It’s been one of the most memorable weeks in recent Baltimore sports history, as the Ravens thrashed the Bengals on Monday night, 44-13 and the Orioles swept the Tampa Bay Rays in their quest for a pennant. The town can’t decide whether it’s in a purple haze or an orange crush.
The last time the city had contending football and baseball teams was 1977, when Willie Don Schaefer was in his first decade as mayor.
When some Orioles players, including Matt Wieters and Adam Jones, were introduced to the crowd at the Ravens home opener, the cheering and applause went on for many minutes.
The players themselves, visible to all on the giant Smartvision screens, seemed a bit overwhelmed. “They got their first sense of how important and relevant they can be to a passionate fan base,” said Stan “The Fan” Charles, of PressBox.
Never Far From Mind
On Wednesday night, I sat with my five year old son in the bleachers in right center field – the still point of the Orioles baseball universe on one of the most beautiful nights of the year – and my mind cleared of everything except for the next pitch.
Playoff baseball had returned to Baltimore.
Deadlocked in a 2-2 tie with the Rays for what seemed like an eternity, I witnessed standing ovations for inning-ending strikeouts—something that does not happen in bad years. Miguel Gonzalez nibbled his way through the Rays line-up, inducing outs at just the right time. For several innings, there was an expectant hush in the breeze, as 26,000 fans waited in tense anticipation for an outcome.
Playing for the postseason, there is no tomorrow and the previous game a distant memory. The only thing that matters is the ensuing pitch.
Showalter chose to walk Evan Longoria in the 7th after B.J. Upton had stolen second—a page right out of Earl Weaver’s book. You don’t let their best player beat you. Side-armer Darren O’Day quelled the uprising.
I stalled for as long as I could, trying to be a good father on a school night, struggling against my own kid-like protest: I’ve waited 15 years to see my team have a shot at the postseason.
But at 10:30 pm, the dreaded public service announcement refrain played in my ears. “It’s 11 O’clock: Do You Know Where Your Children Are?” We headed out.
Of course. As we raced to the garage, I heard thunderous Ravenesque roars coming from the Yards and as I turned on the radio, McLouth’s ball hit high off the right field wall, scoring the winning run.
Machado + Machismo
“Nate understands the game within the game,” Showalter said, at the post-game Press Conference, and so does the upstart rookie third baseman.
In the ninth, Machado exemplified the meaning of his name – a combination of “machismo” and “bravado” – as he bluffed a throw to first to snare a Tampa Bay runner coming around third and then singling and scoring the winning run in the bottom of the frame. Machado singled in the game winner late Thursday afternoon after a 14-inning marathon—another 3-2 victory and their 13th in a row in extra innings.
It also sealed at least a .500 season, ending a dreadful span of 14 years.
Although young, Machado has a cagey veteran’s baseball soul. Defensively, his hands are so soft he fields ground balls as though they were baby rabbits scampering towards him.
As the Birds travel west to face Oakland, Oriole fever is sweeping the country.
“So many of us have kept the faith over some very tough seasons, and now we’re seeing the reoccurrence of the flashy defense and epic homers that once characterized great Oriole teams,” said Ted Saltveit of Marin, California. “If the O’s make the playoffs I will foolishly spend my teacher’s salary to scalp my way into the nearest ballpark, wearing my 1981 Orioles t-shirt and ancient silly bird cap.”
And in and around Baltimore, the Orioles are on people’s minds in a way that feels like a throwback to another geologic era. If I have my hat on at the store while the game is being played, strangers ask me for a score.
“The summer of 2012 will long be remembered as being one in which the Orioles re-found their soul,” said Charles, “and the fans found it in their hearts to open up again and love their baseball team.”
Buckle up, everybody. It’s going to be interesting from here on in.