This is It
I have been an Orioles fan as far back as I can remember. Before this season, the Orioles had not made a playoff appearance in fifteen years. This year has been special. From the moment I sat in the bleachers and watched Rick Sutcliffe throw out the first pitch to Chris Hoiles back in the Spring, all the way up until the early hours of this morning, I have been nothing short of amazed.
The Orioles have done it unconventionally. Throughout the season, manager Buck Showalter, and General Manager Dan Duquette, made over 140 roster moves. Out of our opening day starting rotation, only Wei-Yen Chen remains, making a name for himself in the postseason. Duquette and Showalter acquired a struggling Nate McLouth from the Pirates, who was batting a mere .141 before ecoming the spark plug for the Orioles offense, as they continued their push to the postseason. Losing Nick Markakis hurt. He led the league in hits, up to his injury, since the All-Star Break. The Orioles needed to find a new lead-off bat, and McLouth stepped up to the plate (pun intended).
But we’ve talked about the regular season in plenty of previous posts, and unless you have been under a rock, you realize what is at stake tonight. But before I get into that, I want to share with you what this past week has meant for me. Before I get into that though, I want to share with you what this past week has meant and been for me:
Sunday- Game 1:
I got to go to this game with fellow writer Bill Thompson. The lifelong dream of seeing a playoff game in Camden
Yards finally came true. Another streak broken, if you will. Mother nature was a bit of a nuisance but we would not be denied the experience. Arriving in Baltimore just after 1pm, we were able to enjoy the excitement and buzz surrounding the city. After sharing stories and having a “few” Natty Boh’s, it was time to trek alongside the Warehouse and into Camden Yards. “Let’s go O’s” chants filled the cool air. Goosebumps appeared all over, as my ticket is scanned and I step into the stadium. Adrenaline courses through me as every fan, lucky enough to be at the game, is waving their souvenir orange “Buckle Up” towels high above their heads. Opening pitch ceremonies are nearing; cue the rain.
The delay lasted close to three hours. The classic phrase often said by Scott Van Pelt of ESPN, “O’s and Natty Boh’s,” transformed into “O’s, Ponchos, and Natty Boh’s.”Finally the rain stopped, the grounds crew ran out, and thousands of fans cheered.Once the tarp was removed, it was time for the National Anthem. For those who do not know the tradition in Baltimore, the fans will yell out “O’s!” at the start of the phrase “O’ say, does that star-spangled banner yet wave.” It was the loudest “O’s!” I have ever heard. I captured the experience here.
The game was great. It was setting up to be a normal Orioles outing. A short outing by the starter, the bullpen holds and the Orioles get a 1 run win. However, this is the Yankees, and this is not the regular season. As we know, Jim Johnson in a non save situation, came in the top of the 9th to hold the Yanks, but gave up a HR to Russel Martin. The lid was popped off after that, Yanks won 7-2.
Even though the Orioles lost game 1, I will never forget it. The fans were electric, the game was hard-fought, and although the end was not what I would have liked, it had everything a great game could have.
Monday – Game 2:
This one I enjoyed from the comfort of my living room. Wei-Yen Chen out-dueled the well-decorated, playoff experienced, Andy Petitte. The Orioles take game 2, 3-2, as Jim Johnson gets the save. What is worth mentioning here, is TBS Reporter Craig Sager’s comment in the bottom of the 9th inning. Sager reported that the Orioles registered 120 decibels. Comparing sound levels, the loudest stadium in the NBA last year was the Oklahoma City Thunder at 108 decibels. I’m no expert in this field, but common sense would lead one to believe the acoustics indoors would be much louder than an outdoor ballpark. The record was set at a Seattle Seahawks game at 137 decibels. Regardless, the O’s faithful were going nuts, and I couldn’t be more proud.
Wednesday – Game 3:
Stayed up till 12:30 AM to watch Ibanez crush my spirit.. twice.. Once in the 9th and again in the 12th.
Thursday – Game 4:
With their backs against the wall and Yankees organization rallying around the recent news of manager, Joe Girardi’s father passing, the Orioles found themselves in a tight spot. Win or go home.A game that took just over 4 hours and 30 minutes, it was another late night. The Orioles came out first and took the early 1-0 lead in the 5th when Nate McLouth went yard. The Yankees responded an inning later when Cano drove in Jeter with a ground out to 2nd. The game then went into a pitching grudge match. Several times, both teams had RISP but were outmatched by two great managers making moves via the bullpen. Buck and Girardi at their finest.
Hits were hard to come by as the game wore on. The Yanks and O’s major stars have struggled, to say the least, the entire series. For the Yankees, pinch hitters have provided what some veterans, A-Rod in particular, have not. Rookies, Machado and Flaherty, have been the threat for the Orioles in the bottom of the lineup.
But then something happened, something that I had not seen in the Baltimore dugout. A once tense and uptight clubhouse, started to rally. Joe Saunders led the dugout into a team huddle, which helped the Birds relax. Rally caps appeared on the railing of the dugout and Gatorade bottles were shook in a manner to wake up the baseball gods. The Orioles were kids again, living in the moment, and loving every second of it. The bats mysteriously woke up from players that had been struggling. Machado doubles to lead off the inning. JJ Hardy hits a ball off the top of the wall in the top of the 13th, scoring Machado. A quick flash to the Orioles dugout showed new life. The Orioles go to closer, Jim Johnson and this time he was dominant. Orioles win 2-1, force game 5, and live to fight another day. And fight, they will.
After splitting the first 22 games this year, the season/postseason will be decided in the 23rd and final game. Game 5 decides who moves on to the ALCS. This series has worn me out, but I would not have it any other way. The Orioles have shocked me all year, and it is only fitting that we force a game 5.
Hammel against Sabathia in the Bronx.
Expect the unexpected.
In Buck I trust.