machado, a stone-cold closer in Jim Johnson, young power arms in the pipeline like Thursday night's starter, Kevin Gausman, the fourth player picked overall in the 2012 draft, and a manager, Buck Showalter, who is at the top of his game. Their bullpen, which was borderline sensational last season, has recently endured its share of problems, and couldn't hold a two-run lead against the Sox on Thursday night, but still can battle with the best of them.
The Sox did not have a hit after the seventh inning, and their only baserunner in that time was Jacoby Ellsbury, who reached on catcher's interference.
What that all means, of course, is that Boston's road back to contender status will have to pass through Baltimore, where the Orioles began the night as the only team in the AL East with a winning record against the Sox. Granted, they'd played just one three-game set before Thursday night, the Orioles taking two of three in Fenway Park back in April, when the Sox were still Papi-less.
But it's a fair guess that before the end of the season -- which closes with the Sox in Camden Yards for the final three games of 2013 -- we'll see more grueling contests like the one these teams waged for 13 innings Thursday.
The Orioles took a 3-0 lead against Sox starter Felix Doubront in the third. Danny Valencia led off with a home run. Ryan Flaherty flared a double to left, and scored on a broken-bat single by Machado, who then came around on two more singles, the last by Davis.
The Sox answered in the fourth with a thunderclap of a home run by David Ortiz, his 14th. That was followed by another home run by Mike Carp, who had just entered the game for Mike Napoli, who came out with what was described as an illness. Both came off Gausman, the only runs he would allow before departing with one out in the sixth.
The bottom of the Sox order generated the tying rally in the seventh. Singles by Daniel Nava, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and the struggling Will Middlebrooks loaded the bases. Stephen Drew, mired in a 5-for-31 slump, flied deep to center to bring home one run, and Jacoby Ellsbury barely beat out a double play to first to bring home the tying run.
Ellsbury then tried to steal second, but was gunned down by the gifted Wieters, ending a streak of 18 straight steals by the Sox center fielder.
He got another chance to run in the 10th, after reaching base when Wieters' glove made contact with his bat on his swing and he was awarded first base on catcher's interference. This time, Ellsbury was safe, and became the first Sox player since Tris Speaker to steal a base in at least six straight games. Speaker did it in eight straight in 1913. But Ellsbury was stranded on second when Darren O'Day struck out Shane Victorino.