Things were looking pretty good for the Orioles on August 19, 2015. They had started a 10-game home stand with a four-game sweep of the Oakland Athletics, they were still hanging around the A.L. East race, and they were just 1/2 game back of the second Wild Card spot. They had just dropped a game to the eventual NL champion New York Mets, their ninth in a row to that team. With one more game in the home stand against the Mets and four against the lowly Minnesota Twins, everyone was feeling good.
I go to about 20 Orioles games per year, and by mid-August they begin to blur together in a sea of wins, losses, and crab dip waffle fries. This game was a bit different, though, as I was invited by a friend to move from my usual section of 334 all the way down to section 28 down on the lower level. I really like my regular seats. They're in the second row of the upper deck behind home plate, and you get a fantastic view of the whole field. But section 28? That, friends, is living. It's like watching a different game down there.
Ubaldo Jimenez was the starting pitcher that night, which is always an adventure. His opposition was Noah Syndergaard, so when Jimenez gave up a home run to Daniel Murphy in the first inning, I began thinking that it was probably all over. I try not to say it aloud too often, but I'm basically always convinced that the Orioles are going to make me miserable. I'm trying to change, but it's hard.
My bad feelings didn't go away in the bottom of the first, when the Orioles jumped on Syndergaard but failed to score. They loaded the bases with no outs but a Chris Davis strikeout and Jonathan Schoop double play ball ruined their chances. Syndergaard then pitched two 1-2-3 innings, and it seemed like that first inning would come back to haunt us.
Nine innings is a long time, though, and Davis and Schoop had their revenge in the sixth inning. With the Mets up by a score of 3-1, Davis started the inning with a double and Schoop knocked him in with a home run, his ninth of the year. I don't remember, but I'm sure he was grinning adorably when he got back to the dugout.
The score remained tied after seven innings as the team exchanged solo home runs (Wilmer Flores for the Mets, Adam Jones for the Orioles). Going into the bottom of the ninth inning both teams had four runs on nine hits. As my friends and I looked up at the scoreboard, we saw the batters due up were Henry Urrutia, Caleb Joseph, and Manny Machado. Our conversation went something like this:
"Better hope Manny has a walk-off home run in him, or it's extra innings."
"Caleb could do something..."
"Maybe he can get on base for Manny."
Never did we mention Urrutia, who had been up with the 2015 Orioles for just four days. He had been called up from Triple-A when Travis Snider was released (ah, the plight of the 2015 Orioles outfielders) and had shown in his brief stints in the majors that while he can hit for a decent average, both his on-base skills and his slugging abilities are severely lacking. Of his 19 career hits prior to August 19th, 18 had been singles (thus my personal nickname for him of Singlin' Hank).
It turned out that Manny didn't need to hit a walk-off, and Caleb didn't need to get on base for Manny. Urrutia took care of business himself. On a 1-2 count he hit a line drive that just barely cleared the left field fence, winning the game for the Orioles.
The fans in the stands went crazy. The Orioles in the dugout went crazy. Henry Urrutia had just hit his first career major league home run, and it was a game winner.
Back when Buck Showalter first spoke the words "I like our guys," it was in reference to trade chatter, but it has come to mean more than that. The ultimate goal of the Orioles should of course be to win enough games to make it to the playoffs. But that's also the goal of all the teams they play against, and most of those teams won't reach it. The long season is more fun when you also have players that are fun to cheer for. Sometimes they're fun to cheer for because they hit monster dongs or make crazy plays at third base. Sometimes they spend six years in the minors and are about to retire when they get their big break.
And sometimes it's Henry Urrutia, who had to try to defect from Cuba three times before he was successful. He's too old to be a prospect, and at this point his future in baseball seems unlikely to pass Triple-A. But no matter what happens, for one night his dream had come true. We cheered his home run and when Adam Jones pie'd him, then we got teary as he spoke of his journey and his family.
I left the park that night on a high from an exciting win delivered by an unlikely hero. I had great seats with great friends, and the Orioles were on a hot streak and right in the thick of the playoff race. It was probably the last day any Orioles fan felt that good, baseball-wise, as the very next day they lost to the Twins to kick off a 13-game stretch in which they went 1-12 and removed themselves from playoff talk altogether. But August 19th Stacey didn't know that, so don't ruin it for her.