Remembering the Magic

I've had plenty of time on this dreary evening to think about the Orioles. Yes, it was very upsetting and disheartening and depressing that such a great season had to end, and that it ended in the way it did. However, I think it's so very important not to let a sour ending ruin the entire season. This season of Orioles baseball was perhaps the most magical of all seasons, turning a team that many (okay, most) expected to finish dead last in the AL East into nearly division winners, the first AL team to conquer Texas in the playoffs in recent memory, and, most importantly, the first winning and playoff baseball team in 15 years in Batimore.

It started with hope. Okay, very thin hope that had appeared in plenty of other bad seasons, but it was hope. Jake Arrieta looked like he had finally come into his own, Jason Hammel looked like a steal of a deal, and this team rolled through April as one of the top teams in baseball (a 14-9 record at the end). Okay, that's all fine and dandy, Baltimore. But wait until you go through your gauntlet. HAH, try to keep your vain hope through that. 15 games against the Yankees, Red Sox (hey, they were supposed to be good back then!), Rangers, and Rays. Wait, what? You went 9-6 through that, including series wins at New York, at Boston (including the Chris Davis game), and vs Tampa Bay? Hold on.

The O's would find a minor slump at the end of the month, but by the time interleague play rolled around, they went right back to winning series, including one against a very good Braves team to run the season's record up to 39-27. Not bad, so far. Then, R.A. Dickey came along. Starting with that game, the Orioles would lose 13 of 19 to limp into the All Star break at 45-40.

Yep, it's just another version of 2005. Just you wait. After losing 4 of 5 out of the gate, the O's would steady themselves somewhat, and somehow, through the ups and downs, they never fell more than a couple games back of the wild card spot. But who were we, pitiful Orioles fans, to be looking at playoff standings? Really, now.

Then comes one of the moments most clearly outlined in my memory, for some unknown reason. After being in the chase for the postseason seemingly for awhile, the O's had lost two straight to fall to 55-51. I remember thinking to myself that this seemed like the right time in the season for them to finally fall apart. They were a mere four games above .500, and surely those losses were coming soon. They would not. The O's would hit another five game wining streak to push the record back up to a much shinier-looking 60-51, and would not turn back.

I think that point is the time when I finally started to actually have true hope for the postseason. Before this point, it seems like a distant longing. At that point, it actually seemed possible. Silly disillusioned, desperate Orioles fan.

The Orioles would continue a steady march towards October by winning all but two series in August, and by the end of the month, we held the second wild card spot, a game behind red-hot Oakland, with a record of 73-58. Could this be? No, stop it. You're only setting yourself up for disappointment there, sir.

At this point, I think it's good to look back and see some of the themes of the season. The Orioles had been living off of close games and winning when it counted. Their record in one-run games was untouchable, their poise in extra innings unbelievable. Their standard victory was some middle of the pack starter pitching through six or seven innings while allowing less than four runs, and the hitters would hit just enough to get the starter the lead; then, the shutdown bullpen would take over. Next thing you know, Jim Johnson has another save, and the Orioles have another win. And you could never predict where the hitting would come from. Sometimes Chris Davis or mark Reynolds or Matt Wieters or Adam jones would get hot, or sometimes a hitter would be picked up off the scrap heap and come up with a clutch hit. There really was not a hitter we could count on, save for Nick Markakis in the second half and Taylor Teagarden in clutch situations only (seriously, has anyone ever had crazier clutch time/normal time batting splits?). Yet we could count onsomeone getting a hit. Small bits of excitement in the season came and left; Brian Roberts coming back and going down, Nolan Reimold doing the same thing, Xavier Avery providing a brief spark, Zach Britton showing flashes. This team was never consistent in anything except getting the job done in crunch time. I don't remember the exact quote or who said it, but someone on this blog commented (or quoted?) that the Orioles were bad at hitting, pitching, fielding, and losing. It was true.

Toward the end of the season, it was clear we would need some exceptional heroes. Miguel Gonazalez becoming our bit starter. Nate McLouth becoming a solid leadoff hitter. Manny Machado playing like a veteran. The list goes on, and as the Orioles slowly progressed through September, it was clear that something magical was happening. A winning season was secured on a Sunday midway through September, against Oakland, after tough losses in the previous two games. Finally, this was it! We had broken the ignominious losing season streak. Wait, what's that? You aren't just satisfied with having a winning season? Playoffs? You wanna talk about the playoffs??

Throughout the month, the Orioles tied the Yankees at the top of the AL East at least 32 times. They never could quite get over the top, though. Perhaps that was the doppelgänger of doom. No matter, because at some point late in October, they overtook the A's for the first wild card spot. And, in the span on one magical series sweep against Boston, we gained a positive run differential, entered the magical world of Dan O'Hare, and, oh yeah, clinched a playoff spot, too. I know that any of you who read this have already been well acquainted with that annoying stat known as RD, so I won't go into that, but I'll just note that we finally did get over that hill! Next stop, AL East title. Except that didn't come. Stupid Boston. I'm still half-convinced they tanked that series as revenge for what we did to them last year. And I had tickets to the third ALDS home game, too. Oh, well...

In any case, it was then time for the playoffs! You'd think in a season of Orioles Magic, we would draw something other than playing a game at Texas for all the marbles. No matter, let's just throw Joe Saunders and his 9+ career ERA at Arlington against them, and see what happens! And then, something did happen, but no, it wasn't bad for the Orioles. The Orioles won!!! Playoff baseball s coming back to Baltimore for the first time in 15 years! I remember I was at a retreat that Friday (only one week ago, but it sure feels like more), and there was a decent sized crowd gathered outside the campfire ring in a little circle around a couple of smartphones, which were tracking the game. Oh no, bases loaded in the ninth! Oh my, game over! The roar from the little group of us standing there was awesome to hear and join in. Next stop, Baltimore!

Being a series that literally just ended, the ALDS will not be fully recapped here. Instead, I'll just note that it was quite a weird feeling to have every single night be "the biggest Orioles game of my life" for basically six nights in a row (not including the travel day). Our pitching was absolutely incredible, and our hitting was not. Only people like you, readers of Camden Chat, can fully commiserate with me in how bad it felt to lose Game 3, which was (1) a one-run game, (2) an extra-inning game, (3) a game that we led after 7 innings, and (4) a game that Jim Johnson had a chance to save. Add in the fact that it was against the Yankees, and the pain was unbearable. But in true 2012 Orioles fashion, they stuck in there and forced a game five, and kept the series competitive to the end.

At the end of a long season, it's good to step back and look at what happened. If you told me in April that the O's would have a winning record, I would've taken it and been happy. If you told me in August that the O's would be tied for the division lead with three games to go, I would've accepted that as a fine season. If you had told me in September that we really would make the playoffs, I would've been satisfied. If you told me last Friday that we would make it to play against the Yankees, I would've been overjoyed. If you had told me after game 3 that we would pull out a 13-inning win the next day and force game 5 with Jim Johnson saving the game, I would've been elated. If you had told me during game 4 that yes, we would win the opportunity to go against CC Sabathia with the season on the line, I would have taken it. How weird it felt to say during that game "Oh, I would love for the O's to get the chance to see Sabathia, just because it means they win this game." But that's what happened, and you know what? Sabathia dominated. Dear fellow Orioles fans, please do not let that fact detract from our marvelous season.

This season has been unbelievable. So many times the Orioles have done something truly amazing. So many wins that should not have happened. So many longshot prayers answered. Let's take a moment (heck, let's take the whole offseason) to remember the whole season rather than dwell on the end of it. This season exceeded so many expectations, and i feel like in some ways, my lifetime of suffering in Orioles fandom has seen a measure of redemption.

In conclusion, I believe there is only one thing to say (and do I say it ever heartily as I still proudly wear my Orioles hat tonight): Let's go O's!!!

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