NEW YORK — It’s never easy reflecting in the immediate aftermath of a loss that ends any season, let alone one like the Orioles just provided to the city of Baltimore.
Disappointment and frustration are understandable following the 3-1 loss to the New York Yankees in Game 5 of the American League Division Series. The lineup remained silent against CC Sabathia to finish the five-game series with a .187 batting average despite the pitching staff posting a team earned run average of 2.52.
More difficult than anything is the finality of knowing such a fun and unforgettable season has no more chapters to follow and enjoy. The forgotten ritual of hurrying home or to Camden Yards to watch the Orioles play on a daily basis underwent a renaissance this season, as it was once again fun to follow every game, every out, and every pitch.
As he’s done all year, manager Buck Showalter placed the loss in proper perspective in expressing how proud he was of his team’s 24-game improvement that resulted in the Orioles’ first playoff appearance since 1997. But it’s clear he wasn’t viewing Friday’s loss as an end but rather a beginning.
The words echoed in meaning as a message to a fan base that finally had its thirst quenched for postseason baseball.
“It’s always real tough to talk to them after the season is over because there is always another game,” Showalter said. “It is not goodbye to this group, it is ‘see you later.’ They have a very well-deserved rest.”
The clubhouse was disappointed and subdued, but the overall message conveyed wasn’t one of despondence or regret beyond the shortcomings of the offense against an impressive New York pitching staff.
Numerous players offered a sense of not only recognizing what they’d accomplished by going toe-to-toe with the Yankees but an acceptance of the bar permanently being raised in Baltimore. With All-Star players such as catcher Matt Wieters and center field Adam Jones – who both struggled mightily in their first postseason appearance – there’s no reason for the Orioles to believe they can’t duplicate or exceed what they accomplished in 2012.
“It stings right now, but at the same time, this is the baseball the Baltimore Orioles want to play,” Wieters said. “This is a starting point for us. We can move into the offseason and try to improve and get even a better team out there next year.”
The questions will now be directed off the field as the Orioles not only look to make improvements to their 25-man roster but must also address the future of the man most responsible for changing the culture of losing that permeated throughout the organization for 14 seasons. Showalter enters the final year of his contract after emerging as a strong candidate for AL Manager of the Year in 2012.
Arriving in Baltimore in 2010 with a reputation for helping turn around franchises, Showalter’s on-field leadership and fingerprints on various facets of the organization have been vital. His partnership with executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette resulted in quirky – and, at times, head-scratching – personnel decisions that repeatedly worked out in the club’s favor in 2012.
Orioles majority owner Peter Angelos met players in the visitor clubhouse at Yankee Stadium following the defeat and addressed Showalter’s future when asked by reporters. He has not engaged in any extension talks with the Orioles manager, but Angelos offered the impression that it would be a priority to keep Showalter in the dugout beyond the 2013 season.
“That’s something that hasn’t come up, but if [he’s] interested in staying, nobody’s more interested in keeping him than I am,” Angelos said. “And, certainly, I speak for everyone in the organization. They had Buck as the manger, Dan Duquette as the [general manager], and you certainly couldn’t ask for a better combination.”
In addition to Showalter’s future in Baltimore being secured for the long haul, time will reveal whether the front office capitalizes on the club’s newfound prosperity to attempt to lure more high-profile free agents to Baltimore. A 93-win season might be enough to eliminate the perception of the Orioles needing to overpay free agents as long as they’re willing to at least pay fair market value.
As has been documented countless times over the course of the 2012 season, many variables fell in the Orioles’ favor, including the demise of the Boston Red Sox and more vulnerability in New York and Tampa Bay that resulted in no one in the AL East running away with the division crown. The Yankees and Red Sox didn’t go crazy with free-agent spending last offseason, so it will be interesting to see how the two behemoths respond this winter knowing that the Orioles have become a substantial player in the division conversation.
“This is where we feel we belong. We can play in this division,” said Jones, who made no excuses for his anemic .087 batting average in the Division Series after a career year in 2012. “The East is going to get stronger. We feel we’re one of the teams in the East to beat now. We’re not just a pushover in the East. We’re going to come out next year ready to bust some heads.”
How the Orioles go about improving their club will be discussed in greater detail in the coming weeks. For now, we’ll remember a season in which the Orioles did something they hadn’t accomplished in a very long time.
It was an act more simplistic than winning a World Series but also more meaningful than the act of raising a trophy.
The Orioles made their fans believe once again. They restored a pride that had disappeared years ago and convinced us that it could still exist.
The challenge will now be keeping those feelings alive next year and in the seasons to follow.
“They were good teammates and people that our city and organization can be proud of,” Showalter said. “And we’ll see them again.”
Baltimore can only hope the Orioles and the exhilarating brand of baseball they brought back in 2012 are here to stay.