Maybe it was the unseasonably cool late July weather in Camden Yards, where the temperature dipped to 64 degrees, or an energetic crowd that fueled some late-inning drama, but there was a very October-like feel to Tuesday night's game between the Angels and Baltimore Orioles.
Moments after Erick Aybar lined out to first with runners on second and third to end the top of the 12th inning, Manny Machado led off the bottom of the 12th by slamming Cory Rasmus' hanging curve into the left-field seats to give the Orioles a 7-6 walk-off victory.
Baltimore (59-46) improved to 12-3 in extra-inning games and maintained its 2 1/2-game lead over Toronto in the American League East. The Angels (63-42) fell 2 1/2 games behind Oakland in the AL West, but they hold the top wild-card spot, 6 1/2 games ahead of the Blue Jays.
And if these teams were to meet in a playoff series? Well, baseball could do a whole lot worse.
The Angels have a potent, star-studded offense led by Mike Trout, arguably the best all-around player in the game, and three-time National League most valuable player Albert Pujols.
The Orioles boast stars of their own, including Adam Jones and Nick Markakis, who homered Tuesday, Nelson Cruz, who has 29 homers and 75 runs batted in, and Machado, the smooth-fielding third baseman.
Both teams have capable rotations, but what could really add intrigue to a playoff series is the dominance of their bullpens, which was on display Tuesday night, when the relief corps turned a slugfest — the Orioles led, 6-5, through five innings — into a pitcher's duel.
Five Angels relievers — Mike Morin, Jason Grilli, Kevin Jepsen, Joe Smith and Rasmus — combined for six scoreless, two-hit innings before Rasmus slipped in the 12th, with Jepsen extending his scoreless innings streak to 16 and Smith extending his to 181/3. Smith has retired 31 consecutive right-handed batters.
Six Orioles relievers — Brad Brach, Brian Matusz, Tommy Hunter, Zach Britton, Darren O'Day and Ryan Webb — combined for seven one-run, five-hit innings, including two hitless innings by O'Day, who lowered his earned-run average to 1.13 in 46 games.
The Angels and Orioles have played four games this season; two have been decided by two runs, both 4-2 Orioles wins, and two were decided by one, a 3-2 Angels win and Baltimore's win Tuesday.
"These are the types of games you're going to see in October," said Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick, who had two hits and two runs. "You'll get the three best starting pitchers, and with these bullpens, you're not going to score a lot of runs. Games will be tight, and one little thing can change the game.
"It will come down to who gets it done with runners in scoring position, who makes the least amount of mistakes, who gets the timely hits."
The Angels used some hustle by Josh Hamilton, who had three hits, including his first homer since July2, and three RBIs, to tie the score, 6-6, in the seventh.
Trout was hit by a pitch with two outs, and Pujols singled to left. Baltimore Manager Buck Showalter summoned Matusz, the left-hander who held Hamilton hitless in 12 at-bats with eight strikeouts.
Hamilton hit a slow roller to shortstop J.J. Hardy, who started an underhand flip to second before realizing second baseman Ryan Flaherty, who was playing Hamilton to pull, wouldn't get to the bag.
Hardy fired to first, but not in time to catch Hamilton, whose infield single scored Trout. It took five innings before another run was scored.
"You're not going to match up head to head in tight games with teams with good bullpens unless you're able to get the outs yourself," Angels Manager Mike Scio-scia said. "And I think you saw that tonight."
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovannaCopyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times