Living Vicariously Through the Baltimore Orioles
Like many Blue Jays fans, September has, for me, become the month each year when dreams of a successful season are crushed and when the harsh realities of fall begin to set it. This year was actually different because the Blue Jays’ hopes and dreams were crushed in August with a pathetic 9-19 showing, and the news on August 28 that slugger Jose Bautista was officially lost for the season.
September is off to a rip-roaring start, as Toronto is 1-4 and has been shut out by such notable pitchers as Zack Britton and Joe Saunders. So, as the losses mounted and attendance dwindled for the Blue Jays, I found myself searching for a reason to watch Major League Baseball in September. Last night, I found that reason: the Baltimore Orioles.
With the Blue Jays taking a day off from their quest to achieve the A.L.’s worst record, the only game I could find on T.V. yesterday was the Yankees-Orioles contest. Thankfully, I chose to watch this game and was treated to one of the best matches of the baseball season.
The sixth sellout crowd of the season had gathered at Camden Yards for the unveiling of a statute of Cal Ripken Jr. and to see the Orioles, who trailed New York by one game for the A.L. East Division lead. With Ripken watching in the stands and the O’s leading 6-1, the Yankees staged a five-run rally in the top of the 8th to even the score. With all of the momentum stacked against Baltimore, with the might of baseball’s wealthiest and most powerful team ready to crush the poor Orioles for good, Baltimore staged an incredible rally. Three of the first four Oriole batters in the bottom of the 8th smashed home runs, propelling Baltimore to a 10-6 victory and back into a tie with the Yankees for the A.L. East Division lead. When Adam Jones hit his lead-off home run in the 8th, I actually jumped up from my seat to celebrate. This was clearly the most meaningful game for the Orioles since the days when Ripken was patrolling the Baltimore infield.
Aside from the fact that Baltimore is a rival of the Blue Jays, there is a lot to like about the Orioles and their pennant run this year. Baltimore plays in one of the most beautiful ballparks in the history of baseball, Camden Yards, a facility which changed the course of modern baseball stadium construction when it was opened in 1992. The Orioles have a sharp, unique look with their orange and black uniforms, which has changed very little over the years. Baltimore, like Toronto, is fighting to compete in the A.L. East against the mega payrolls of Boston ($173.2 million) and New York ($197.9 million) on a budget of $81.4 million, which ranks 19th in the Majors. The Orioles have posted a losing record in 14 consecutive seasons and have finished higher than 4th in their division only once since 1998. The O’s have not advanced to the World Series since 1983, the year of their last World Championship. Once a popular ticket in town, the Orioles’ attendance was undercut by the arrival of the Washington Nationals franchise in the U.S. Capitol, less than one hour away, in 2005. Baltimore was in the top five in A.L. attendance every season between 1989 and 2005; since 2006, the Orioles’ attendance has been 10th in the A.L. or worse every season except one. Simply put, the Orioles have been one of the least successful clubs in all of baseball in the past 14 years, which allows even the most ardent fans of opposing teams to appreciate Baltimore’s success in 2012.
Other than Jones, whose .847 OPS and RF/9 of 2.81 make him one of the best center fielders in baseball, there are not many true stars on this Oriole squad. Of the eight Oriole pitchers who have started nine or more games this year, only Chris Tillman has an ERA below 3.40 or a WHIP below 1.20. Only three position players on the entire roster, Jones, Nick Markakis and Nolan Reimold, are carrying batting averages over.280. Baltimore is second in the Junior Circuit in homeruns, but is below the A.L. average in hits, runs, batting average, OPS, runs allowed, hits allowed, and WHIP. But that’s what makes Baltimore’s pennant run even more endearing: they are finding ways to compete in “baseball’s toughest division” despite fielding a very ordinary, inexpensive collection of talent.
Adding to Baltimore’s appeal is the fact that none of the baseball “experts” predicted that they would be in a playoff position this year let alone leading their division. ESPN and the Sporting News both predicted the O’s to finish last in the A.L. East, and at the beginning of the year, Sports Illustrated published an opinion from a baseball scout who stated that Baltimore was a “potential 100-loss team” which “doesn’t have a lot of talent”.
Thursday night at Camden Yards was the type of event that I somehow believed the Blue Jays would be hosting this year: a triumphant victory in a long-awaited, meaningful September game against an A.L. East powerhouse, in front of a packed stadium. Instead of being jealous of the Orioles, I have decided to hop on their bandwagon and live out the excitement of the A.L. East pennant race with Baltimore. Until the Blue Jays start caring about baseball again, I suggest that you do the same.
…and that’s the Last Word.
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