In fact, the way that the O's have competed in this series served to underscore their progress. This was a point made by manager Buck Showalter in explaining his club's singular success at Yankee Stadium this season.
The Yankees had baseball's best record at home this season (51-30). There was only one AL team that had a winning record while visiting Yankee Stadium. That was the Orioles, who were 6-3. What happened?
It was simple, Showalter said. The Orioles pitched better at Yankee Stadium than they had in recent seasons. For the same reasons, the Orioles were able to set a Major League record for the best mark in one-run games (29-9). And the outgrowth of that improved pitching is on display in this series.
Every game in this series has been closely contested. These are two power-hitting clubs, the Yankees leading the Major Leagues in home runs, the Orioles finishing second. Two hitter-friendly ballparks involved in the series enhanced the expectations that larges bunches of runs could be scored.
Yet, for the most part, pitching has dominated this series. Ironically, the Orioles' two losses in this series centered around the Yankees scoring off Baltimore closer Jim Johnson, one of the best in the business this season, leading the Majors in saves with 51. But elsewhere, the Orioles pitching has more than held up its side of the bargain.
The Orioles haven't had anything resembling an inadequate performance from a starting pitcher. In fact, the Orioles starters have been closer to superb than competent. Joe Saunders was outstanding in keeping his team in Game 5 on Thursday night. There are no moral victories at this level, but the Orioles have proved here that their pitching is of true playoff caliber.
The level of this competition, combined with the effectiveness of Baltimore's pitching, suggests how far the Orioles have come. The competition between the Orioles and the Yankees, deadlocked for the moment, remains telling. Now, the two clubs are even once again at 2-2 in a best-of-five postseason series. What does it mean?
"You know, as good a team as they are, like I said, it's an honor to be in Game 5 with them," Showalter said. "You knew all along that the road to where we want to try to get is going to have to pass through there and here. They deserve to be playing, having the home-field advantage. You win 90-something games, you know. I don't get too over-analytical about it. We come and compete. Our team is a very easy team to trust. I don't think they don't take anything for granted, and I never try to state the obvious to them because they look at me like, 'Have you been watching?'"
"They've obviously done a good job over there," said Yankees manager Joe Girardi, after watching his club spend 4 hours, 31 minutes to score one run Thursday night.
The Orioles have convinced themselves of their quality, and they've put on a convincing demonstration for the Yankees, too. For anybody else who has been watching, this is a Baltimore club that is both talented and focused. After disposing of the defending AL champion Texas Rangers in a Wild Card playoff, the O's have taken the Yankees to the limit in this first full round of the postseason.
The Orioles aren't where they want to be yet, but they have already demonstrated in this postseason that their success is no fluke, no aberration, no matter of chance. This team is here on merit. And with one more victory it would be playing on merit, again, for the 2012 American League championship.