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October 13, 2012 at 1:55 pm ET
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Nats/O’s: 40 Miles & A World Apart

Well, O’s fans, it could be worse. We could be Nats fans.

Baltimore surprised baseball people every day of the 2012 season. Washington went from underdog to underachiever in a matter of months.

Neither the Nats nor the O’s were contenders last year. Washington crawled out of the last-place ooze and finished just under .500 in 2011, while Baltimore’s decay reached 13 seasons. But something happened on the Gladys Noon Spellman Parkway in 2012; the clubs at either end of the BW Corridor didn’t just improve. They contended.

I’ve spent the last three months reminding you that the Orioles spent most of this season upside down in run differential, but at or near the top of the American League East. That’s not supposed to happen, according to people who predict such things. Baltimore’s ascendance made no sense to anyone, but was generally declared “good for baseball.” Early Friday afternoon, I heard Colin Cowherd say he’d never heard of most of the Orioles.

Forty miles away, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper immediately thrust Washington into the lands of “Mike and Mike” and “Around the Horn.” In other words, into the vortex of horseshit analysis and endless windbaggery, where every conversation ends with the question, “But what does it mean to Rex Ryan and the Jets?” Strasburg’s innings limit and Harper’s bro-ness made vaulted the Nats into a new dimension.

So when the Orioles-Yankees ALDS went to a fifth game, it was cast as a gritty success story for the O’s. No matter what happens, people said, it’s been a great season for Baltimore.

But when the Nats-Cardinals series needed a do-or-die game, the Nats looked like chokers, even though St. Louis was defending a World Series title. And when the Nationals blew a six-run lead at home, they looked like even bigger chokers.

Yesterday, the can-do, little-guy Orioles pushed the $209 million Yankees to the brink of elimination and baseball tipped its hat. But when the overdog, nouveau riche Nationals blew a giant lead at home to the regal Cardinals, baseball pointed and laughed.

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