The Thursday Takeaway
During this magical season on the Beltway, it has been hard to decide which team is wearing more pixie dust—the Nationals, who most expected to contend but not to run away with the National League East, or the Orioles, who no one forecast to be anywhere near first place on Sept. 7. Now, Washington and Baltimore are engaged in a game of whatever you can do, I can do, too.

As of three days ago, only three teams had hit six home runs in a game this season. Then, the Nationals did it on Tuesday; and then, the Nationals did it again on Wednesday. So, naturally, the Orioles got in on the action in the first game of their four-game showdown with the Yankees, a 10-6 thriller that evened the teams’ records at 77-60.

More than 46,000 fans were on hand for Baltimore’s first significant September home game since the Clinton administration, and Camden Yards was a-rockin’. Matt Wieters kicked off the derby with a three-run blast, after David Phelps and the Yankees ignored Baltimore-area native Elaine Benes’ advice and came a-knockin’.

But lest you think Wieters, who has smacked four of his 19 homers this season against New York, is a certified Yankee killer, his teammate, Mark Reynolds, has turned destroying their pitching into an art form. The 29-year-old infielder has smacked eight home runs in the past seven days, and six of those eight have come in three separate multi-homer games against the Orioles’ main division rivals. No player had delivered three multi-homer efforts against the Yankees in a single season since Hank Greenberg in 1938—and Reynolds, who was responsible for one-third of Baltimore’s power output on Thursday, has done it within a single week.

Last year’s Red Sox killer, Robert Andino, Adam Jones, and Chris Davis supplied the rest of the home team’s yardwork, and their timing could not have been better. Buck Showalter’s bullpen, which had been stout throughout the summer and served as a driving force behind the team’s 24-7 record in one-run games, faltered in the top of the eighth. Randy Wolf and Pedro Strop were charged with five combined runs, as Strop’s ERA shot up from 1.83 to 2.14 before Darren O’Day was summoned to preserve the tie.

Fortunately for the Orioles, the offense played home-run derby to make everyone in attendance forget the bullpen’s rare meltdown. Jones led off the bottom half of the inning with a solo shot off David Robertson. Wieters followed with a single. And then, Reynolds, whose sixth-inning solo blast drove in Baltimore’s sixth run, cranked a two-run job off Robertson to break the game open at 9-6. Robertson had only allowed three home runs all season coming into this appearance, and before he knew it, that total had climbed to five.

Joe Girardi quickly brought lefty specialist Boone Logan out of the bullpen to face Davis and prevent any further bleeding. No such luck. That was all the Orioles would get, as Derek Lowe recorded three consecutive outs, but it was plenty for Jim Johnson to secure the division-tying 10-6 win.

In other positive news for the Orioles, Jason Hammel, thrown straight to the wolves after a 54-day stint on the disabled list to recover from knee surgery, avoided their wrath with five innings of one-run ball, giving up six hits and two walks while striking out six. And in a bizarre coincidence, it turns out the 30-year-old Hammel is no stranger to six-homer outputs for Baltimore: The last time the Orioles did it, he served up three of those gopher balls as the starting pitcher for the Rays.

With 25 games left on their schedule, including three more versus the Yankees this weekend, the Orioles hardly have time to savor Thursday’s victory. Tonight, they will send Wei-Yin Chen to the mound to face Phil Hughes and attempt to secure a series split (7:05 p.m. ET).

What to Watch for This Weekend

  • It’s 27 down, two to go for Stephen Strasburg, who the Nationals have announced will be shut down for the season after facing the Mets on Sept. 12. First, though, Strasburg will take on the Marlins for the third time in 32 days, and after tossing exactly six scoreless innings in each of his first three encounters with the Fish this season, the flame-throwing righty was knocked around for seven runs (five earned) on Aug. 28. Ozzie Guillen will counter with Jacob Turner, who was charged with five runs in as many innings versus Washington the next day. Bryce Harper took Turner deep twice on Aug. 29, and he’s enjoyed a 12-for-32 (.375 average) surge with three more big flies since then (Friday, 7:05 p.m. ET).
  • After suffering a sweep at the hands of the Angels earlier this week, the Athletics travel to Seattle, where they will run headfirst into Felix Hernandez. That means, to avoid their first four-game skid since an eight-game losing streak that spanned from May 22 through June 1, the A’s will need rookie A.J. Griffin to match King Felix zero-for-zero in the series opener. The 24-year-old righty has been remarkably reliable to date, becoming the first starting pitcher since 1918 to begin his career by allowing no more than three runs and no more than two walks in each of his first nine major-league starts. He’ll get his first look at the Mariners tonight (Friday, 10:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Giants lost two of three to the Diamondbacks, but the Dodgers fared no better against the Padres, and thus, the National League West hopefuls enter their showdown in San Francisco with the home team still enjoying a 4 ½-game lead. Josh Beckett, who tied a season-high with nine strikeouts in a win over Arizona last Saturday, will get his first taste of the Dodgers-Giants rivalry in game one, where he is set to tangle with Tim Lincecum.

    The last time Beckett faced the Giants was Aug. 13, 2005—when he was still a member of the Marlins—and there are two noteworthy facts stemming from that game. The first: Of the 15 players the Giants used that day, not a single one is currently in the majors. The second: If Don Mattingly opts to have Matt Treanor put down the signs for Beckett tonight, he will pitch to the same catcher as he did on that day, more than seven years ago (Friday, 10:15 p.m. ET).

  • Looking for the weekend’s best on-paper pitchers’ duel? Look no further than game two of the series between the Rangers and Rays at the Trop, where Yu Darvish is set to lock horns with David Price. The Texas northpaw outdueled James Shields in a 1-0 victory on Aug. 28, while the Tampa Bay southpaw endured his worst start of the season in Arlington a day earlier, mostly because he could not slow down the red-hot Adrian Beltre. Well, the Rangers’ third baseman is no cooler now than he was then—in fact, Beltre has hit a torrid .443 with 11 home runs in his last 15 games. He’s gone 8-for-23 lifetime against Price, including a homer and a double in their most recent meeting, and that matchup may decide the weekend series (Saturday, 7:10 p.m. ET).
  • The Tigers and Angels are still jockeying for playoff berths, and while Detroit has two options—the Central, where it trails the White Sox by a game, and the wild card, where it is 3 ½ games back—Anaheim, which is tied with the Tigers in the loss column but has one more victory, only has the latter. That means this weekend’s three-game series could prove pivotal for both sides, and it may well be decided in Sunday’s finale, which pits each team’s biggest deadline acquisition against the other’s. Neither has lived up to expectations yet, with Anibal Sanchez logging a 4.50 ERA and only 22 strikeouts in 40 innings for the Tigers, and Zack Greinke compiling a 4.36 ERA in his first eight starts for the Angels. The one that steps up on Sunday could vastly improve his team’s outlook going forward (Sunday, 3:35 p.m. ET).