It’s come down to this?

September 29, 2011 | Keith Melchior

It’s been a long, long, long 6 months of baseball here in Baltimore and, to many, it finished on a high note as the Orioles came from behind to beat Boston in the bottom of the 9th and put the Red Sox playoff hopes on hold for about 3 minutes, until the Yankees decided to let Tampa join the playoffs as the wild card team. Tell me THAT wasn’t fixed.  Almost 5 hours to play 12 innings of baseball? Did they have a rain delay in the dome in St Petersburg as well?  Something is really, really fishy here, but who cares?  Baseball season in Baltimore has been over since early July.

The Orioles were fortunate enough to play a spoiler role in the 2011 wild card race by facing Tampa, Boston and Los Angeles over the final 2 weeks of the season. They actually finished September with a 15-13 record which, like last season, proved the team would not quit down the stretch under Buck Showalter’s watch.  So what happened after a 6-1 start of the season and a 15-13 finish?  A 48-79 record, that’s what.

So why all the excitement over the last 3 games?  Was it to cheer on a team that has suffered through it’s 14 straight losing season? Was it to cheer the Red Sox collapse from having a 9 game wild card lead to being in a tie with Tampa going into the final game of the regular season? Would there be the same “excitement” at OPACY if the opponent had been, say, Toronto or Cleveland?  Doubtful.

So, that’s what it’s come down to around here? I think more people were cheering AGAINST the Red Sox and their obnoxious fans  than they were cheering FOR the Orioles?  Has Boston’s curse of the Bambino resurfaced in his hometown? It did for 2 of the 3 games, and had the gopherballs not been flying out of the park on Tuesday, might have been for the entire series.

Terry Francona should have an upset stomach. His team folded miserably in September. He couldn’t stop the bleeding. He was in 1st place by 1.5 games on August 31. The Sox didn’t win 2 straight games at any point all month. They didn’t deserve to make the playoffs at all. They started the 2011 season 2-10 and finished 7-21. Cheer up O’s fans, they sucked worse than we did and it couldn’t have come at a worse time for them. At least we Oriole fans were content with the fact we weren’t going to see this team finish at .500 or above.

The Red Sox were studs between their terrible start and collapsing finish. Even struggling with that 9-31 record they STILL managed to win 90 games going 81-42 in between. The Orioles struggled at times just to win 69 games and almost finished with a worse record than last year. As September started I would have bet the mortgage they lost 100, but they actually finished September with a 15-13 record which, like last season, proved the team would not quit down the stretch under Buck Showalter’s watch.  So what happened after a 6-1 start of the season and a 15-13 finish?  A 48-79 record and no playoffs , AGAIN.

In the old days (I’m talking before guaranteed contracts) you’d see players on bad teams come to life in August and September. The generic reason was because “they are playing for their contract next season.” Probably a true statement. Teams could cut you or terminate your contract at the drop of a hat if they wanted to, that is, until the MLBPA took over the league and contracts were no-cut and guaranteed. If MLB was like the NFL, you’d see more competition and more players actually trying a little harder. Take for instance Vlad Guerrero. Here’s a guy at the end of his career and for 8 million dollars, the Orioles had what appeared to be a washed up player just hanging on for the money. Guerrero was nothing more than a glorified singles hitter early in the season. Pre-All Star game Vlad was hitting .279 with 7HR , 31 RBI, 12 doubles, 11 walks and 36 strikeouts. After the break his numbers improved to .304, 6HR, 32RBI, 18 doubles, 6 walks and 20 strikeouts. In his last 30 games he batted .350, 3HR, 18RBI, 10 doubles, 4 walks and 8 strikeouts. Tell me he isn’t playing for a new contract in a free agent year. The HR production was down a bit but his doubles and RBI totals were almost 1/3 of his season totals.

Along with Vlad, you can thank Matt Angle, JJ Hardy, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold and Robert Andino for the September success.  They livened things up a bit and combined for 24HR, 30 doubles, and 89 RBI.

Now with the season complete the questions will begin. Who will replace Andy MacPhail? Will Buck return as manager or move to GM? Is Willie Randolph to become the Orioles 7th manager in 15 years? Who will be returning to the team in 2012?Is Pedro Strop the real deal or just another young arm that will fizzle out like Matusz, Bergesen, and Tillman?

With the exception of the Toronto Blue Jays, the Orioles proved they CAN compete in the AL East, by beating the Yankees, Red Sox and Tampa in September and making the AL playoff race a little more interesting. Too bad those games were meaningless to Oriole fans. We just hate to see New York and Boston have any success.

Gives you hope for 2012, doesn’t it?