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There’ll Be Nights Like This

Aaron Hicks tries to catch a triple by Freddie Freeman
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

The Monday crowd at Camden Yards was the best that anybody could remember seeing on the first day of the workweek in a long, long time. There's a novel, glamorous opponent in the Los Angeles Dodgers to thank for that, partially, but fans of the home team also had plenty of reason to make noise about their 57-35 Orioles. Over the past two years, Baltimore has transformed from a team with barely any talent that felt worthy of the Majors into one with a young and fierce batting order reinforced by a couple of late-game arms that know how to protect a lead. Coming into this game they'd won eight in a row, and they were riding the high of a tense and thrilling home weekend against the Marlins that saw them win on Saturday with a go-ahead rally in the seventh, then on Sunday by getting Luis Arráez for the final out with the tying run on second.

The first half of Monday's game was equally charmed. Ryans O'Hearn and Mountcastle, hitting back-to-back in the order, helped get a run across in the first. A triple from 22-year-old Gunnar Henderson made it 3-0 in the second. Adley Rutschman homered from the left side for a 4-1 lead after five. But everything turned in the top of the sixth.

The Orioles have managed to hit on two shutdown relievers in the out-of-nowhere setup man Yennier Canó and the out-of-somewhere closer Félix Bautista, both of whom were all-stars. But getting to them is still somewhat of an adventure. Grayson Rodriguez returned from Triple-A to start his first Major League game since May, and after five strong innings he faltered by allowing a triple, an RBI single, and a walk. He was replaced by nondescript middle reliever Bryan Baker, who induced two flyouts to keep the lead 4-2, with runners in the corners, two outs, and Jason Heyward at the plate.

The former struggling Cub who's steadied himself in L.A. looked at strikes one and two but stayed patient and got his reward. With the O's one pitch away from getting out of the jam, and the crowd on its feet and making noise before every delivery, Heyward looked at ball one, fouled a pitch off, and then watched three more miss the plate to take his place among the loaded bases.

Chris Taylor was decidedly less chill. He fouled off Baker's first, second, third, and fourth pitches to once again rile up the fans willing for one more strike. (Rodriguez, too, couldn't stay still in the dugout.) Baker threw the fifth pitch high and outside, but Taylor still got hold of it. As that fastball traveled over the outfield it sounded like a vacuum had sucked the home fans' cheers out of the ballpark, as they were hastily replaced with Dodger joy. It landed deep over the wall in left center, crushing the enthusiasm of the attendees in orange while giving voice to the outsiders in blue. Taylor's 0-2 grand slam would hold up as the final runs of this Dodgers victory.

It's a blessing and a curse that the Orioles are now expected to win these kinds of games, against these kinds of opponents. It's good to be good. But it hurts more to lose. The worst feelings in baseball are not the dull pain of a 110-loss season but the sharp, stabbing misery of evaporating triumph. In a cutthroat AL East, with more hoops to jump through to get to the World Series than ever before, each step forward also brings them closer to heartbreak. It's fun to root for the Orioles right now, but it's not a real fandom until they let you down.

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