As part of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of Oriole Park at Camden Yards, the Orioles have been counting down the top 25 games played in the stadium’s history. The latest, which aired on Sunday, was the fifth on the countdown: Robert Andino and friends wrecking the 2011 Red Sox season in the last game of the season on a wild night across baseball.
I’m not writing anything new when I say that this game was the prologue to all of the winning that has come since. Not that we had any way of knowing it at the time, but it’s served as the springboard from which the team was able to launch itself back towards the top of the American League. There may not be an objective way to prove it, but I know it all the same.
Watching the game when it aired on Sunday was like getting a postcard from another era. It can’t have been THAT long ago, can it? And yet it was quite a long time ago. Like, Alfredo Simon as a starting pitcher and Vladimir Guerrero as the cleanup hitter. That long ago.
Perhaps stranger still was that the third baseman - batting eighth! - was Chris Davis. During the course of the game, the past version of MASN’s Gary Thorne said of Davis that he is trying to earn a spot on next year’s team.
Fans certainly weren’t sold on Davis yet. If you search the Camden Chat archives, you’ll find some unkind words about him. Shown at the stadium during the game broadcast were two young fans holding up a sign that said, “A Prince away from the playoffs.” It’s a good thing that one didn’t come true.
Another strange thing is that J.J. Hardy hit his 30th home run of the season during the game. This, too, seems like something that is impossible now. Hardy hasn’t hit double digits since 2013.
But of course it was a long time ago. Only three players who played in that game are still on the 40-man roster: Davis, Hardy, and Adam Jones. Five full baseball seasons have happened since then. The Orioles made the playoffs in three of those. It’s been fun to be an Orioles fan ever since this night.
When I was watching the ninth inning rally from this game on Sunday, before we had any idea that there was going to be a rally and that things were going to be awesome, the MASN cameras lingered on a particular guy who stood out to me:
Here is a man wondering what poor choices he has made in life to be here at this particular moment. It must not have been very fun to be him right then.
After all, he was surrounded by Red Sox fans who were all poised to celebrate clinching a postseason berth, the same horde of barbarians that smugly proclaimed the whole stadium to be “Fenway South.”
The team he followed had not been good for 14 years at that point in time, and other than two good months at the end of 2010 after Buck Showalter arrived, there was no reason to hope good times would ever be coming back.
He looks alone and miserable. Maybe he got rained on during the rain delay that set up the great league-wide drama. Although misery may love company, no one with him feels the suffering of the moment quite like he does.
You may feel this in your own life sometimes. There are a lot of Orioles fans, but not so many who are fans so much that the Orioles could ever make them look like this. If you’re reading this blog, you’re probably like this guy. Or maybe he just really didn’t like looking at Jonathan Papelbon, an understandable feeling.
When I saw this poor guy in 2011 on TV on Sunday, I said to him, “Hang in there. Better times are coming.” He probably wouldn’t have believed me even if I told him.
The rally is in the box score and for all who watched the game, forever etched into our memories. In a departure from their standard policy, MLB has chosen to allow fans to easily see one of the greatest moments of their product by placing the entire game on YouTube. (If you want to skip to the bottom of the ninth, use this link instead.)
The Orioles were down to their last out, then saved by the Davis double. They were down to their last strike when Nolan Reimold hit another double and scored pinch runner Kyle Hudson to tie the game as Thorne excitedly pounded his fist on the desk even while calling the game.
And then, as if that wasn’t great enough, the Curse of the Andino taking root. Carl Crawford’s futile dive, ripping up pieces of the grass. Reimold coming to the plate, Thorne so excited he doesn’t even remember who is running and at first just says, “The Oriole is coming to the plate! Reimold!” And then, banging on the desk again, “They did it! They did it! They did it!” Yes, they sure did.
A short time later, after an on-field celebration worthy of a World Series walkoff win, and after that same Andino had invited the Red Sox, their fans, or both to exit the premises, the camera found our once-miserable fan again:
Doesn’t that just say it all? Things were horrible for a long time and then, suddenly, they weren’t. After three playoff berths in the span of five seasons, it’s still feeling pretty good to be an Orioles fan. Hopefully the season to come can add more glory to their recent record.