Orioles’ 20-year-old Manny Machado was the star in last two wins over the Rays, leaving them alone at first in the AL East

The Baltimore Orioles haven’t had a winning season since 1997, which was also the last time they finished in first place in their division going 98-64.  After sweeping the third place Tampa Rays, the Orioles are now the sole leaders of the division with an 81-62 record.  Of course that could change if the Yankees beat the Red Sox Thursday night.  The series against their division rivals was important to the underdog Orioles, who are looking to take control of the AL East.

In the first game of the series, shortstop J. J. Hardy continued his hot streak homering two times, while knocking in five runs.  He kept the club alive after they lost their starter Jason Hammel (8-6), who left the game in the fourth inning with a right knee injury.  The win kept the O’s knotted up with the Yankees at 79-62.

“I got a couple pitches to hit and didn’t miss them,” said Hardy, whose fifth-inning hit was the first of three straight off reliever Burke Badenhop, with Wieters’ double off the center-field wall plating a pair of runs to extend the O’s lead to four.

Wednesday night brought more heroics to an unlikely but likely player in Manny Machado.  With the go ahead runner on second-base, Machado fielded a slow roller off the bat of Evan Longoria.  Recognizing he could not get Longoria, he faked his throw to first which caused pinch runner Rich Thompson to make a wild turn around third.  At that point the shortstop backed up the play at third and got the final out of the inning with a heads up play by the young third baseman.

”I was trying to get Evan out to be honest, but then when I came up I saw I had no chance,” Machado said. ”So I did a pump-fake and tried to deke the runner. It was just natural. I just came out and didn’t think about it.”

Machado also scored the winning run in the home half of the ninth inning after leading off with a single.  After being sacrificed to second by Robert Andino, Nate McLouth stepped up to the plate with the winning run in scoring position, sent a line drive to the right field wall, bringing home Machado for the win.

In the final game of the series, the Orioles needed to finish off the Rays to put them 4 games behind in the division and 3.5 games behind in the Wild Card.  Once again the rookie third-baseman stepped up, this time in the 14th inning of a 2-2 game.  After a two out walk to Adam Jones, Endy Chavez singled to left field setting the stage for Machado.  With a 3-0 count, the 20-year-old had the green light and sent fourth pitch of the at bat to left field bringing home Jones to complete the three game sweep against the Rays.  The win also snapped a 14 year losing season streak.

With 19 games to go, the club will be put to the test with a nine game road trip ahead of them.  The first six games will be on the West Coast in Oakland and Seattle.  The Orioles have been plagued with injuries all season and are a roster not filled with house hold names.  Manager Buck Showalter believes in his club, who are starting to believe in each other.

Notes:  Orioles start their nine game road trip Friday night against the Oakland Athletics at 10:05 p.m. ET.