BALTIMORE — Friday marked the 5,000th day since the Orioles lost Game 6 of the 1997 American League Championship Series.
That’s according to a friend, who sent me the message earlier in the evening. If you’re hellbent on confirming the number and ruining your weekend, I’ll leave you the sobering math.
Needless to say, it’s been an excruciatingly long time since those exciting days and nights at Camden Yards, making the 45,382 in attendance for fireworks and the first visit by the Cincinnati Reds since the 1970 World Series all the more interesting. It was the first sellout since the Orioles’ home opener and only the second game all season in which the club drew more than 40,000 fans.
To top it off, the Orioles didn’t disappoint, as Derrek Lee’s walk-off home run in the bottom of the 12th finished an exciting 5-4 victory for a club badly needing a win after a 3-6 road trip and losing eight of its last 11 overall.
“I knew I got that one,” said Lee about his 381-foot drive into the left-field seats. “I put a good swing on that one. If that one didn’t go over the fence, we would have had some problems.”
Of course, it wasn’t perfect as Baltimore squandered an early 4-0 lead, stranded 13 runners, and went a combined 2-for-14 with runners in scoring position. These are the last-place Orioles, after all, but it was refreshing seeing far more orange and black — with a sprinkling of red from Reds fans making the rare trip to Camden Yards — than empty, green seats at one of the most beautiful, and lonely, parks in baseball. At least for a game that didn’t include the Yankees or Red Sox.
Yes, fans came for the fireworks.
It was union night and Friday student night.
They came to see a Cincinnati team not named the Bengals — who also happens to be the defending National League Central champion — playing in Baltimore.
Regardless of the reason, the outcome gave all those people a reason to come back.
“I’ve always felt like when you have a good crowd you want to [watch] a good game and go home and want to come back and enjoy the experience,” manager Buck Showalter said. “I’ve always felt a little added, I don’t want to say pressure, but you really want them to have their day at the park and the Orioles win and then want to come back and be a part of it.”
Showalter understands how important it is for the Orioles to capitalize on these rare occasions when the ballpark is full and to provide a product people want to see again sooner rather than later. It’s a gesture far more meaningful than the single victory that pulled the team to within five games of the .500 mark.
Of course, it doesn’t happen overnight. The results on the field will dictate when — and if — the fans return to Camden Yards, but Friday night was plenty of fun for anyone who flocked to the ballpark.
“This place is a beautiful park,” said Lee, the 35-year-old veteran whose career was only getting started when Camden Yards was drawing 3.5 million people every season. “When the seats are full, it’s definitely a nice electricity. It would be nice to get a few more nights like that.”
If he only knew the half of it.
Over five thousand days ago.