In recapping the 2012 Baltimore Orioles’ season, we need to start off deep in the past; 1997 to be exact. The day after being voted manager of the year, Davey Johnson resigned as the skipper of the Orioles for various reasons. For the next 14 years the team wouldn’t have a winning record, they’d go through various managers, players, etc. At the dawn of 2012 there was no reason to think that this year would be any different. Opening day was a beautiful day in Baltimore, and the Orioles kicked off the 20th anniversary season at the yard by beating Minnesota 4-2. But that was one win…right?
Other than opening day, the only other time that the Orioles were at .500 in 2012 was after being swept in the second series of the year by New York. In the past that would have meant that the Orioles sputtered and tanked; not this time. The Orioles improved to 13-8 on April 28th with a win over Oakland, on a day where they also celebrated the Frank Robinson statue unveiling. The next day they came back in the last of the 9th inning to beat Oakland again on a Wilson Betemit walk off home run. That was one of the first indications that something magic was happening. However people were still skeptical to a point; it was only one month’s worth of games, right?
Throughout the first half of the season Oriole pitching went from good to inconsistent. However the bullpen was of the best in baseball. At various points, the likes of Jake Arrieta, Tommy Hunter, and Brian Matusz were all sent to triple-A Norfolk. However we did see the emergence of Wei-Yin Chen as a solid starter, which was a great surprise for a rookie. In the ‘pen Jim Johnson was quickly becoming one of the best shut-down closers in baseball, rarely squandering an opportunity to close out a game. The Orioles provided us with another very memorable game on May 6th when they swept the Boston Red Sox at Fenway. However this was a game that would go 18 innings in total, and one in which the Orioles in effect ran out of pitchers. So imagine everyone’s surprise when designated hitter Chris Davis went down to the ‘pen and started warming up. More poignantly, imagine everyone’s surprise when Davis came in…and was solid as a pitcher. He pitched two innings and actually recorded the win! Boston was in the same boat, however their position player/pitcher, Darnell McDonald, wasn’t anywhere near as effective, and Adam Jones’ three-run homer in the 18th won it for the O’s.
This team just kept on winning. They took two-of-three from their regional rival, the Washington Nationals, in the end of May, and they took two-of-three in series’ against both NY and Tampa. Come June we saw back-to-back sweeps of Philadelphia (with late game heroics from backup catcher Taylor Teagarden), and Pittsburgh at the yard. One thing that was becoming evident was that you couldn’t beat the Orioles in one-run games, and they were near perfect in extra innings. They lost to New York in early April in consecutive extra-inning games, and they wouldn’t lose in extras again for the remainder of the regular season. Yet because of the struggles of the starting pitching, there were still questions as to the durability of this team.
Chris Tillman was called up from triple-A on the fourth of July, and he pitched a gem. We would come to expect that out of him for the remainder of the season when he’d take to the bump. On July 6th the Orioles started former reliever Miguel Gonzalez for the first time in Anahem; Gonzalez pitched a mega-gem, and was credited with the 3-2 victory. However overall July was a tough month for the O’s, as injuries started to pile up. Yet while they struggled, they managed to keep their heads above water with stopgap wins behind great pitching performances by Tillman, Gonzalez, and Chen. As August came and went the possibility of the Orioles making the playoffs for the first time since 1997 became a real possibility.
The mark of the 2012 Orioles was their moxie in that they just didn’t give up in games. They played every game until the last out. The success of the 2012 season came to a head on September 6th against New York, as the O’s unveiled the Cal Ripken Jr. statue. With that backdrop it was an emotional night to begin with, but after the Orioles built an early lead behind a Matt Wieters homer, New York tied it at five in the 8th. However an Adam Jones homer began a four-run 8th inning rally by the Orioles, who won the game 10-6. Again, always play to the last out! Following a 17-inning and an 11-inning game in Seattle, the O’s took two-of-three from Boston before splitting with Toronto. Boston came to the yard for the final home series of the year with huge playoff implications for the O’s. The Orioles swept the BoSox that weekend to bring their magic number to 1. By virtue of Texas beating Anaheim later that evening, the Orioles clinched their first playoff spot in 15 years.
The postseason run only ended last week, yet it feels like so long ago. However this was a team that was labeled as a loser from the beginning due to the past 14 years. And it took a manager named Buck to rip that moniker to shreds. The 2012 Orioles represent the story of a city that once loved it’s baseball team so much, only to fall out of touch with it over a long period of time. A franchise with proud roots and a proud history, only to see it slip further and further away over 14 years. Yet as a result of that the 2012 Orioles are also a story of redemption. They’re a story of a city who rekindled the love of that baseball team, and got back in touch with it’s fans. To put it simply with all of this said, the 2012 Baltimore Orioles are the greatest story ever told.