Saunders Pitches Gem & Helps O’s in Toronto; Believing…

Wow, it is an amazing time to be a baseball fan here in the region.

If you told me in March that that the Orioles would be contenders and would be a game out of the American League East after Labor Day, I would have laughed you out of a room.

I – and many others – was against Major League Baseball instituting a second wild card. I even didn’t consider the Orioles in the whole playoff conversation; however, the games aren’t played on paper … but in reality.

The Baltimore Orioles won their 75th game of the season, defeating the Toronto Blue Jays, 4-0. Pitcher Joe Saunders – who got roughed up in his first start as an Oriole – came through big time on Labor Day as he carried a perfect game into the sixth inning.

Saunders (1-1) won the game and the bullpen, most notably Luis Ayala – who avoided disaster by not allowing the Jays to score with the bases loaded during the seventh inning.

J.J. Hardy plated in two runs, and Nick Markakis along with Nate McLouth drove in a run each.

J.A. Happ (3-2), who started for the Jays on the mound, took the loss.

At this point, the Orioles are in the driver’s seat and can either sink or swim. They have gone 8-2 in their last ten games and obviously every game is a must win at this point. The Orioles still have the second wild card in hand, but Oakland has been red hot and Tampa, Detroit, along with the Los Angeles Angels are lurking not too far behind.

A lot of pundits have wondered how in the world Baltimore could possibly be winning all these games. At least within the past month, it’s been all pitching – both the starters and bullpen. They are keeping the Orioles afloat and in the divisional race.

As long as the Orioles can beat who they need to beat, they’ll find a way into October. The stretch for Baltimore isn’t as brutal as I thought it might be; however, they have two left against the struggling Jays, and then have a big four-game weekend series against the Yankees, and they also have the Rays, followed by the Athletics on the road, plus the improved Mariners.

With the Yankees struggling and seemingly on the ropes, the Orioles could head into the next homestand a game up on them.

Seemingly after what the Orioles did this weekend in New York, anything is possible.

I have a feeling the 2012 will have quite an exciting ending. I’m still cautiously optimistic about the Orioles; however, as the days go by, I see October baseball on the horizon.

I was a college student back in 1997, when the Orioles had their last winning season. If you told me back then it would be another 15 years before they played a meaningful game in September, I would not have believed you.

Now, the waiting may be over. We’ll learn a lot in the next 28 games.

Enjoy the run that the Orioles are on. There’s no way of knowing if they can sustain this year after year, or if this season is just a fluke.