The Orioles have avoided arbitration with closer Jim Johnson and starting pitcher Jason Hammel by agreeing to one-year deals just days before the start of spring training.
The Johnson deal is reportedly worth $6.5 million and the right-handed reliever could earn an additional $50,000 based on games finished, according to The Sun. This winter was Johnson’s third time being arbitration-eligible, but the reliever will not become a free agent until after the 2014 season.
The 29-year-old posted a 2.49 earned run average and led the big leagues with 51 saves last season as he earned his first trip to the All-Star Game.
The 30-year-old Hammel was 8-6 with a 3.43 ERA in 20 starts for the Orioles and fought back from knee surgery to pitch in the postseason.
Right-handed relief pitcher Darren O’Day is the Orioles’ only remaining arbitration-eligible player that hasn’t yet signed a contract for the 2013 season.
I still think this series in New York is a long way from over. It’s a best-of-5 for a reason.
And the Orioles have swatted away every nuisance that’s come their way in 2012, so why wouldn’t they stay alive tonight with a dramatic Game 4 victory? I almost expect them to win tonight because that’s what they deserve.
But if the Yankees win tonight in the Bronx and that’s all she wrote for the Birds, I’ll be just fine.
Really. I’ll sleep like a baby tonight if the Orioles lose in Game 4.
I’ve watched the first three games of the series with this peculiar “Lord only knows what’s going to happen tonight” sort of philosophy, which has served me well. I didn’t go nuts when Ibanez beat Billy Cundiff Jim Johnson in the 9th inning, even though I assumed it was over when the team’s closer strolled to the mound to collect his nearly-automatic-save and give the Birds a 2-1 series lead.
It wasn’t over, unfortunately, when Ibanez drilled a pitch into the right field seats to tie it up at 2-2.
An hour later it WAS over – again unfortunately – when Ibanez popped Brian Matusz for the game-winning home run to put the Orioles into an “elimination game” for the second time in six days.
But make no mistake about it, my stomach didn’t start hurting last night the way it did in 1997 when Tony Fernandez ended our last playoff series with a home run in Baltimore.
I didn’t sleep well for a night or two after that loss to the Indians.
But this is much different now. This is fun. And I’ve enjoyed the living hell out of it.
No one expected this in March or April. Hell, honestly, no one even expected this on Labor Day.
It’s just fun to see the team playing on national TV in October…so I’m good with anything that happens tonight.
If the Orioles win, I’ll be fired up for Game 5 tomorrow night.
If the Yankees win, we’ll do what we always do around here when baseball season ends. We’ll turn our full attention to the Ravens.
Either way, it’s been a helluva run by the Orioles.
I sure have missed this since 1997.
And that’s why I’m good with any result. Just getting back there and playing post-season baseball is enough to satisfy me.
NEW YORK — Sixteen straight wins in extra-inning games.
A 76-0 record when leading after seven innings this season.
Both streaks finished.
All season long, the Orioles have defied logic in completing a 24-game turnaround to win the American League Wild Card to meet the New York Yankees in the Division Series.
Their 3-2 loss in 12 innings at Yankee Stadium was as illogical as anything from which they benefited in the 2012 season. And the crushing defeat leaves them on the verge of elimination as veteran left-hander Joe Saunders will go to the hill to try to keep the Orioles alive in Game 4.
Jim Johnson had faltered only three nights earlier in allowing five runs in the ninth inning of the Orioles’ 7-2 defeat in Game 1. The closer had converted 51 of 54 save opportunities this season to earn his first trip to the All-Star Game. There was no way he’d stumble again with a 3-2 lead in the ninth inning and his work on Monday night reinforced that claim.
He certainly wasn’t supposed to have any trouble against pinch-hitter Raul Ibanez, who Yankees manager Joe Girardi shockingly sent to the plate to bat for the struggling Alex Rodriguez. Lifting the future Hall of Fame third baseman for an admittedly hot-swinging 40-year-old was as bold as any of the curious moves made by the Orioles this season that worked out for no sound reason at all, it seemed.
And Baltimore saw firsthand what it felt like to fall victim to something seeming to be illogical as Ibanez deposited a 1-0 fastball into the right-field seats to tie the game.
“If you make your pitch, it doesn’t really matter,” Johnson said. “That’s what it comes down to. Ibanez, he’s a good low-ball hitter and obviously he has that hook swing. It’s just pitching. You’ve got to pitch down, change speeds and locate.”
The blast meant extra innings, a territory in which the Orioles hadn’t failed since April 11 when they were coming off their second straight loss in extra frames — ironically against the same Yankees — in two nights.
The Baltimore bats remained silent as they had for most of the night before Ibanez stepped to the plate to lead off the bottom of the 12th against left-hander Brian Matusz.
Lightning couldn’t strike twice, could it? Certainly not in extra innings where the Orioles have been king?
Ibanez crushed a Matusz fastball into the right-field seats on the first pitch of the inning, sending the Yankees home happy and up 2-1 in the five-game series, pushing the Orioles to the brink of elimination.
It was difficult to believe as the Orioles discussed in the clubhouse what had just happened to them moments earlier.
“You never want to experience a situation like that,” Matusz said. “Whether it’s a game-winning walk-off home run or in the first inning. The ultimate goal is to go out there and throw strikes and put up zeros. It’s not a good feeling, but you have to stay positive and move forward.”
As much as fans will point to the failures of Johnson and Matusz in not being able to subdue Ibanez’s bat, the Orioles’ inability to generate much of anything offensively doomed their opportunity to take a series lead heading into Game 4. New York pitching retired 21 of 22 Orioles hitters at one point Wednesday night and the club has plated just seven runs in the first three games of the series.
Their two All-Star hitters, Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, are by no means the only ones not hitting, but the pair has combined for just three hits in their first 33 postseason at-bats counting the wild card play-in game against the Texas Rangers. A fielding miscue by Jones that led to a run-scoring triple by Derek Jeter certainly didn’t help matters, either.
The Orioles lineup did little — rookies Ryan Flaherty and Manny Machado hit solo homers to account for the offensive production — to support the dominating performance from Miguel Gonzalez, who struck out eight and allowed one run in seven innings of work.
The offense simply hasn’t been good enough, and it’s a major reason why the Orioles find their backs to the wall. And the poor production placed them in a position for Girardi to send Ibanez instead of Rodriguez to the plate with a chance to tie the game with one swing.
Even with Rodriguez’s immense struggles, it didn’t seem to make sense to bench the highest paid player in the game, regardless of his struggles.
But it worked.
As a result, the Orioles now face the colossal challenge of winning two straight win-or-go-home games at Yankee Stadium to advance to the AL Championship Series. We’ll see if they’re ready to answer the bell in the way they have countless times this season, albeit with stakes that were never so high.
“It’s pretty much win or go home tomorrow, isn’t it?” Jones said. “There’s pretty much no turning back. We’re going to have the same attitude, the same mentality we’ve had since the first day of spring training. We’re going to have fun, let it fly, and live with the results.”
BALTIMORE — There’s no magical explanation for why the New York Yankees bested the Orioles in a 7-2 final to take Game 1 of the American League Division Series on Sunday night.
It wasn’t the wrong tactical decision by manager Buck Showalter or bad luck that cost the Orioles against their AL East rival.
The Yankees’ future Hall of Fame starting pitcher CC Sabathia was simply better than anything the Orioles had to offer in return. The burly left-hander delivered when it mattered most while Baltimore’s All-Star trio of Jim Johnson, Adam Jones, and Matt Wieters couldn’t get the job done in the game’s final two innings.
Johnson surrendered a leadoff home run to Yankees catcher Russell Martin on a 2-0 fastball up in the strike zone and gave up five runs (four earned) to turn a nail-biter into a laugher by the time the Orioles collected the final out in the top of the ninth inning.
“I made a mistake, obviously to Martin, and a couple of other mistakes over the middle of the plate and we paid for it,” Johnson said. “It’s unfortunate after the effort we got out of everybody else that I didn’t hold my end of the bargain.”
But Johnson wasn’t alone as the Orioles had their chances to surge ahead against Sabathia, but the veteran southpaw made big pitches when he needed them late in the game. Baltimore tried to break a 2-2 tie by getting a runner in scoring position in the fifth, sixth, and eighth innings, but Sabathia was at his best when the Orioles threatened to retake the lead.
Collecting his eighth career win in the postseason, Sabathia held the Orioles to two earned runs over 8 2/3 innings, striking out seven and stranding the potential go-ahead run in scoring position after a leadoff double by J.J. Hardy in the eighth inning.
Jones struck out swinging on a 2-2 cutter for the first out before Wieters fouled out to first baseman Mark Teixeira as the All-Star hitters could not give the Orioles the lead. First baseman Mark Reynolds grounded to short to end the threat before the Yankees’ bats surged ahead in the final inning.
“We had our chances,” Showalter said. “We had some some chances there, some good people up that had solid years for us, and it’s more a tribute to [Sabathia] than any detraction from our guys.”
Despite some exercising 20-20 hindsight after the series-opening loss, there was no reason to preserve Johnson for extra innings because the possibility of a save situation didn’t exist playing extra frames at Camden Yards. Even with his ninth-inning struggles in Arlington, you don’t shy away from your best reliever who allowed just one run over his last 26 innings and gave up only three home runs all year over 68 2/3 innings of work in the regular season.
You can count on one hand the number of times Johnson didn’t come through for the Orioles this season and still have fingers remaining. The latest occurrence just happened to come at the wrong time for his club.
Others — including Hall of Fame shortstop and TBS analyst Cal Ripken — called for Jones to bunt in the eighth inning with Hardy standing on second with nobody out. While it wouldn’t have been a bad play had Showalter called for his center fielder to lay one down, you can understand the decision to allow his best hitter to swing away with a runner already in scoring position and Wieters and Reynolds not exactly sporting stellar career numbers against Sabathia. There’s also the argument Jones had various ways to move the runner to third even if he couldn’t collect a hit.
Jones hadn’t laid down a sacrifice bunt all season and entered the night with a .341 average in 41 career at-bats against the Yankees left-hander. Even if he does advance Hardy to third, critics are then questioning the Baltimore manager for taking the bat out of the hands of the team’s most valuable hitter if Wieters and Reynolds don’t come through. A Jones bunt may have also led Yankees manager Joe Girardi to walk Wieters intentionally, leading to the strikeout-prone Reynolds and the rookie Manny Machado being the ones needing to cash in. It’s not exactly a successful trip through the order with both your No. 3 and 4 hitters having the bat taken out of their hands.
Going to Johnson in a tie game in the ninth and allowing Jones to swing away in the eighth weren’t the wrong moves. You don’t suddenly change who you are and what brought you here just because you’re playing in the postseason.
The Orioles’ top guys simply didn’t come through while Sabathia did.
When the chips were down late in the game, the Yankees pitcher was simply better than the best on which the Orioles have counted all season long.
The home loss makes Monday’s Game 2 that much more critical for the Orioles to win, with rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen going to the mound against the 40-year-old Andy Pettitte. There’s plenty of baseball to play in the five-game series, but the Orioles’ failure to come through on Sunday night made their road to the American League Championship Series that much more difficult.
Now faced with the task of winning three of their next four possible games against the Yankees — and the final three being played in the Bronx — to take the series, the Orioles backs are once again against the wall. And in case you’d forgotten, they’re used to it.
In fact, they embrace it.
“That is why we play five games,” Johnson said. “Every time we take the field we are going to compete. We are going to play hard. Obviously, it’s an unfortunate way to lose this first game, especially at home. So like I said, we’ve battled all year. Why would we make it easy now?”
There is no 15-7-0 this week. I’m a man with priorities.
My priorities Sunday were quite simple. I wanted to get through pre-game and post-game shows, enjoy a Ravens win and get to Oriole Park at Camden Yards as quickly as possible to watch a playoff game with my family.
At the end of the night, those priorities were realities even if the day didn’t play out exactly the way we had hoped it would.
Sunday night was everything baseball in Baltimore should be. It was an incredible gathering of friends and family for a vitally important civic event in a town where family names have baseball connections. We’re familiar with these types of nights in Baltimore, we just know them as “football games”. We’ve waited not so patiently for another one on the baseball diamond for a decade and a half.
It finally came Sunday night and it was absolutely as intense and electric and meaningful as any lifelong (or even Johnny-come-lately) Baltimore Orioles fan could have imagined it would be.
You know what’s amazing? I stood in the outfield for two hours during a rain delay and never heard a single complaint. Not about the lines for beer, not about the weather itself, not about the massive crowds making it difficult to maneuver or find space to stand comfortably.
Hell, we had waited 15 years. What’s another couple of hours?
After the New York Yankees were introduced to a less than partial crowd, there was a break before introducing the home team to their fans. The break might have been mere seconds, but it felt like time stood still. I remember the first time being alone with a girl at 16 years old, but I don’t remember my anticipation ever being as great as it was in those moments. The opportunity to show appreciation for ending one of the most miserable runs a fan base has experienced was a moment not soon to be forgotten.
That moment was followed up by a ceremonial first pitch thrown by Perry Hall High School shooting victim Daniel Borowy and guidance counselor Jesse Wasmer, the man who stepped in and defined heroism in fending off the shooter that August morning. As a PHHS grad who has remained very close to the school in recent years (and who both went to school with and grew up down the street from Jesse to boot), I will admit that I lost it a bit during the moment. Even those without Gators ties could certainly revel in the significance of the occasion. THIS is truly a representation of what Orioles baseball should be. The most important things happening in our community should be tied to, recognized by and celebrated with the franchise that has remained in our city since 1954.
This was a moment that far transcended sports.
As Game 1 of the ALDS went along, it felt like every pitch was the most important ever thrown in the history of the sport. Each tantalizing inch around the plate was crucial, with fans hanging on every centimeter afforded to CC Sabathia but taken away from Jason Hammel. When the Birds were able to break through and plate two runs off the bat of Nate McLouth in the 3rd inning the staff at OPACY could have set off actual fireworks and they might have gone unnoticed by a crowd that could only be described as bat-sh*t bonkers.
You’d think we would have learned our lesson after 162 games, but the Orioles opened our eyes once again on Friday night.
With few giving them a chance after a deflating series at Tampa Bay that forced them to go to Arlington for the first ever wild card play-in game, the Orioles knocked off the Texas Rangers to advance to the American League Division Series.
We assumed the task was too much for the Orioles to top the two-time defending American League champions after they went 2-5 against the Rangers and were outscored 56-24 in the season series. It didn’t matter that Texas had lost nine of its last 13 games or that Baltimore held the best road record in the American League. The epitaphs had already been written and recited by many over the last two days leading up to Friday’s first pitch.
Manager Buck Showalter’s decision to give the ball to left-hander Joe Saunders was met with more than a few raised eyebrows considering the soft-tossing veteran was 0-6 with a 9.38 earned run average in six career starts at Rangers Ballpark before Friday night. Even those defending the decision assumed a brief outing for Saunders before a 10-man bullpen would match up the rest of the way.
The middle-of-the-road starter couldn’t possibly contain the powerful Rangers bats, could he?
Saunders did just that, using effective off-speed stuff to pitch 5 2/3 innings of one-run ball before turning it over to the bullpen, the group most responsible for landing the Orioles in the postseason for the first time since 1997.
Arguably the player of the game, reliever Darren O’Day was brilliant over two innings of work to bridge the gap to the late innings. New lefty specialist Brian Matusz blew away Josh Hamilton on three pitches to end the eighth with the slugger representing the tying run. And, finally, Jim Johnson closed the door on the Rangers’ season and sent the Orioles back to Baltimore for the ALDS.
The Baltimore bats were far from fertile but did just enough against Texas starter Yu Darvish to give Saunders and the bullpen a slim lead.
Left fielder Nate McLouth drove in two runs and scored another to lead the offensive attack, J.J. Hardy and Adam Jones each knocked in one, and rookie Manny Machado tacked on an insurance run in the top of the ninth with a run-scoring single.
And as McLouth squeezed the final out in left to seal a 5-1 win, there was Showalter watching from the dugout as his players celebrated their unlikeliest feat to date in a season full of head-shaking wonder. At this point, you wonder just how unlikely the Orioles viewed it as they didn’t blink in a place that’s been a house of horror for them in recent years.
Why do we still doubt them?
The response was lukewarm in late August when executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette brought Saunders to Baltimore in exchange for reliever Matt Lindstrom. It wasn’t the impact move for a starting pitcher the Orioles desperately needed to push the Orioles over the hump in their playoff push.
Considered washed up and simply hoping for another chance in the big leagues while playing for Triple-A Norfolk only two months ago, McLouth was summoned to Baltimore as many laughed and rolled their eyes. Those same people then cringed when the thumb injury to Nick Markakis forced him to assume the leadoff spot duties.
Critics said 20-year-old Manny Machado wasn’t ready for the big leagues and certainly couldn’t handle playing third base after playing only two games at the position in his brief minor league career.
O’Day was a castoff from the Rangers who many thought didn’t even deserve a roster spot at the start of the season after being injured for much of spring training. Matusz endured one of the worst seasons in major league history a year ago and was demoted again earlier this season before ultimately being sent to the bullpen.
Yet, the moves worked and those individuals figured heavily into the Orioles’ first postseason win since 1997.
While I wondered if the Rangers could get off the mat after collapsing in the final two weeks of the regular season and losing their grasp on the AL West title, the Orioles emphatically delivered the knockout blow to their 2012 season. Perhaps the Rangers were the better team and would have prevailed in a longer season, but the Orioles were the better team on Friday and that’s all that matters.
Yes, this perfect group of imperfect players comprised of holdovers used to losing, career minor leaguers, has-beens, never-will-bes, and baby-faced rookies may look like a jumbled mess of individual parts, but the unconventional concoction made by Showalter and Duquette is now 11 wins away from a World Series title.
Suggesting that possibility still sounds preposterous, doesn’t it? I thought so.
They’ll undoubtedly be tabbed as the underdogs against the AL East champion Yankees, a team they tied 9-9 in the season series.
But that underdog label doesn’t bother the Orioles. They’ve heard it all year and they’ll just keep playing with their house money, proving more and more people wrong in the process.
We’ll keep waiting for that bankroll to expire while Showalter’s club continues one of the most remarkable baseball stories we’ve seen in a long time for at least another postseason series.
We don’t know when it will come to an end, but few teams have ever embraced the underdog role with such vigor.
And they’ll keep reminding you why you shouldn’t doubt them.
It has certainly been a “storybook” season for the Baltimore Orioles in 2012. No matter how their postseason run ends, there will be memories that will last for a lifetime.
I had an itch this week to compile a list of the top ten storylines for the season. It wasn’t an easy task, but here goes.
10. The ultimate reclamation
It isn’t SO crazy to think a team would have given OF Nate McLouth another chance in 2012. The former Pittsburgh Pirates All-Star was at least playing Major League Baseball, even if he hadn’t had a particularly good season since 2009.
Lew Ford was another story altogether. Ford went a full five years between Major League at-bats before being called up to Baltimore after ripping the cover off the ball at AAA Norfolk.
McLouth has been a significant contributor since being called up in August, taking over the every day LF spot and batting leadoff since Nick Markakis got hurt. Ford hasn’t contributed quite as much, but has come up with three big home runs when inserted into the lineup against lefties.
It has also lead to Tweets like this throughout the season…
9. “Why Not Again?”
Perhaps not the most significant story of the year, the story of Steve Johnson has likely been the most heart warming for Charm City in 2012.
I pulled this picture from Steve’s Facebook page…it’s probably three or four years old. I’d be willing to bet that at this point in his life, he’s probably embarrassed by things like this.
A Kingsville native, former St. Paul’s star and son of a former Orioles pitcher (and current broadcast analyst) made some of the more significant starts of the 2012 season. It’s Hollywood quality stuff. Even more amazingly, Johnson picked up his first big league win on August 8, 23 years removed from the exact date his father picked up HIS first victory during the Birds’ incredible 1989 campaign.
The Johnson & Johnson connection wasn’t the only inevitable comparison between the ’89 and ’12 O’s, as the cartoon birds, no name players and general disbelief of the respective campaigns was impossible to ignore. It even had me singing along…
8. What a dumb great trade.
SB Nation compiled reactions to GM Dan Duquette’s decision to deal SP Jeremy Guthrie to Colorado for SP Jason Hammel & RP Matt Lindstrom before the season. Here are a sampling…
This from Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal was perhaps worse…
For what it’s worth, most of us would probably be forced to admit that we didn’t think much of the deal at the time. Guthrie had been the organization’s only quality pitcher for years and was very popular thanks to also being a stand up individual. How were we to know that Hammel was going to put together an All-Star season (when healthy) and Lindstrom would be a reliable option in the back of the bullpen before helping to land veteran Joe Saunders in a trade? And how were we to know that on the other end of the deal, Guthrie would implode in Denver before being sent to Kansas City?
Certainly the deal has turned out to be quite the feather in Duquette’s cap, as has the signing of SP Wei-Yin Chen-who has pitched to a 4.02 ERA and 1.261 WHIP over 32 starts? The only real question mark for Duquette has been Tsuyoshi Wada, who needed Tommy John surgery before he could make a pitch. The way things are going for this organization, you almost assume he’ll be Stephen Strasburg in 2013. (Okay…not really.)
7. I’m not so sure about this.
“Nick Markakis batting leadoff when he returns? I don’t know…”
I probably don’t need to show you August. Ah hell, I’ll show you August.
Markakis’ effort (before being sidelined in September) was especially crucial following the loss of OF Nolan Reimold, who hit .313 in 16 games to start the season in the role. Without Reimold, the Birds attempted to use a group of players including OF Endy Chavez and even briefly a return of 2B Brian Roberts, but none could hold down the role until Markakis. The Orioles are now hoping Markakis can somehow get back before the season ends.
6. These guys…of course!
While Hammel and Chen were obviously “hits” for the Orioles’ rotation, the other 60% didn’t pan out so well. Opening Day starter Jake Arrieta, former #1 overall pick Brian Matusz and veteran Tommy Hunter struggled mightily over the season’s first few months before ultimately finding their way back to the minors for seasoning (all have since returned and offered solid efforts out of the bullpen).
In their place, the Birds turned not only to the aforementioned Johnson, but more importantly gave the ball to two pitchers have provided a level of stability that could have been expected by absolutely no one, perhaps even themselves.
Chris Tillman was at least viewed recently as a significant prospect in the Orioles’ organization. After being acquired from the Seattle Mariners as part of the Birds’ haul (along with Adam Jones and George Sherrill) for Erik Bedard, there was a thought Tillman would ultimately prove to be part of the “cavalry” of young Orioles pitchers former VP of Baseball Operations Andy MacPhail regularly spoke of.
But after 2009 (5.40 ERA 1.554 WHIP in 12 starts), 2010 (5.87 ERA 1.528 WHIP in 11 starts) and 2011 (5.52 ERA 1.645 WHIP in 13 starts), it appeared as though Tillman was all but done in Baltimore.
And then this happened.
Of course it did.
Perhaps even more improbable was Miguel Gonzalez, who was all but abandoned by the Boston Red Sox following 2009 Tommy John surgery. Executive Director of International Recruiting Fred Ferreira signed off on Gonzalez to the Birds after seeing him throw just nine pitches (according to SI’s Albert Chen). Perhaps we should have expected the man who discovered Vladimir Guerrero knew what he was doing.
And just like that, Chris Tillman and Miguel Gonzalez saved a rotation and very likely a season.
I feel like there’s someone else we should thank…
Of all of the decisions made by Dan Duquette upon arrival, perhaps the decision to make Rick Peterson (a fixture of the “Moneyball” Oakland Athletics) the team’s Director of Pitching Development has immediately paid the most dividends.
BALTIMORE — It was unlike any scene we’ve ever witnessed as the Orioles remained on the field after the final out of their 6-3 win over the Boston Red Sox Sunday.
An outpouring of raw emotion that better belonged in a storybook or movie script as fans applauded their efforts and hoped for a post-game celebration.
Joining most of the 41,257 spectators who remained in the ballpark in the moments following the game, players and coaches became fans themselves as they watched the top of the ninth inning of the Angels-Rangers game on the video board at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The Orioles hoped to celebrate the guarantee of a postseason berth with their home fans on their home field, but the Angels’ dramatic comeback victory against Texas closer Joe Nathan ended those thoughts as the club walked off the diamond with mild disappointment.
The standing ovation they received while walking to the dugout felt like the perfect ending for an imperfect finish to the day. Everything started so promising for the Orioles, who held up their end of the bargain by completing a three-game sweep of Boston. But as they’ve learned all season long, little comes easy as the teams they needed to lose didn’t on Sunday afternoon.
Entering the day tied for first place with the Orioles, the Yankees bounced back from an early deficit to win in Toronto. The Angels’ win in the first game of a doubleheader in Arlington kept the Orioles’ magic number at one for clinching a postseason berth as they boarded a plane to St. Petersburg for the final three-game series of the regular season.
The Orioles would finally clinch their first postseason berth since 1997 late Sunday evening as the Angels dropped the second game of the doubleheader in Arlington.
“It would have been a neat moment to share had it worked out, but you can’t really expect anybody to lose,” left fielder Nate McLouth said. “You’ve got to kind of take care of your business, but it was nice to kind of wave goodbye to the fans. It would have been neat to have clinched right there, but it was kind of a cool moment, anyway.”
There was nothing phony about the on-field viewing party as the Orioles planned to watch the conclusion of the Angels game together and thought it appropriate to watch with the fans. Players and fans hung with every pitch before Torii Hunter’s two-run double with two outs sent players toward the clubhouse and fans toward the exits for an anticlimactic finish to an incredible scene.
As special as it would have been to see the Orioles clinch at home and celebrate on the field at Camden Yards, you’re reminded of what this club is all about. Scratching and clawing their way to victories in 28 one-run games and 16 straight extra-inning games over the course of the season, there’s something fitting about the Orioles — and their long-suffering fans — having to wait just a bit longer to secure their first postseason spot in 15 years.
“It definitely was a little awkward because everything was kind of working [our] way, but we’ve had to fight for everything this year,” closer Jim Johnson said. “With the way that game finished up, this [race] is going to come down to the wire. Look at how last year finished; it was ‘March Madness’ in September. This game’s crazy. You never know what’s going to happen, and that’s the way this team’s been fighting all year.”
For manager Buck Showalter, the post-game scene was a reminder of just how far the Orioles have come since he arrived in Baltimore late in the 2010 season. He’s continually preached the need to win back fans by putting forth a product they’ll want to see over and over.
The Orioles have done that and then some — even if the crowds haven’t always reflected that — but the manager isn’t interested in taking any of the credit. Showalter wants the focus on his players, even if we all know how big a part he’s played in restoring that pride in the organization.
“I spent more time watching the players and their reactions,” Showalter said. “As I’ve gotten older, I try to really step back and take in a moment. I took a couple of scans around behind me in the stands. We want to keep that. That’s our responsibility. It’s our responsibility to play good enough baseball and conduct ourselves in a way that people want to come back and see what’s going on here with our team.”
The post-game clubhouse was what you’d expect as plastic tarps were folded up on top of lockers for a champagne celebration that wasn’t to be. To call it a letdown would be an overstatement with players aware they would clinch a postseason berth late Sunday evening if the Angels dropped the second game of the twin bill against the Rangers.
To clinch at home would have been exciting, but to clinch anywhere is what’s really important. And the Orioles were so close, they could taste it before departing for their series against the Rays..
“Who cares? If you’re in, you’re in,” said center fielder Adam Jones about not being able to clinch a spot at Camden Yards. “Nobody cares. I don’t care. You can do it home, road. We can clinch on the plane. We’re going to party somewhere.”
If Sunday was the final day of baseball at Camden Yards this season, the spontaneity of that scene between fans and players will go down as one of the most memorable moments in the history of the franchise.
And it was just the latest example of how far the Orioles have come by owning a Sunday in late September — even if the Ravens weren’t playing this weekend.
The Orioles hope they haven’t seen the last of Camden Yards this season, but the next few days will determine their fate.
“Hopefully, we can bring them something fun,” said Johnson, who’s noticed fans becoming more and more involved without being prompted by the scoreboard or public address system. “They’re into the game. They understand the situations, they stand up by themselves, they start their own chants, they’re into it. It puts more pressure on the other team, but it also gives you a little boost of adrenaline at the same time. If you can harness that, that’s a huge advantage.”
It’s an advantage the Orioles haven’t had — or needed to have — in a very long time.
And we’ll have to wait a little longer to see if they can take advantage of it in October.
BALTIMORE — After being locked up long-term with a six-year, $85.5 million contract earlier this season, it was already safe to say 2012 would be a memorable season for Orioles center fielder Adam Jones.
But with the club on the verge of clinching its first postseason berth since 1997 and Jones setting new career highs in multiple categories, the 27-year-old was asked if the year could have gone any better for him — to this point, anyway — after being named the 2012 Most Valuable Oriole, the second straight year he’s received the honor.
“What more can you ask for? We’re not done yet though,” said Jones prior to Sunday’s series finale against the Boston Red Sox. “We’ve got four games left and it’s four games deciding it. There’s not one team that’s clinched an AL playoff berth, so we’ve still got four games to get it done. It doesn’t get any easier.”
In a season of unlikely heroes and a degree of success no one outside the Orioles clubhouse anticipated, Jones is the first to tell you there were many deserving candidates for the honor. But whenever the Orioles have needed a big hit late in the game, Jones has topped the list of many players to deliver in key spots.
In addition to setting new personal bests in home runs (32), doubles (39), hits (183), runs (102), extra-base hits (74), stolen bases (15), and OPS (.846), Jones became the first major league player in the last 40 years to club three game-winning home runs in the 12th inning or later in one season. With one more double in the season’s final four games, Jones will become the fifth player in franchise history to hit 30 home runs and 40 doubles, joining Cal Ripken, Rafael Palmeiro, Miguel Tejada, and Aubrey Huff.
The individual recognition is appreciated by Jones, but the 91 wins next to the club’s name in the American League East and his teammates’ contributions are much more important to him.
“I think there are some other deserving guys,” said Jones, who also mentioned Matt Wieters and Chris Davis as worth candidates. “Like I said, I’ve lobbied for Jim Johnson and our whole entire bullpen pitching staff. I appreciate it, but I can’t do any of this without my teammates. There’s the reason why we’re all out here and where we’re at. It’s getting named to me, but it is a team award. I think the whole team deserves it.”
Jones has played in all 158 of the Orioles’ games entering Sunday, which is a new career high in his fifth season in Baltimore.
His impressive numbers at the plate and stellar defense in the outfield earn most of the publicity, but Jones’ dependability is what manager Buck Showalter values most. Finding the rare player that you can trust in the long haul is a difficult task, but Jones fits the description, according to the Orioles manager.
Instead of talking about Jones’ game-winning homers or acrobatic catches this season, Showalter pointed to Saturday’s game against the Red Sox, a night in which he went 0-for-4 with three strikeouts. In the bottom of the fourth, Jones’ hustle down the line allowed him to reach on an errant throw by Boston shortstop Mike Aviles. Two batters later, Davis hit a two-run homer into right to give the Orioles a 3-0 lead.
“Last night was a great example why he’s a deserving guy,” Showalter said. “For me, it’s running out that ground ball and getting us [an extra] run. When you think about that sticking out, it tells you how hard it is to do for some people. I think that’s what I’ve been proud of [with] Adam. Not only posting up [every day], this guy played in the All-Star Game. He plays. He’s there, you can count on him.”
Anyone who’s followed Jones’ time in Baltimore has seen the maturity. Early in his career, the young outfielder desperately wanted to be the clubhouse leader but simply wasn’t ready.
Leadership cannot be forced, but five years into his Orioles career, Jones has grown into the unquestioned leader of the team. His burning obsession to win complemented the managerial guidance of Showalter that contributed to the Orioles growing up faster than anyone could have imagined this season.
“We’re all in it together,” Jones said. “This is one great year for us all, and it’s not just me who’s the most valuable player. I think there’s a lot of other guys here who’ve contributed in large amounts and they could be named this just as well as I could.”
NOTES: Wieters and Johnson were the only other players to receive first-place votes, with Johnson finishing second and Wieters third. Pitcher Wei-Yin Chen and right fielder Nick Markakis also received votes. … Jones is the seventh player in team history to win the award in consecutive season, joining Frank Robinson (1966-67), Boog Powell (1969-70), Jim Palmer (1972-73), Eddie Murray (1981-85), Cal Ripken (1990-91) and Rafael Palmeiro (1995-96). … He is the first Orioles player to reach the 100-run plateau since Brian Roberts in 2009. … The center fielder is the first player since Mark McGwire in 1988 to homer in the 15th inning or later twice in the same year. … Jones had a career-long 20-game hitting streak in May.
Visit the BuyAToyota.com Audio Vault to hear Jones’ reaction winning the 2012 Most Valuable Oriole award HERE.
The trade deadline will pass and the Orioles will have only made a select few minor trades. They have already brought in veteran depth with Jim Thome and Omar Quintanilla; never looks to be more than bench help for 2012. These trades will definitely help the team for the rest of the season but nothing to change the course of the future. Dan Duquette has stood strong, with his feet deeply planted in the ground about Dylan Bundy and Manny Machado are untouchable. Adam Jones joined them in that non-movable class, with his mega contract.
Talks circle around Joe Blanton heading to Baltimore, but his contract is up after the season and he is nothing more than a veteran, back of the rotation, innings eater. His impact will help a team like the O’s, because of their lack of experience and consistency but is not the star the fans in Baltimore have been clamoring for.
But what’s the rush? The Orioles are going to finish with their best season since their back to back playoff appearances in the 90’s. If they finish out the season playing 500 ball, they will have their first winning record for everyone that has come up through the organization. They also remain in a playoff hunt; trying to catch the A’s, who probably have even less talent than our Orioles.
So in the offseason, the front office will have plenty to work with. They will have a winning team in a great season to sell to free agents and added revenue, if the fans continue to increase ticket sales for the next couple months and plenty of parts to consider moving.
If you have paid attention to my past articles, you will know my stance on Matt Wieters and why he should be moved. He could bring back a mix of young talent and major league ready pitchers from teams like the Angels, Pirates or Dodgers. But that isn’t the only All-Star the Orioles should move on from during the offseason.
What about Jim Johnson? He is clearly having a career year, is one of the league leaders in saves and been the anchor to one of the best bullpen’s in the league. But he has really struggled lately, giving up a couple hits last night versus the Yankees, enough to tug out our heart strings before eventually finishing the game off. He had his worst appearance last Friday, allowing 6 runs to blow the save after a thrilling comeback by the O’s. Did anyone really believe Johnson would perform this well this season? Does anyone really believe he will consistently be dominant closer for the rest of his career?
Now it is probably to move Johnson before the deadline and he will not clear waivers to trade him in August but a move in the offseason should be possible. Plenty of teams overpay for closers (just look at what Philadelphia gave Jonathon Papelbon last year), and Johnson now has an All-Star appearance to add to his resume. Don’t get me wrong, I think Johnson is a good relief pitcher that would definitely help the team in the immediate future. But I think the haul of players Baltimore would receive back for him will outperform anything Johnson can provide.
The other piece to the equation is Pedro Strop and his dominance in the “Set Up” role this year. After a full year in the bigs, he could be ready to take over as the closer next season. His stuff is definitely more similar to the average MLB closer than Johnson, and has the fiery mentality you also look for. To a have a replacement like Strop, I think the Orioles could be satisfied in moving on from the Jim Johnson era in the back end of the bullpen; even if it only lasted one season