When the Baltimore Orioles hired Buck Showalter in August of 2010 most Orioles fans were happy that the team had a bona fide big league manager. While Showalter certainly wasn’t Casey Stengel, he did have a lot of major league managing experience, and the presumption was that he’d bring a degree of professionalism to the Orioles’ clubhouse. However in putting myself back into the mindset of that time, I seem to remember a lot of people also assuming that at some point Showalter would end up with the same blank look on his face in the dugout as his predecessors. In other words Showalter was a good hire, but odds are it blows up in everyone’s face simply because it’s the Orioles.
Over two years later, I have to wonder if that mindset still exists among any Orioles fans. I don’t think that Showalter knows the game any better or worse than anyone that came before him, however he has brought a degree of accountability to the team that perhaps wasn’t previously there in the past. He’s also made the players believe in themselves, and shown them that they had the tools to grab the bull by the horns and win games at the big league level. Looking at last night’s game, would the Orioles have won that three or four years ago? (Please don’t misread me; this is not meant to be a conviction of the men that came before Showalter…)
The Orioles got six solid innings from Wei-Yin Chen, who made one bad pitch. With the Orioles leading 1-0 on the feels of Lew Ford’s first big league home run in five years, Chen hung a change up to Kevin Youkilis. Keep in mind that throughout his career with the Boston Red Sox Youkilis has been an Oriole-killer, so it wasn’t overly surprising that he rose the occasion. Again, think back three or four years; not only would the Orioles have just accepted defeat, but they probably would have allowed three or four more ChiSox runs to cross. However in the last of the sixth the Orioles loaded the bases with Nate McClouth coming to the plate. Perhaps in an act of foreshadowing, McClouth had a solid at-bat and drew a walk. That was the only run the O’s could push across that inning, however it knotted the game at two.
Kevin Youkilis wasn’t done with the Orioles at that point, as he moved a runner to third base with a single to right field. That run scored to give Chicago a 3-2 lead on Adam Dunn’s infield single in the eighth. However in the last of the inning the Orioles’ walk leader (Mark Reynolds) got a free pass to first base, bringing Nate McClouth to the plate. McClouth hit a ball that might just be landing now somewhere near Philadelphia, to put the Birds ahead to stay. Jim Johnson closed Chicago out in the ninth giving the Orioles a 4-3 win in the first game of the series.
In 2011 the Birds reached 69 wins on September 28th when they beat Boston to knock them out of the playoffs. That only came as a result of a feverish September where they in effect played at a playoff level. With last night’s win, the Orioles officially bettered that mark with their 70th victory…on August 27th. While the makeup of the team is better year-over-year, you can mostly chalk that up to good managing. And I’m not talking X’s and O’s, but more so the mindset that Buck Showalter has brought to the franchise. Call it whatever you wish…never say die, play ’till the last out, etc. However he’s the maestro of one heck of an orchestra, that doesn’t see fit to stop playing anytime soon. The series continues tonight as Chris Tillman takes back to the hill tonight after a six-day hiatus (due to a rainout) against Chicago’s Chris Sale. With last night’s win (combined with NY and Tampa’s losses), the Orioles are now in a tie with Oakland for the first wild card slot, and they’ve moved back into second place in the AL East, 3.5 games behind the NY Yankees.