The Orioles played a game in an empty stadium on Wednesday afternoon, beating the White Sox, 8-2. There was nothing normal about it. This was the first ever Major League Baseball game played in front of no fans. It's fitting. There's nothing normal about National Guard humvees on the streets of Baltimore, either. That will never be normal and yet they still had to play.
The game contained all things. Over a brisk two hours, the game was a time for sober reflection, with MASN's Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer touching on the underlying issues that have caused the riots in Baltimore, and that was good, but it was also a time to revel in the historic curiosity that the lucky souls in the stadium were there to witness. At other times the broadcast gave us Palmer talking about the time he met Joan Jett, Thorne briefly pretending he was calling the Masters, and Caleb Joseph acting like he was signing autographs and acknowledging cheers.
It also gave us some great Orioles baseball, with the team jumping all over White Sox starter Jeff Samardzija, scoring six runs in the first inning. Who is this team? That's not all, either, because Orioles starter Ubaldo Jimenez pitched seven strong innings without allowing any earned runs. That really happened. The only Orioles fans who got to watch it were outside of the stadium, but it happened. He only walked one batter! He struck out six! What if Ubaldo is actually good again?
A dedicated group of fans peered in on the game from the street level out beyond the bullpen picnic area and up from above on balconies at the next door Hilton Baltimore. They were occasionally audible on the broadcast, since it's not like there was anybody else around to make noise.
The O's rewarded that dedicated few from the very first, starting off with a walk from Alejandro De Aza and running all the way through a Caleb Joseph single, bringing six runs across the plate before they made more than a single out. In the middle of that was a three-run home run by Chris Davis that landed out on Eutaw Street in front of a men's restroom. This was the 80th Eutaw Street home run in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. It was the first in an empty stadium.
This was surreal, a word used often on the broadcast through the day. All of this was going on and yet with the stadium so empty it almost felt like the game hadn't even begun. You could hear the camera shutters clicking with every pitch in the first inning. It all counted, though, too bad for Samardzija that it did. Before he was finally lifted from the game after five innings, Samardzija had given up eight runs (seven earned) on ten hits and a walk.
A Manny Machado home run into the Orioles bullpen in the fifth inning hung the last of the runs on Samardzija. He owed the Orioles a homer there, as an error Machado committed in the top of the fifth led to the only two White Sox runs of the game. With two men on base, Jimenez got an easy ground ball to third base off the bat of Alexei Ramirez Machado fielded the ball cleanly and made a lazy toss to second base that ended up skipping into right field.
This was Machado's fifth error of the season. That one wasn't even a tough play, he just flubbed something routine. The error led to two unearned runs for the White Sox, though they won't hurt Jimenez's ERA any. In fact, after seven "scoreless" innings, Jimenez now sports a 1.59 ERA on the season. This is real life.
The Orioles had 11 hits in the game and batted 5-10 with runners in scoring position. Machado led the way with three hits, coming a triple short of the cycle. Caleb Joseph, whose kid has to eat, also had a multi-hit game with two RBI. His batting line for 2015 now looks like this: .327/.441/.469. Of course it won't last, but that doesn't mean it's not awesome for now.
It'd be easy to get carried away about this game and talk about how it's some kind of happy event that will help heal Baltimore or something like that. It was a nice win and it's nice that the Orioles were able to have a good game in unusual circumstances. It's nice for their 2015 season that they are back up to a .500 record, now 10-10 on the year.
Realistically, though, this was only a baseball game, and it won't bring back any burned down buildings or return any goods looted from businesses, nor will it resolve any of the underlying issues that have led to the last several days of unrest in Baltimore; not the proximate cause, the death of Freddie Gray in police custody, nor root causes that have ailed Baltimore for a long time.
It's important not to lose sight of any of that, something all of the players who spoke seemed well aware of in pre- and post-game comments. In his post-game press conference, a reporter asked Buck Showalter if he had any words for the youth of Baltimore and Buck spoke with eloquence and empathy about how he has never been black and he wouldn't presume to preach to those whose circumstances he has never known. It was a raw and real moment and only the latest example of how Orioles fans are lucky to have him at the helm of this team.
The Orioles head on the road for a series at Tropicana Field where they will serve as the home team. That will also be weird, if probably not as weird as anything that happened today. The next time they are scheduled to be back at Camden Yards is May 11. Here's hoping Baltimore has calmed down by then and Orioles fans can give them a nice welcome back in front of a real crowd.
This win solves no problems outside of the Orioles standing in the American League East, but that doesn't mean there's anything wrong with being happy about it.
In closing the game broadcast on MASN, Thorne said, "Remember, we love ya, Baltimore. Be good to yourself." Amen.