The legend, Earl Weaver, once said, “Just put it on my tombstone: The sorest loser that ever lived.” I haven’t been by Earl’s grave to know whether this old wish was honored upon his passing, but I do know that Earl was right on. Losing sucks. When the Orioles lose in the playoffs and their season is over, that really sucks.
What makes last night’s Wild Card game loss even worse is that it’s instantly one of those games on the pantheon of most painful losses, indelibly etched on the consciousness of Birdland.
For me and people who are about my age, there will never be any topping the Jeffrey Maier Game or the whole Armando Benitez experience the next year. I learned recently in writing about the 1989 Orioles that many people are still not over a very particular Gregg Olson wild pitch. And more recently, Orioles fans of all ages can share the angst over the Raul Ibanez name, forever may that Lord Voldemort lookalike’s name be reviled.
Now we have a new addition here in 2016: The Game Where They Didn’t Use Zach Britton. It might need a snappier name but I’ll leave that up to the branding experts. Orioles fans all over were tearing out their hair as last night’s game was happening over the lack of Britton.
The Orioles themselves escaped some jams with Britton but finally in the 11th inning, their good fortune ran out and they were sent packing without their elite closer ever coming in from the bullpen. Manager Buck Showalter is getting dragged by pretty much every sports media outlet in existence. There’s no defending the decision to not use Britton in a win-or-go-home game that stretched out to eleven innings.
Not that losing is ever easy to take, but it’s so much worse when there’s such a big regret like that to stick in your craw. The lack of Britton was the biggest regret from last night, though surely not the only one. Maybe if Kevin Pillar doesn’t catch that one ball, the game goes differently. Maybe if Michael Bourn DOES catch that one ball, the game goes differently.
You can very easily expand the regrets beyond just the Wild Card game, too, because if the Orioles had won just one more regular season game, the game would have been played in Baltimore instead, with a crowd of feisty Orioles fans instead of a crowd of angry Canadians, one of whom threw a beer can at Hyun Soo Kim during a live play, very many of whom booed Adam Jones for getting angry at that dangerous and disgusting action.
The O’s lost 73 regular season games, and while Earl was right and losing is no fun, there are definitely losses that hurt worse than others. The whole series against the Astros where the Orioles struck out 52 times in three games and set a record, yet still lost all three games only by a combined four runs. The one game makeup in Texas for the non-rain rainout where they were a sloppy mess and still lost by just a run.
Or how about that swing through Oakland where they lost, on consecutive days, games by margins of 3-2, 2-1, and 1-0, where the Athletics starters decreased in quality from Kendall Graveman to Zach Neal to Ross Detwiler? How do you lose a 1-0 game started by Ross freaking Detwiler? Or, less than ten days later, losing that game against the Astros at home where the O’s scored five runs in the first inning but Wade Miley happened and they were losing by the second inning.
Speaking of Miley, there was even a game in May where the Orioles managed to be shut out in a game where he pitched AGAINST them. Not that it was a close game. They lost, 10-0, because Bad Ubaldo Jimenez was then relieved by Brian Matusz.
That’s a handful of games to regret, and of course there are more, like the 7-6 loss to the Rays to kick off the season’s final homestand, or, well, every one of those games where the Red Sox swept them during that same homestand. Change even one of these games and who knows how different things might be? It’s not productive to think about things like this, but right now, it’s almost impossible to avoid them.
Maybe looking at all of these losses to regret is the wrong way of looking at it. The Orioles lost many games they might have won, true, but they also won many games they might have lost. With two more losses they would have been in a tiebreaker situation with the Tigers instead of going directly to the wild card game.
The Orioles won those games. They were a better team than the Tigers, with a better record despite playing in a more competitive division. There is nothing to regret about that, although it is rather hard to stay positive at the moment rather than play the regret game.
You can even go back to the offseason and play the same game. What if the Orioles hadn’t given up a draft pick to sign Yovani Gallardo? What if they had actually managed to sign Dexter Fowler, as was reported that they had done before Fowler surprised everyone by showing up at the Cubs camp instead?
Fowler would have been the high-OBP leadoff man, and better defensive outfielder, that the Orioles lacked all year. They wanted him. They knew they needed him. But then he pulled the wrestling heel move and spurned them. This was frustrating at the time, and now, having seen the way the Orioles season ended, getting only four hits in 11 innings, with a key missed catch in right field, it’s even more of a frustrating thing.
In time, a lot of these regrets will fade as the wounds are less fresh. I don’t think I’ll ever totally get over The Game Where They Didn’t Use Zach Britton, but still.
I’m trying to be happy about what was, by regular season win total, the fourth-best Orioles season of my lifetime. I think back to what Adam Jones said at the end of the 2014 ALCS, when asked by a reporter how he would sum up that 2014 season. Jones, even after the O’s just got swept by the Royals, replied, “Fucking awesome.”
Jones was right about that. 2014 was fucking awesome, even though the Orioles got broken bat bloopered to death by the luck of a demonstrably inferior baseball team. The 2016 Orioles season was pretty damn awesome too, even if they lost a do-or-die game without ever using Britton and where the offense did almost nothing. It’s just really hard to see that today.