BALTIMORE -- One year ago Friday in an epic Game 162, the Orioles recorded a 4-3 walk-off victory vs. the Red Sox and the Rays pulled out a stunning come-from-behind win against the Yankees to punch their playoff ticket and end Boston's season.
"End of season like this, [to] make Boston go home sad, crying, I'll take it all day," said second baseman Robert Andino, who drove home the game-winning run.
This year, the Orioles have a magic number of four to clinch an American League Wild Card spot and the Red Sox in the spoiler role. So did playing those intense games last September help his club prepare for this season's homestretch? Manager Buck Showalter wasn't sure.
"I can't say it didn't help," Showalter said. "It does. You create your own intensity, and this is a self-starter group. ... I think, once again, we fed off the emotions of our fans, too. We kind of fed off of them, and as much as we talked about the integrity of the schedule and the competition and how people -- not only your fans, but other clubs -- depend on you to put together [a representative lineup]."
The Orioles went 15-13 last September and Showalter preached accountability and exceeded expectation this spring, a mantra that has helped the gritty club play to an 89-67 record entering Friday, one game behind the AL East-leading Yankees.
"[Showalter] obviously believes in us and I think that was evident at the end of last season," outfielder Chris Davis said. "We weren't playing for anything, but it still meant a lot to us to go out there and be able to win. And I think he appreciated that we played hard all the way to the end of the season, and it showed up this year."
Hammel's next step to come at instructional league
BALTIMORE -- Pitcher Jason Hammel, who has been sidelined with right knee discomfort, threw another bullpen session Friday afternoon and will throw a simulated game at the fall instructional league early next week.
"It would be better in that environment in Sarasota, [Fla.], where they can get the players and be more realistic about it," manager Buck Showalter said of the plan for Hammel, which is contingent on him feeling OK on Saturday. "We'll have a better feel tomorrow and see how he feels after coming in and having that strain at that level today. Tentatively we're thinking Monday or Tuesday. I believe they're thinking about the [simulated] game where we can control the environment of that game, which is important."
Hammel threw a 35-pitch bullpen session on Tuesday, his first time off a regular mound, and was encouraged with that how session went. The 30-year-old has been wearing a knee brace, which he joked is his best Dan Marino impression, and has responded favorably with it so far.
Showalter didn't eliminate the possibility that Hammel could pitch in a postseason game even if he doesn't appear in another regular-season game.
"If he comes through that with what we're probably going to do, expose him to, then it's more of a reality," Showalter said. "[Pitching coach Rick Adair] and I are talking about the equivalent of three [innings] today, so you'll probably see between four and six. He's not so far removed from arm strength and everything that it shouldn't be an issue."
The team's best starter when healthy, Hammel aggravated his surgically repaired knee in his second start back from the disabled list on Sept. 11. He is 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts despite being hampered by knee issues the past three months.
Reimold hopes to be ready for Spring Training
BALTIMORE -- Nolan Reimold was in the Orioles' clubhouse Friday afternoon, and the outfielder spoke with reporters for the first time since undergoing season-ending neck surgery at the end of June.
"I think it will be pretty regular," Reimold said of his offseason. "I went up here to see the surgeon, got some X-rays. The bone is fusing together, but it's not quite totally done. So once that's totally fused, he said he would clear me to do normal activities."
Reimold, who started in left field on Opening Day and hopes to be ready for Spring Training, hit .313 with five homers, 10 RBIs and a .627 slugging percentage in 67 at-bats before hitting the disabled list at the end of April. His surgery was performed by neurosurgeon Dr. Ziya Gokaslan at Johns Hopkins Hospital and involved removing the herniated disk and fusing two vertebrae together to make the area stronger than it had been even when he was healthy.
"My neck feels pretty good, my arm feels pretty good, the strength is still coming back, so at the rate it's going, I feel pretty confident I'll be ready to go for Spring Training," Reimold said.
Reimold, who had several epidural injections before deciding to undergo surgery, said the numbness in his arm is still "patchy" but clearing up.
"They said the strength and feeling are two separate things that would come back at separate times," said the 28-year-old. "They even said if the feeling never comes back, it's fine as long as the strength comes back."
Reimold has been rehabbing at his home in Florida and said he would like to travel with the team if it reaches the postseason. The Orioles entered Friday's game a game back of the Yankees in the American League East and in possession of one of two AL Wild Card spots.
Asked what it's like to watch from afar, Reimold said it's been bittersweet.
"It's hard to be away, especially when the team is having so much success. You want to be a part of it," Reimold said, "but I'm happy for the guys, happy for the team, the organization and the fans that they were able to be such a good team this year and prove everybody wrong. Just hopefully they keep it going, finish strong and get in the playoffs."
Once Reimold is cleared to fully resume activities, he will get back in baseball shape, but in the meantime, he has been working out and lifting lighter weights.
"I wanted to thank [Orioles managing partner] Mr. [Peter] Angelos publicly," Reimold said. "He stepped in and made sure I got the best doctors, the best surgeons, the best care and everything taken care of for me. So I'm very appreciative to him and his family, and also to [special assistant Brady Anderson], because Brady is the one who went to him and told him my situation and he stepped in and got me the best care. So I wanted to thank him."
Lew Ford was available to play off the bench Friday after an MRI on his hip came back negative. He's dealing with a bone bruise.
J.J. Hardy had the hangnail on his right middle finger removed, according to Showalter.
Nick Markakis will have the pins removed from his left thumb early next week when the team goes to St. Petersburg and will have more of a timeline of when he can return. Wilson Betemit will also be seen by the hand specialist during the Rays series and isn't ruling out a possible return if the team goes deep into the postseason.
Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.