When you were a kid, did you ever fantasize about being a professional athlete? Maybe you imagined yourself hitting a World Series-winning home run with two outs in the bottom of the ninth. Or throwing the game-ending touchdown with zero seconds left on the clock. “And the crowd goes wild!” you exclaimed, imitating the roaring and cheering of the many thousands of adoring fans watching your heroic feats.
Yeah. Turns out, the reality of being a professional athlete can be a bit less glamorous.
Sometimes you’re just an exhausted cog in a malfunctioning machine. You’re on a terrible team, playing against an even more terrible team, on a Monday afternoon, in front of a couple hundred bored fans in late September of an utterly useless season. Your dreams don’t involve a championship-winning home run. They involve boarding a flight out of Detroit, playing out the string for the last couple of weeks, and finally getting to go home after an unproductive seven-month slog.
Life comes at you fast.
Which brings us to this afternoon’s Orioles-Tigers series finale, a joyless affair if there ever was one. The Orioles lost, because it’s what they usually do, even against baseball’s worst team. And you can excuse the O’s if they weren’t exactly playing their most inspired baseball. This wasn’t the thrilling, celebratory kind of spectacle of your childhood fantasies. This was a rote, mechanical, exercise in futility, a baseball game played simply because it was required to be.
The Orioles’ lineup did little more than go through the motions for most of the game, and I say that not as a judgment, because sometimes that’s just how it goes. Facing rookie lefty Tyler Alexander, a guy who entered the game with a 5.40 career ERA, the O’s managed a grand total of one run, that on a Trey Mancini solo homer in the sixth. Mancini had two of the Orioles’ four hits off Alexander, and the only non-singles.
Quick, tell me everything you know about Jose Cisnero, Buck Farmer, David McKay, and Joe Jimenez! It doesn’t matter, because that random collection of Tigers relief arms further dominated the O’s offense, holding them to one run in the final three innings.
There was a brief moment of — I don’t want to say “excitement,” but maybe “intrigue”? — in the top of the ninth, when the Orioles loaded the bases with two outs. That rally, though, fizzled as quickly as it began, when Mancini struck out on three pitches, whiffing on a ball in the dirt to cap the indignity.
Even O’s ace John Means couldn’t escape the fog of inertia that descended upon Comerica Park on this day. Two batters into the game, he found himself in a multi-run hole, thanks to a leadoff triple and a Jordy Mercer home run. It almost didn’t matter that he retired the next 12 batters in a row, although that’s nice for him. In the fifth inning, Means stumbled again, serving up a two-run double to Victor Reyes, and he hung in just long enough to allow another run in the sixth before he could close the book on a forgettable afternoon.
It’s a game that all of us could stand to forget. At least there are only 12 more of these before the Orioles get a welcome winter hiatus. But who’s counting?