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A Birdland Salute for Ryan Flaherty

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Ryan Flaherty was a part of the two greatest Orioles teams of this century. As his career takes him elsewhere, we remember the best of utility infielders.

Baltimore Orioles v Toronto Blue Jays Photo by Tom Szczerbowski/Getty Images

The 2012 and 2014 Orioles were special baseball teams, so much so that everyone who played for either or both is worth remembering for being a part of Birdland greatness. This is true of the highest and most constant of stars like Adam Jones and no less true for those whose part was a bit more on the periphery.

Ryan Flaherty is surely not the first person you think of when you think of 2012 or 2014 Orioles, nor, with his career Orioles batting line of .215/.284/.355, will anyone mistake him for the best. He is, however, the only player who hit a home run in the playoffs for both of those teams, so in at least some small way, this makes him the greatest of all of them.

Flaherty's career, after six stalwart years, has taken him elsewhere. He signed a minor league contract with the Phillies on Wednesday, making him officially an Oriole no more. He is not the only link to those seasons to be lost in free agency this offseason - he's just the first to actually sign elsewhere, and so the '12 and '14 O's come a little closer to only being memories.

The first and thus far best of Dan Duquette's Rule 5 obsessions, Flaherty, swiped from the Cubs in the 2011 edition of that draft, has been just about everywhere on the diamond for the Orioles over the past six seasons, filling in at every position except for catcher - though he was the emergency backup, we were always assured - and center field. On one memorable occasion when a number of Camden Chatters were in attendance, he even pitched. The game wasn't much fun, but that part was, for us at least.

When injuries struck, Flaherty was there. This included stints at second base in 2013 filling in for Brian Roberts, at third base in 2014 filling in for Manny Machado, at second base again in 2015 filling in for Jonathan Schoop, and at third base in 2016 when J.J. Hardy got hurt and Machado shifted to shortstop for a little while. He could be just about anywhere, and often, he was.

Flaherty's own 2017 injury led to an exhausted infield by the time September rolled around. It was a small part of what went wrong with that season, but there can be no mistake that they suffered without him. His replacement, whoever that ends up being, may not have to fill those shoes often, but they will be big shoes to fill all the same.

It's a tough thing to pick a favorite moment in the career of a utility player because by his nature, most of the time there's a dramatic hit, he's on the bench. Flaherty is the guy you pinch hit for, not the guy who comes in off the bench for heroics. Yet he found his way into some legendary moments all the same.

Take the 2014 ALDS sweep of the Tigers. When manager Buck Showalter ordered an intentional walk to put the winning run on base with one out in the ninth inning of Game 3, he also said, according to legend, that it was OK, because Zach Britton would get a ground ball double play to end the game and the series. Britton did get that ground ball and it went right to the man of the hour: Ryan Flaherty.

As double plays go, this is as close to easy as it gets. That shouldn't take away from what a great moment it was that Flaherty was a part of. Here is where they finished the sweep of the Tigers despite the much-ballyhooed starting rotation that had three former Cy Young winners. All fell before the might of Orioles Magic.

For my money, though, there's simply no topping the moment when Flaherty found himself batting against Aroldis Chapman in the ninth inning of a game in New York against the Yankees, representing the Orioles last chance in a one-run game, with the tying run already on base, down to his final strike. It was at that moment that Flaherty gave us this legendary rallying cry:

Come on, motherfucker!

In the official box score from that game on July 18, 2016, it is recorded that Flaherty grounded out, second to first, and the game ended. That's because that's what happened. That's what's supposed to happen when Flaherty faces Chapman. I know this, and yet, every time I watch this GIF, I can picture a universe where, after his little snarl at the end, Flaherty hits a go-ahead home run, and it makes me happy just imagining that thing that never happened.

Flaherty was drafted. He played. He is Birdland. We will probably never see his like again.

With the exit of Flaherty and others this offseason, there are now just nine members of the 2014 AL East champion Orioles remaining on the team. Of the 2012 Wild Card-winning O's, only six players are left.