So, it comes down to this. In April, if you had told a Baltimore native that after 162 games, the Orioles season would still be an unfinished product, they would more than likely attribute it to one of two things: (i) Bud Selig decided to be merciful and award the 15-year-losing-train-wreck of an organization an 'incomplete' as opposed to their usual sub .500, or (ii) the Mayans were right after all.
I can't speak on the second of those responses. However, the first couldn't have been further from the truth. The season that the 2012 Orioles provided to the city of Baltimore, and the loyal fans that stuck by their side through the recently tumultuous past, is one that has provided flashes of hope in an otherwise bleak time. In an era where baseball had essentially been declared a statistically predictable game, the Orioles became the team of unpredictable statistical anomalies. There isn't any numerically logical explanation for the way the Orioles have performed this year. Through the first 5 months, their success was written off. "Their Pythagorean run differential indicates a steep decline in the future; they simply can't sustain this pace." Yet, every day, although the names on the back of the jerseys were subject to change, the style of play remained the same for the men donning the black and orange. Gone were the days of impending implosion. This bullpen not only did their job, they excelled at it. Despite constant reshuffling and numerous injuries to key cogs in the lineup, the end result was for the first time in many fans lifetimes, probably a victory.
In 2012, the days of Palmer, Brooks, Frank, and Earl seemed faint and distant. “The Oriole Way” was something that was only talked about in a nostalgic frame of mind prior to 2012. Instead, it has been revived from the perceived ashes and produced a mind-numbing ride. There is simply no way to surmise the magic of 16 straight extra-inning wins. The games that before had been ticking time bombs, were now our center stage. Fans became spoiled, as if they were watching saying, “they had the nerve to go 18 innings?”
Many times over the years, you could overhear Orioles fans (if you could find them) lamenting that if they could just play meaningful baseball in September, they would be content. Just give them a taste of what winning baseball feels like. Yet, for many, this season has been incomprehensible. The first half of the season was spent wondering about and waiting for the patented 21st century Orioles cliff dive. The second half was one filled with anxiety, and utter disbelief. Now, on October 4th, the Orioles look out of the window of the airplane en route to Arlington, Texas.
Yes, Arlington, Texas. That same team from Arlington that handed the Orioles their marquee game over the past 15 years, a 30-3 walloping in the city of Baltimore that echoed across the sports nation in the most shameful manner. That night, the Orioles were the center of the baseball universe for all of the wrong reasons. It was that same Rangers team that was built by the Orioles own Buck Showalter. And if the Orioles are to beat the Rangers, who should they have waiting at the other side? Why, none other than the New York Yankees, which, if you may remember, share a bit of history with the jefe in the Orioles dugout. Yes, it seems Buck’s fingerprints are everywhere the Orioles go. Redemption has set the table nicely for a multi-course meal, and Baltimore hasn’t eaten in a long, long time.
The term “destiny” is something that is altogether both a harbinger of hope, and a cruel mirage. While a team may seem as though they have a higher power on their side, all of that can change in a single instant. For as unbelievable as this Orioles team has been through 162 games, there is still the faint fear that maybe the clock is now striking 12 on this Cinderalla story. Even if it did, it would still be a season worth remembering forever. However, the 40 men in that clubhouse would beg to differ. There isn’t any glass slipper that has bestowed upon the Orioles their unrivaled fortune. Their charter plane didn’t magically transform from a pumpkin after Buck waved his wand. Instead, this team is the culmination of the work that Buck Showalter has put into convincing the Orioles that they could compete. Perhaps it took a bit longer than expected after his torrid finish at the end of 2010, but nobody said it would be an overnight success. It was as much a mental transformation as it was physical. It was Showalter’s job to convince these perennial losers that they didn’t have to roll over and accept their apparently pre-destined fate. In his now infamous interview with Men’s Journal at the outset of the 2011 season, Showalter elicited his disdain for his competitors in the AL East. It's great, knowing those guys with the $205 million payroll are saying, 'How the hell are they beating us??? Perhaps it was the nudge forward that the Orioles needed. As if Showalter was exclaiming, “I’m not afraid of these guys, and you won’t be either.” A year later, and his statements resonate even louder than before.
For all of the amazing statistics, the visceral experience of watching and supporting this Orioles team for 2012 has gone beyond what any numbers could even begin to tell. The statistics are indeed staggering, but just as staggering as the 29-9 record in 1 run games, or the 74-0 record after leading through 7 innings, or the extra inning resume, is the fact that after each of these improbably astounding victories, the team came out and did the same thing the next game. No lead seemed insurmountable this year. No opposing lineup too imposing. No pitcher too dominant. The Orioles put a bunch of puzzle pieces together, and out came a masterpiece.
And so, here we are, on the eve of the one game wild card elimination game. The Orioles are set to face one of the most successful pitchers of the second half in Yu Darvish, and a lineup with 5 guys OPSing over .800. And it will all take place in a stadium that has been nothing but hostile to the Orioles over the years. However, you can’t help but get the sense that in the Orioles clubhouse, there is a calm confidence. There have been a seemingly infinite amount of obstacles that have presented themselves to the Orioles this year, and one by one, they have overcome them. So, what reason is there to think that this maligned one game play-in is going to be any different?
Hell, if we’re lucky, maybe we'll go to extra innings.
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