September 01, 2017

BALTIMORE (AP) It was just over a month ago when Dan Duquette had to make a decision that would steer the course of the Baltimore Orioles for this season and years to follow.

The underachieving Orioles entered the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline with a 50-54 record and trailed five teams for the second AL wild card. To many, the obvious move was to write off the season and nourish the team's thin minor league system by swapping veteran talent for prospects.

Instead, Duquette, Baltimore's executive vice president of baseball operations, traded for Tampa Bay shortstop Tim Beckham, declined offers to deal away standout closer Zach Britton and readied the Orioles for playoff push.

''You gotta try,'' Duquette declared, defending a maneuver that seemingly defied logic.

Well, here we are at the beginning of September, and surging Baltimore is making a serious bid to reach the postseason for the third time in four years. Although their seven-game winning streak ended Thursday night with an 11-8 loss to Toronto, the Orioles (68-66) began play Friday sitting just 3 + games behind the Yankees for the top AL wild card.

''We're in the fight,'' Duquette said. ''We're in a pennant race.''

On July 31, the mood in the clubhouse was tense.

''It was definitely a weird day,'' recalled reliever Brad Brach, one of several players rumored to be heading elsewhere. ''Everybody knew stuff was going on behind the scenes, but nobody knew exactly what was going to happen.''

Duquette received offers for Britton, but none that warranted shipping out a left-hander who at the time owned the AL record for consecutive converted saves.

''We had a particular idea how we could help our ball club, and that didn't materialize,'' Duquette said.

So Duquette kept Britton. And, days after acquiring starting pitcher Jeremy Hellickson from Philadelphia, Duquette snagged Beckham - the top pick in the 2008 draft - for a minor league pitcher.

Beckham has become a key figure in Baltimore's resurgence. He has a .394 batting average with the Orioles and is under team control for three more years. It's a deal that serves both the present and future.

''The addition of Beckham helped us address a key area,'' Duquette said. ''He caught fire with the bat and added an important element to the lineup as a leadoff hitter with speed.''

Hellickson is 2-2 with the Orioles, but he's enabled manager Buck Showalter to use a six-man rotation that's given developing starters Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman additional rest. Not only did the pitching improve, but Baltimore's power hitters found their stroke in August, hitting a major league record 57 home runs in the month.

''I knew that our club was capable of playing better baseball than we had played up to the trade deadline,'' Duquette said.

And now, instead of enduring the final two months of the season with a depleted roster, the Orioles are in the midst of a playoff run.

''We're in about as good a spot as you could hope for,'' designated hitter Mark Trumbo said. ''If you look back at that time period, a lot of people had a lot of different opinions of what we should do or could do. Obviously, Dan and company had a feeling that if we kept this gang together, with a nice addition of Tim, we could be a real threat in this race.''

And that is precisely what happened.

''It's a good feeling,'' Trumbo said. ''We're playing some really nice baseball, and you have to give some credit to the decisions that were made in late July.''

The immediate future also looks promising.

''The team is intact next year, too,'' Britton said. ''I always felt like, because of injuries and under performance, if we kept the team intact that next year we could make a really good run at it. It just so happens that the last few weeks we're playing like the team we're capable of being.''

On July 31, Tampa Bay had a three-game lead over Baltimore in the wild-card race. Now the Rays are under .500, and Beckham is playing for a team on a roll.

''It's been fun. I think it was a blessing to be a part of this club,'' he said. ''It's a club I want to be a part of. The end goal here is getting to the playoffs and the World Series.''


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