Buck Showalter - Image Courtesy of USA Today

Baltimore Orioles: A look back at the greatest closing act of all time


Buck Showalter - Image Courtesy of USA TodayAs we make the final push towards Opening Day 2012 this week, I have to admit that I’ve thought just a bit about the last game the Orioles played. No, I’m not talking about yesterday against Tampa; I mean the last real game they played. I know that I don’t need to remind folks about the significance of September 28, 2011. I suppose that it really matters how you want to look at the game in terms of what it truly means to you. On one hand, you could say that it was nothing more than the final straw in an epic collapse on the part of Boston. However on the other hand, I think it was really more than that…

Along with the New York Yankees, the Boston Red Sox are a team that Oriole fans love to hate. I’m not exactly sure when that began, however at it’s core it certainly has something to do with Boston fans filling the yard and in essence making Oriole fans uncomfortable in their own park. Moreso that that, it seems like Boston’s always had the Orioles’ number no matter how hard the Orioles would try. This morning I went back and looked at the game recap I wrote after that 9/28 game last year (for another site), and it turns out that I addressed just that:

“Starting with the Mother’s Day Massacre in 2007, it seemed that no matter how good of a fight the Orioles would put up; somehow Boston would come through with 9th inning heroics sending the Orioles to the showers with the deer-in-the-headlight look. Each time we’d hear some of the same things, starting with you have to play 27 outs and so forth.”

The Red Sox get really caught up in “moments,” and go figure so many of them over time came against the Orioles. That Mother’s Day Massacre in 2007 is just one example; how many other times would Boston find some way to come through against the O’s and leave the Oriole players as witnesses to their wild celebrations? The worst part was that it often felt like they enjoyed beating up on the Orioles. Again, when this is happening at Camden Yards to the delight of Red Sox fans in attendance, that’s a tough pill to swallow.

“…this Oriole team found out something about itself over the last few weeks, capped off by a five-to-ten minute sequence of events last night which drove a spear deep into the heart of moxieland. William Shakespeare and Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn’t combine to write a better opera than what we saw last night. The O’s and BoSox ended up with an hour-and-a-half rain delay with Boston up 3-2 in the middle of the 7th, while Tampa was stumbling along trailing their game 7-0 to NY. By the time the rain delay ended, that lead had evaporated to one run (7-6). The O’s threatened in the last of the 7th, only to leave two runners on base. However perhaps more importantly as Dan Johnson tied the Tampa game at seven with a homer in the last of the ninth, Carl Crawford hit a double to the gap in left center. As Marco Scutaro rounded third to go home we saw a familiar sight. Adam Jones relayed the ball into J.J. Hardy, who combined with Matt Wieters to nail Scutaro at the plate.”

Suddenly it seemed that for once the shoe might be changing to the other foot. As we all remember, that one game was everything for the Red Sox, and it was just the season finale for an Oriole team that had come in under expectations all season long. However for that one shining moment, they didn’t stink. They had an opportunity to stick it right back to Boston when it truly counted, and to do the Red Sox the same way that the Red Sox had done them so many times in the past.

That brought Robert Andino and Evan Longoria to the plate at almost simultaneous moments in time. Andino hit a line drive towards Carl Crawford in left field…as the ball hung in the air the fortunes of potentially several different franchises, players, and coaches seemed to hang in the balance juxtaposed together all at one moment in time. Crawford came on strong for the ball; however he failed to dive to catch it, prompting the ball to slide under his glove. At almost the same moment Nolan Reimold crossed home plate to win the game for the fighting Showalters, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homer in Tampa.”

In my mind the story was how it all came together at almost the same moment with Andino’s walk off double and Longoria’s homer. Many people said that the ensuing celebration was over-the-top on the Orioles’ part. Keep in mind that Boston has never been shy about celebrating, and they’ve done it at the Orioles’ expense on numerous occasions. Former Oriole Luke Scott called it the greatest night of baseball in history. I suppose that’s a matter of opinion, however it was without a doubt the greatest closing act I’ve ever seen. Good opera always leaves us asking for more, does it not?

“…at the beginning I said that 2011 would be a season to remember in Birdland. To the final day of the season, it had almost become an afterthought. Losing season number 14 (in a row), right? Perhaps, however at the end the 2011 Baltimore Orioles left their mark in baseball history. In doing so, they proved Stevie Wonder’s point. In the last hour of the last day, before their life was done, they found their place in the sun.”

The Orioles need to move on from this moment. Rest assured that the fans will never let them forget it, but that moment in itself has no affect on 2012. However the O’s do need to take the very spirit of that moment and everything that it meant for the franchise and the fans, and bring it onward. If they’re able to do that, there’ll be some good summer days at the yard in 2012.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala

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