MINNEAPOLIS—Despite their first four-game sweep in more than a year, one that culminated with Thursday's 6-1 victory against the reeling Minnesota Twins, the Orioles seem to understand life isn't about to get any easier as they return home Friday.
They're scheduled to play five games in four days against the mighty New York Yankees in a series that might be interrupted by Hurricane Irene's rampage.
They'll also be dealing with another type of storm, a swirling, emotional one that struck in the middle of Wednesday's game when news broke that MASN broadcaster, former Orioles pitching great and team executive Mike Flanagan had died -- and one that is sure to resurface again Friday as the city collectively mourns the loss of one of its favorite sons at Camden Yards.
"That's the tough part. I have known Flanagan for as long as I have been here. You hear something like that, it's devastating. It is tough to keep your focus," Orioles right fielder Nick Markakis said. "But we know he is in a better place. We know he is watching over us, and that's pretty much all you can do. It happened, and he is in a better place now. He's up there watching us. That's for sure."
After winning their third straight game Wednesday at Target Field, the Orioles had to complete a quick turnaround with heavy hearts Thursday afternoon. With a solid performance from starter Jo-Jo Reyes and a key three-run homer from Mark Reynolds, the Orioles captured their first four-game sweep since beating the Rangers in Texas on July 8-11, 2010, three weeks before manager Buck Showalter took over the club.
This one had so much more meaning.
"Today was a tough day for everybody. I think it was almost a little bit of a haven for everybody to get out there on the field and play a game as quickly as we had to," Showalter said. "I'm sure there will be some reflective moments between here and Baltimore, especially when we get closer to the ballpark, where we are so used to seeing Mike every day."
It also had a little historical significance. The Orioles (51-77) had never swept the Twins in a four-game series in Minnesota.
This, however, is a vastly different Twins team from the one that won the American League Central in 2010. Because of a rash of injuries that has forced the organization to use the disabled list 24 times -- including Thursday, when starter Francisco Liriano lasted just two innings and later was placed on the DL with a strained left shoulder -- the Twins (55-75) have won just five of 22 games in August and have dropped 13 of their past 15 at home.
"We were fortunate. We caught the Twins when they were down a little bit and Liriano had to come out of the game. It was kind of the perfect storm for us," Showalter said. "We were fortunate, but we took advantage of it. There have been a few times this year we haven't been able to do that."
These Orioles are used to being on the other side of the beatdowns -- they headed into Minnesota 1-5 on this road trip, including five straight losses in which they allowed a total of 38 runs. Against the Twins, they gave up one run each in four games, with Reyes (7-10) turning in the Orioles' third straight quality start, something that hasn't happened since mid-May.
Reyes, claimed off waivers from the Toronto Blue Jays this month, evened his Orioles record at 2-2 by scattering five hits and four walks and striking out three over six innings. He gave up a lone run in the third on a double by Justin Morneau.
"It wasn't my best outing, but I was able to get through six and not have to use the bullpen right away," said Reyes, who threw 107 pitches, his most since July 8. "My body doesn't feel as great as it has in the past, battling back spasms this past week. I wasn't able to do any running, any kind of workouts, so I was feeling kind of weak out there."
He lasted long enough to hand the ball to the bullpen for three scoreless innings. Meanwhile, the Orioles offense hammered Twins reliever Anthony Swarzak (3-4) for five runs and eight hits in 31/3 innings.
"I think this was big because of the way the road trip started," said catcher Craig Tatum, who had a two-run double against Swarzak in the sixth. "I thought we played well in Oakland, we just didn't win. We won once. And then we went to Anaheim, we let that one game get away from us and then had a disaster the next day. So to come in here and win four games and pitch the way we did, it's big. Anything for a little morale."
There were other bright spots for the Orioles.
Rookie Matt Angle picked up his first big league hit, a bunt single in the fifth, after beginning his career 0-for-13. Nolan Reimold, Vladimir Guerrero and Ryan Adams each had two hits, and Reynolds' 389-foot blast in the seventh put the game away. It was his 150th career homer and 29th of the year -- and it came at a great time for a club that has been dealing with issues beyond wins and losses.
"When you get on the field, a lot of stuff goes away. A lot of problems, a lot of things you have off the field kind of go away, and you kind of concentrate on baseball for a couple hours," Reynolds said. "I'm sure there'll be a lot of guys reflecting and looking back on the flight home. And then [Friday], we got another game and we'll go out and concentrate on baseball for a couple more hours."
The Yankees will be waiting for them. Maybe a hurricane, too.
And almost certainly there will be bubbling-at-the-surface emotions in what has become a terribly difficult season.
"We're looking forward to trying to finish up strong and get some positive feelings about things," Showalter said. "I want these guys to feel good about the effort they are putting into it. Sooner or later, the baseball gods are going to let you up for air."
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