- Andrew Marchand, ESPNNewYork.com
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BALTIMORE -- There is a reason for the New York Yankees to be afraid. The orange tidal wave that made it feel like 1983 in these parts overwhelmed them on Thursday night. These Baltimore Orioles seem like a movie script team with their .248 hitting (since joining the O's) No. 3 batter Nate McLouth, their first baseman Roy Hobbs, I mean Mark Reynolds, and a pitching staff that has been glued together but is consistently effective.
It doesn't make any sense to say it -- it really doesn't -- but maybe the Orioles are just better than the Yankees. There aren't many, if any, tangible reasons to really believe the idea, but with less than a month left in this season, there is no reason not to either.
After 137 games, the Orioles are just as good as the Yankees. After their 10-6 win over the Bombers on Thursday at Camden Yards, the O's are again tied for first with New York in the AL East. After the playoff-like, back-and-forth game, both teams are 77 up and 60 down on the year with 25 games to go, including three more appetizing matchups this weekend to end the season series between the two clubs.
On Thursday, Buck Showalter's team made a statement with a feisty win to get the four-game showdown started. They were cruising, up five runs going into the eighth, and feeling good about their 60-0 record when leading after seven innings.
Then the Yankees, their experience coming to the fore, took advantage of Pedro Strop's wildness and ultimately tied the game with a two-run Ichiro Suzuki single to cap a five-run eighth.
It felt like it could be the curtain closer for Baltimore. It seemed the Orioles -- called more lucky than good most of this season -- would finally surrender to the big boys from the Bronx.
Instead, setup man David Robertson fell apart in the eighth, failing to close out an 0-2 advantage against Adam Jones. Two pitches later, Jones went yard and the place went wild as the Orioles, who slugged six homers on the night, beat the Yankees at their own game.
The place was filled with 46,298 mostly Orioles fans, which was a change from the norm at Camden, where Yankee fans often flock. The ballpark was packed on Thursday, in part because they dedicated a statue to Cal Ripken Jr. before the game and because this Oriole team may be the story of the year in baseball.
Yes, there were plenty of Ripken shirts in the stands commemorating the last time the Orioles were good -- the late 1990s. But the names of Nick Markakis, Adam Jones and even Manny Machado were in abundance on fans' backs as well.
As for Reynolds, they may have to skip the shirts and go straight to the statue. After Jones went yard, Reynolds nailed a two-run shot off Robertson. It was Reynolds' second of the night and eighth in his past seven games. He is leading this orange avalanche that could bury the Yankees in a one-game wild card lottery or worse. The Orioles -- 22-9 over their past 31 games -- may just be that team of destiny capable of sending this Yankee 25 into infamy: The club that blew the largest division lead (10 games on July 18) in the illustrious franchise's history.
"No, not at all," said Alex Rodriguez, when asked if the Yankees are in poor position with the momentum overwhelming. "I feel good where we are at. I think we are going to be fine."
Perhaps he's right. The Yankees have the advantage of experience. There are always questions about clubhouse climate, but the Bombers are too businesslike and experienced to panic. But if they lose, the narrative will become they are too old.
With 25 to go, the Yankees aren't in a crapshoot, like an ALDS best-of-five, but this is a small sample size and it's very conceivable that the younger, and perhaps hungrier, Orioles or Rays might wind up winning this sprint to the tape.
Over the next three days, the Yankees must figure out how to handle Reynolds -- like holding him to only one homer per game for starters. In his past three matchups against them, he has hit multiple long balls in each.
"He's an all-or-nothing guy, he has always been that way," Yankees catcher Russell Martin said of Reynolds. "If you leave a pitch in his happy zone, he's going to hit it."
In the past two seasons, Reynolds has been happy, happy, joy, joy against the Bombers. In fact, no player has hit the Yankees harder, according to ESPN Stats & Information. He has nailed 12 homers and 27 RBIs in 112 at-bats spaced over 30 games.
On Thursday, the Yankees fought back, but Robertson made mistakes to Jones and Reynolds he had to answer for afterward.
"I made a few mistakes, and every mistake cost me," Robertson said.
Postgame, Yankees manager Joe Girardi stoically said this was one loss -- no bigger than any other. There is no doubt the manager believes it. The Yankees could go out on Friday night with Phil Hughes on the mound and be lights out, flipping this scintillating September story again.
But there is something about this Baltimore club that just might be special. There is a magic to a team with baseball's 19th-highest payroll ($81 million in total, which is less than CC Sabathia, Mark Teixeira, Derek Jeter and A-Rod combined) staring back at the big, bad team in pinstripes. It is unclear if the Bombers can stop either them or the Rays.
The Yankees are facing infamy. The Orioles seemingly have nothing to lose. And they may have more than luck on their side.
Here's a thought: Maybe the Yankees just aren't as good as the Orioles.