The top of the ninth inning Sunday seemed to define the Orioles season. But maybe the bottom half, in a way, did as well.
In the top of the ninth inning against the Houston Astros, it was more Baltimore folly. The Orioles went in with a 5-4 lead, only to see the whole thing come crashing down in a three-batter comedy of errors that included a hit, a bunt single and then some Little League schtick that allowed the Astros to take a 7-5 lead.
Yes, that’s some of the stuff that has made up this season. But when the Orioles came back and scored three runs in the bottom half, the last blow coming on Rio Ruiz’s two-run, walk-off home run onto Eutaw Street, the response from at least the manager was that that was somewhat typical as well.
“I think you’ve seen us deal with adversity a lot of the year, and we’ve given up a lot of leads,” Brandon Hyde said, according to Rich Dubroff at BaltimoreBaseball.com. “The next day, we usually play OK and come back from it.”
The schedule backs up Hyde’s point. For as badly as the Orioles have played, they’ve shown an ability to come back from some of their toughest moments - sometimes within a day, and sometimes within a game.
Take Sunday, for instance. The Orioles were out playing a day after a 23-2 loss that had everyone around the game making them the butt of their jokes. Not only that, they had to play the same team that had just finished walloping them. Not only that, they had to try to do all this against Justin Verlander, the odds-on favorite to win the American League Cy Young. There’s a reason the Orioles were massive underdogs going in.
Instead of mailing in an afternoon game after an embarrassing night and focusing on a trip to the Bronx, the Orioles fought back and gave Verlander his roughest outing of the season. And when they Oriole’d themselves into another potential nightmare, they rebounded again, staging the ninth-inning comeback to beat what might be baseball’s best team.
“We’ve been resilient all year,” Ruiz said, according to the Baltimore Sun. “We’ve been fighting, and even though sometimes the score dictates that we’re out of the game, we still push runs across the board. That just goes to show that we’re not going to give up.”
It wasn’t a one-time occurrence. On July 25, the Orioles scored three runs in the top of the 15th inning to take an 8-5 lead over the Angels, only to see Tanner Scott collapse in the bottom half and give Los Angeles back the three runs it needed.
With the game nearing 4 a.m. Eastern time, it was a crushing, deflating letdown. How did the Orioles respond? Jonathan Villar smashed a home run in the team’s next at-bat, Stevie Wilkerson came on to finish the Angels in order, and the Orioles had a win they truly had to dig deep to pull off.
On July 20, the baseball world was likely snickering again when the Red Sox turned a 5-5 game into a 17-6 rout with 11 straight runs over an inning and a half. Again, the Orioles had a response ready the next day. Asher Wojciechowski tossed the team’s best-pitched game of the season and the Orioles blanked Boston, baseball’s second-best hitting team, 5-0.
On July 12, the Orioles were down 9-0 after two innings to Tampa Bay and never got close en route to allowing 20 hits in a 16-4 loss. The next day, the Orioles flipped the script, edging the playoff hopeful Rays 2-1.
Even when the result hasn’t been a win, that bounce-back ability has been on display. On June 16, the Orioles lost a 3-2 lead over Boston in the ninth, then melted down as the Red Sox five runs in the 10th. Baltimore, however, didn’t turtle in its last chance at the plate. Wilkerson and Trey Mancini homered, and the Orioles cut the gap to two runs before falling 8-6.
Just a garbage time rally against a team lowering its guard? Perhaps. But it could also be a young team, made up largely of players who will be on the roster next year, learning a valuable lesson about shaking off setbacks and not caving when adversity comes their way.
Obviously, the point of this article isn’t to paint the Orioles as some team of warriors that can’t be kept down. They’re 39-80, and not by accident. This isn’t 2012 all over again, when the Orioles were a very good team with an even better knack for dramatic victories.
What it does appear, though, is that this isn’t 2018, when the Orioles went belly-up and showed few signs of life before finishing with a franchise-record 115 losses. Or 2002, when they lost 32 of their last 36 games to turn a potentially competitive September into a humiliating homestretch.
The Orioles are a bad team. But at least there’s fight on the team, even if there’s not much talent yet.
It reflects well on Hyde, who as manager can’t give himself new players but who can at least maintain the motivation and drive of the ones he has. It also reflects well on the team’s veterans, players like Jonathan Villar and Mancini, whose example sets the tone for the team and who have often been at the forefront of each game that seems to showcase whatever mental toughness the team has.
More importantly, though, it shows that the whole team is getting the message. Play hard, and as bad as the record gets, don’t give in to the losses. It’s a scrappiness the Orioles began to show in 2010 and ‘11 in their first years under Buck Showalter, and it ended up manifesting itself in that dream 2012 season, which kickstarted that five-year run of competitive teams.
The Orioles are a long way from anything resembling those days. But maybe they’re learning some lessons about short memories and mental toughness that could serve them well if those days arrive again.
And if not, they’re making a miserable season at least a little more tolerable.