The 1996 Orioles
What can be said about this team that has not already been said? They performed admirably throughout the season with Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson earning 32 wins together. Randy Myers tallied up 31 saves that year. Boomer Wells was also in the rotation and had moments of radiance intertwined with abysmal and less than stellar starts winning 11 and losing 14. With a solid offense comprised of superstars like Brady Anderson, Cal Ripken, Chris Hoiles and Roberto Alomar, the 1996 Orioles clinched the Wild Card spot. In the American League Division Series, the Orioles cured the Indian’s fever and went on to face the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series. The rest is too painful to rehash but I can probably conclude with “Jeffrey Maier” and the pain at a true fan’s innermost soul will reignite.
There was something markedly different about that team compared to the previous year. The 1995 Orioles finished in third place, two games below five hundred. A similar configuration was present for the infield and outfield but the 1996 Orioles were able to finish 14 games above five hundred. How does this happen? Pitching happened. With strong starters such as Mike Mussina and Scott Erickson, the Orioles were able to keep the momentum through the season.
This team is different. People have been uttering this under hushed breath since their spectacular performances early on in the season. However, impressive starts with dismal finishes are something Orioles fans have known all too well since that fateful 1996 team that heated up in the second half and cooled indefinitely over the next decade. Still, with the All-Star break approaching, the Orioles are 10 games above .500 and currently in second place in the AL East. What is different this year? Pitching happened yet again.
Over the off-season, many fans groaned loudly when Guthrie was traded for Hammel, a pitcher who was sent to the bullpen because of lackluster performances. More groans came when the Orioles acquired Wei-Yin Chen. As fate would have it, Orioles fans have seen both of these pitchers evolve into reliable starters for the club. In my opinion, Hammel channels the 1996 Mike Mussina. With a general ease and comfort on the mound, I think most Orioles fans take a collective sigh of relief on days when he’s scheduled to start. With an 8-3 record, he commands the team starters with a 2.61 ERA presently. That is nearly half of Mike Mussina’s ERA at the close of the 1996 season (4.81). Our second ace starter in the form of rookie Wei-Yin Chen has surpassed the meager expectations that fans had at the beginning of the season. He has won seven of ten decisions and has a 3.38 ERA. The beauty of the Orioles pitching this year is not only the dominance of these two starters but the bullpen has begun a shift into a true powerhouse in theAL. In 1996, Randy Myers was the primary closer and ended with a 4-4 record and 30 saves. Like Myers, dirty Jim Johnson has command of the ball and has movement that can cause motion-sickness through a television set. Orioles’ fans are seeing the best of Jim Johnson this year. With a fastball in the mid-90s and ridiculously filthy off-speed pitches, Johnson has been virtually unhittable down the stretch.
This 2012 team is different. Looking forward, the Yankees are most likely going to clinch the AL East however if Hammel and Chen can continue having quality starts and if the Orioles can add more reliable starters further down in the rotation, the Orioles can inevitably take the wildcard. The hope is that the Orioles come out of their recent slump (generally as a team) and can offer the run support needed to win ballgames now.