For much of the 10 seasons since the Nationals moved to Washington, the regional rivalry of the Nats and Orioles has generally featured little more than a short commute between ballparks.
As recently as three years ago, both teams were perennially among the worst in baseball. And by the time they faced each other in interleague play, each was looking more towards the offseason than the playoffs.
In 2012 that all changed. Both the Nationals and Orioles became postseason contenders with marketable stars and packed stadiums on a nightly basis. And now, in 2014, with both teams continuing to play well, their matchups have become as entertaining as any interleague duel in baseball.
This week was supposed to be a four-game series, two in D.C. and two at Camden Yards in Baltimore. Rain shortened it to three, but you can bet their makeup game on Aug. 4 will be an anticipated affair.
"Everyone kept saying it was a good series, very well put together," Thursday's losing pitcher Gio Gonzalez said. "It showed that there’s a lot of hope in the Beltway series. They look good, we look good. It was just a fun game all around. Everyone had some fun and we all got some smiles out of it."
The Nationals fell for the second time in three games to the Orioles on Thursday night, taking a tough 4-3 loss thanks to blown opportunities at the plate and a costly mistake by Ian Desmond on defense. The first game of the series saw the Orioles lose the lead in the sixth inning, then explode in the 11th to win 8-2. The second installment was a Nationals win, a 6-2 final score that featured three home runs by Washington.
Each game was entertaining in its own right and left both teams sharing a mutual respect for each other.
“I think it’s good for the DMV area that both teams are playing quite well, especially this late into the season," Orioles outfielder Adam Jones said. "We’re both first place in our respective divisions. That’s a good team. That’s a great pitching staff on top of baseball, if not the top. The bullpen’s electric. That’s a very good team. You raise the competition."
"Tight games. They got us late in the first one, but good games to be a part of," Matt Williams said. "We wish we could’ve won two of the three, but we’ll get them again August 4th and see what we can do."
The series also featured several moments that for the first time in the matchup's 10-year existence made it feel like a rivalry. First, there were manager Buck Showalter's comments about Orioles owner Peter Angelos being "kind enough to let [Washington] have a team." Then there was Bryce Harper getting booed during his first at-bats in Baltimore, a gesture that has become rare these days. And then, with Jayson Werth up in the top of the ninth on Thursday, a rousing chant of 'Werthless' bursted out among Orioles fans as he grounded out to end the game.
That's three shots taken by the Orioles, but there's no question the team itself sees the Nats as a formidable foe.
"That's a good club. I'm glad they're somebody else's problem," Showalter said.
"We love it," Jones said. "We love the competition, and we love the fact that you never know what could happen in October. You could have a Battle of the Beltways when it’s a little colder and bring the fans back out.”