Through Wednesday, the revamped relief corps ranked fifth in baseball in bullpen ERA, up from 27th in 2011.
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Aside from the bullpen, the Orioles have often relied on inspired moments from players they pulled off the scrap heaps of other franchises. There's 30-year-old infielder Omar Quintanilla, whose three home runs for the Orioles match his previous career total with three teams. There's back-up catcher Taylor Teagarden, who through Friday only has five hits all year but won games with two of them and drove in runs with two others. There was outfielder Steve Pearce, who was around for less than two months but drove in five runs in one game and all three runs in a one-run victory in another.
"This season, we've definitely seen something new every day," Johnson said. "It always seems like there's something special about to happen. That's part of why this team has confidence."
The club's best starter, Wei-Yin Chen, was a semi-obscure pick-up from Taiwan, overshadowed by Japanese sensation Yu Darvish (whose ERA for the Texas Rangers was 53 points higher than Chen's through Wednesday). And the Orioles received a run of strong starts from Miguel Gonzalez, who could never crack the majors in seven years with two other franchises.
Showalter, managing with his fourth franchise and tinted red by so many days in the sun, isn't sure if this team reminds him of any other. He sees a group of similar personalities, with little emotional volatility or tolerance for divas. "I like the players," he said in his small-town Florida drawl. "They're guys you'd like to hang out with every day, in the offseason. They're just good people. If somebody came in here who didn't fit the mold, they'd bury the poor guy."
These Orioles have little patience for the idea that they're some cute collection of novices, oddities and reclamation projects.
"I think we expected to be in this position, just as a club, to be in contention for the playoffs," said Davis, a former top prospect discarded by the Rangers. "I don't know if a lot of other people did. But as far as outside expectations are concerned, I don't think we have much use for them."
Many fans say they'll be satisfied with a winning record, playoffs or no. Not the players.
Jones, the All-Star center fielder, sounded positively grouchy at the suggestion. "You only get remembered if you win a ring," he said in a clipped tone, barely staring up from his iPad. "Besides that, you're just another player. I don't aim to be just another player."
Said Showalter: "People keep talking about the wild card. Heck, we're trying to catch the Yankees."
At that moment, he glanced up at the television in his office, where the division-leading New York nemesis was playing the Toronto Blue Jays.
In a sure sign that the playoffs now feel like a real beacon, the players have also become eager scoreboard watchers.
"How'd the Blue Jays take the lead?" asked third baseman Mark Reynolds as he bounced into the clubhouse a few moments later.
"Ohhhh!" catcher Matt Wieters yelped, as he looked up from a game of cards to see a ball bounce the Yankees' way.
The small crowds at recent home games have been one mild disappointment in a season full of pleasant surprises. Though up about 4,000 per game from 2011, crowds averaged less than 21,000 in August, down from a peak of more than 32,000 in June.
"It's a little frustrating," Davis said. "I always hear about how long people have waited for a winning team. I would think as a fan, it's something that you'd want to witness. Whether they think it's a fluke or it's not going to pan out, the team is winning right now, and we deserve their support."
Kurkjian was "incredulous" when he showed up for Wednesday's game against the contending Chicago White Sox and saw only 13,098 people in the stands. "I am confused, because I've always told people what a great baseball town Baltimore can be," he said. "I understand why people might have stayed away, but it's time to come back."
Orioles players and officials have grumbled about the set-up for the Grand Prix of Baltimore, which has closed nearby roads and, they believe, dampened walk-up attendance over the last week.
Waiting along Eutaw Street for Wednesday's game, father and son Loyal and Scott Hartmann offered a broader explanation.
The Canton residents compared the Orioles to a restaurant that has served lousy food for years and hires a big-name chef, expecting people to flock back immediately.
"It doesn't matter," said Scott Hartmann, who attends 20-30 games a year. "Because it's been too long."
As a die-hard, however, he's loving every magic minute. "There's really no rhyme or reason to why this happening," he said. "In fact, I'm still waiting for it to blow up. But this is why baseball is such a great game."