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Flash Forward Friday: November 5, 2015

Orioles Sweep Reds, Win 2nd World Series in Three Years

November 5, 2015 -
Not long ago the Orioles were nothing more than a punchline, the joke of the American League East. Oriole Park at Camden Yards was a ghost town most nights, a vacation destination for opposing teams' fans on the rest. Those who were still paying attention had grown bitter and despondent at the hapless management and the bad luck of playing in a division with two teams who appeared able to spend themselves out of any predicament. But at the sight of the players celebrating in the infield and 50,000 fans going crazy in the stands, it's hard to imagine those days ever existed. That former joke of a team is gone, replaced by what some are starting to call a dynasty.

The Orioles, led by 37 year old Brian Roberts, defeated the Cincinnati Reds to clinch the franchise's 5th World Series title. It's been speculated that Roberts will retire after this year, and if so he certainly will have gone out in style. Limited to just 100 games during the regular season due to injury, Roberts came alive in the postseason, hitting over .400 with 5 home runs, just three less than he hit the entire regular season. It seems appropriate that Roberts, who suffered through almost all of the team's bad years, scored the run that would win the World Series. And not only did he score the winning run, he did so in vintage Brian Roberts fashion.

Leading off the bottom of the 8th inning with the game tied 2-2, Roberts lined the first pitch he saw just over third base and, as he's done over 550 times in his career, cruised into second with a double. Once known for his ability to steal third in almost any situation, Roberts has lost a step in his twilight years and rarely takes the risk these days. Perhaps that's why Reds pitcher Joba Chamberlain ignored him, preferring instead to focus on the batter, Felix Pie. Roberts took off for third almost undetected and made that familiar head first slide into the base. Two batters later he scored on a line drive single by Matt Wieters, setting up a save situation for Jake Arrieta.

Arrieta, who had been perfect to that point in the playoffs, made short work of the first two batters, inducing a ground out and a pop up. With two outs the Reds had the man they wanted at the plate in Jay Bruce. Bruce, who hit 38 home runs in the regular season, worked the count full but ultimately couldn't catch up with Arrieta's fastball. The stadium held its breath as Bruce swung, and as the ball popped loudly in Wieters' glove, the chaos began. Nick Markakis, the second longest tenured Oriole, raced in from right field, making a beeline for Roberts. Game four's starting pitcher, Zach Britton, bolted out of the dugout and tackled Matt Wieters. Everywhere you looked people were celebrating and although they'd all been here just two years ago when they defeated the Braves in 6 games, you won't find one Oriole player or fan taking the moment for granted. They've been through too much together for that to happen.

"It's amazing," Roberts yelled to reporters over the noise of the clubhouse. "Before we started winning I couldn't even imagine this feeling. I'm thrilled to experience it as an Oriole." It's no wonder fans relate so well to Roberts. His first year in the Orioles organization was 1999 with the Delmarva Shorebirds and from that year until 2010, Roberts never played on a winning team. Those years were rough, Roberts admits, but volunteers that last 5 years have made them worth it.

After defeating the AL Central champion Chicago White Sox in 4 games, the Orioles once again had to face the Tampa Bay Rays in the ALCS. This year it was the Rays who made the playoffs as the wild card, their 93 wins falling three short of the first place Orioles. The Rays had taken the ALCS in 7 games in 2014 and had gone on to win their first World Series. It was a heartbreaking defeat for the Orioles as closer Arrieta had given up a series ending walk off home run to Evan Longoria, ending the Orioles hopes of winning back-to-back World Series.

Just as their regular season battle had come down to the outstanding pitching on both teams, so did the playoffs. This time the Orioles were able to out duel the Rays' staff, thanks mostly to the invigorated Roberts and left fielder Adam Jones, who hit 3 home runs in the series and made a number of outstanding catches in the outfield. It took the Orioles 6 games to beat the Rays, locking it up as reigning Cy Young Award winner Chris Tillman struck out 14 and out pitched David Price (whose only mistake was one belt high fastball to designated hitter Nolan Reimold).

The sweep of the Reds appeared relatively easy for the Orioles after the grueling pitching battles of the ALCS. Only Jay Bruce and Joey Votto managed to have any success against the Orioles staff as Brian Matusz, Brad Bergesen, Tillman, and Britton held the Reds to just 7 runs in the series. Just as they'd done in the regular season, the pitchers dominated the batters long enough for the offense to wear down the other team's starter. It was just what President of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail envisioned when he began stockpiling arms all those years ago.

The Orioles have a lot of offseason questions facing them. While both Matusz and Tillman have been signed to long term contracts, Bergesen will be eligible for free agency along with Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold, and Nick Markakis. Some tough decisions will have to be made as they'll all command pay raises and the Orioles have a lot of payroll obligated to the Adam Jones and Felix Pie extensions as well as the contract given to free agent David Wright before the 2013 season.

Those concerns can go on the backburner for a few days though, because today the Orioles are World Champions.