Baltimore Orioles: Hearts of champions


I thought long and hard all night about the title of this piece today; I’m still not sure that I got it right. But come to think of it, I’m not sure there are words that could do justice to what we witnessed last night. A team that had stepped up big all year did it one more time to get through to the end in order to be crowned as champions. AL East champions to be exact – there’s still some work to be done this year. However to the Baltimore Orioles themselves as well as to the people of Baltimore, it was a moment a long time in the making.

Many fans were flabergasted to hear that manager Buck Showalter was starting Ubaldo Jimenez in a potential title-clinching game. First off, it was pretty simple; the Baltimore Orioles needed a spot starter. However while Jimenez had struggled all season without a doubt, there had to be a reason why he was brought to Baltimore. And we saw that reason unfold last night. Jimenez’s line: 5 IP, 2 H, 2 R, 4 BB, 6 K.

Make no mistake about the fact that Jimenez struggled in this start. But he probably struggled less than he had in many other starts over the course of the year. At various points it appeared he was not long for the game. But the heart of a champion is a relentless one, and Jimenez hung in there. As did Showalter when it came to sending Jimenez back out in the fifth.

As I told many people yesterday: as much of a struggle as this year’s been for him, if he wins this one game he’s a hero tomorrow.

With Toronto already leading 1-0, Steve Pearce stepped to the plate in the last of the first with two runners already on. Not one to be dwarfed by the limelight, Pearce delivered a three-run homer to thrust the Orioles into the driver’s seat, 3-1. Toronto would net one more run in the second on a Reyes RBI-single, however the Birds would get that run back in the last of the inning on Jimmy Paredes‘ solo homer.

The score stood at 4-2 through several scoreless innings. However there was still an uneasy tension in the air, as a two-run lead isn’t much in MLB these days. With the bases loaded in the last of the seventh, Alejandro De Aza smacked his third triple in a week – this one of the bases-clearing variety. That gave the Birds a 7-2 lead, and effectively ended the competitive portion of the game. Nick Hundley would add  a sac fly-RBI in the eighth, and the O’s cruised to their first AL East title in 17 years with an 8-2 victory.

What unfolded after the final out is a moment that will probably rank up there as one of the top moments in Baltimore sports history.

Courtesy of Joy R. Absalon-USA TODAY Sports

Where as most teams pile on each other on the field to celebrate a championship and then go into the clubhouse for a champagne/beer soaked party, the O’s proceeded to bring those beverages back onto the field to celebrate with the city and the fans. I suppose when you haven’t clinched anything at home since 1969 and you haven’t been AL East champions since 1997, you’re afforded that opportunity!

A few takeaways so to speak: Adam Jones pieing fans, players celebrating with their kids, Nick Markakis (the longest tenured Oriole) realizing that he’s going to the promised land for the first time in his career, and the Orioles fans getting to witness a moment so many years in the making. I suppose that the scene of the night would have to be Adam Jones running around the field with the Orioles’ champions flag gesturing towards the fans.

As often as we see athletes engaging in so many ill activities (and of late no doubt), this Oriole team is a feel-good story. They’ve re-captured the hearts and minds of Baltimore along with perhaps a few other folks nationwide. And they’ve done so with the heart of a champion. Through so many losing seasons and embarrassing moments, this town and this franchise survived. So you can look at the Orioles’ story as perhaps synonymous with that of the city of Baltimore itself. They’re a tough blue collar team that’s managed to survive, and is now poised to go onwards and upwards. None of us knows where that journey ends – yet. However one thing is certain; it won’t be in this month.

The one thing that marred an otherwise unbelievable evening was the continuation of theatrics from Toronto pitchers. Nick Markakis was hit square in the back by Aaron Loup in the seventh inning (he was one of the runs that scored on De Aza’s triple). It’s unclear why Toronto seemingly has a problem with the Orioles, or even if they do at all. Keep in mind that Toronto is the team that the Orioles eliminated last night to take up their mantle of champions. So if that’s their way of not going quietly into the night, they might want to take a look in the mirror and ask themselves what they’re doing. Having said that, enough finally became enough in the eighth when Darren O’Day hit Jose Bautista, and both benches were warned.

I would expect Buck Showalter to start giving some players games off with the division secured, and that may well start tonight. Piggybacking on what I just wrote above, the last thing the Orioles want is to have one of their regulars hurt if Toronto decides to start throwing at people again. Bud Norris will get the start tonight, and he’ll be opposed by J.A. Happ of Toronto; game time is just after 7 PM. Needless to say, the Orioles have played with the heart of champions all year. That moxie-filled celebration was well-deserved last night. Here’s to the 2014 Baltimore Orioles, who after so many years finally “Bucked the trend!”