Baltimore Orioles 2014 season recap
Opening Day 2014 dawned a bright sun-splashed morning which turned into a “Chamber of Commerce” afternoon. Chris Tillman and the bullpen would pitch a solid game, and Nelson Cruz’s homer would lead the O’s over Boston 2-1. For sure it was one win. But little did we know what a harbinger that game would end up being for the season that was about to unfold for the Baltimore Orioles.
Ironically, the O’s would lose their next four games before gaining a stop-gap victory on the first Sunday of the year in Detroit. They would also be without J.J. Hardy for much of that time, as he recovered from some back tightness. But with the early schedule loaded with division games, the Birds came out of April in grand fashion, with so many of those wins coming on the bat of Nelson Cruz. The one-year $8 million dollar contract was looking like more of a bargain every day. And the best news was that Cruz quickly indoctrinated himself into the team, and quickly grew to like his new teammates – and vice-versa.
After the O’s were rained out on the final two days of the month, they opened May by sweeping a doubleheader from Pittsburgh before hitting the road. May was actually the toughest month of the year for the Orioles, as pitchers struggled to go deep into games and hitters sputtered at the plate. However they did earn a three-game sweep of Tampa, and record a huge comeback extra-innings victory on Memorial Day in Milwaukee. May also marked the debut of Manny Machado, who returned from knee surgery the previous September. While he struggled at the plate and in the field a bit at first, it didn’t take long for Machado to become his normal solid self.
The O’s turned it back on in June, with the likes of Adam Jones and Chris Davis starting to heat up – while Cruz remained hot. The pitching seemed to turn a corner also, with the likes of Tillman, Bud Norris, and Wei-Yin Chen starting to go deeper into games. And as time went on it became evident that the Orioles had a masterful bullpen as well. At that, it was also a bullpen that manager Buck Showalter became masterful at managing. Whereas Tommy Hunter was annointed the closer early and blew a couple of saves (before going to the DL), southpaw Zach Britton became the new closer and was as shutdown as shutdown can be.
Elsewhere in the AL East, Toronto use a couple of massive winning streaks to vault their way to the top of the division. The Orioles were the most solid team in the AL East all season from soup to nuts, however a ten-game winning streak will generally move the standngs. However right around the fourth of July the Birds moved back into first place. Little did we know that they would remain there. After taking two-of-three at Fenway Park, the O’s went down the pike to Washington DC for what was supposed to be a two-game series, however it ended up being just one game as game two was rained out. However the O’s won that game with several dramatic 11th inning homers from Chris Davis, Manny Machado, and J.J. Hardy. They also won the makeup game in Washington in August, and split a series with their regional rivals at Camden Yards.
Coming out of the all-star break many pundits said that the Birds would fall from grace given the brutality of the schedule. The second half began with the annual trip west. And go figure, all three opponents (Oakland, Anaheim, and Seattle) were in the mix and jockeying for playoff position. But the O’s completed that road trip with a 6-4 clip, returning home even more in control of the AL East. Not only that, but they took two-of-three both from Anaheim and Seattle immediately following the return home.
2014 marked the 60th anniversary of the Orioles coming to Baltimore, and on August 8th they formally celebrated that feat with a special ceremony following a bludgeoning victory over St. Louis. Former players of all eras were introduced to the crowd following the game, leaving nary a dry eye at the yard. If it wasn’t obvious that something magic was happening in 2014 previously, it was at that moment. The fact that the O’s were running away with baseball’s most prominent division for the first time since 1997, and that all of these former players were on hand wasn’t lost on Birdland. It was perhaps a ballpark memory that would rank right up there with the closing of Memorial Stadium. And to be frank, it was designed to be similar to that.
As the calendar turned to September it was just a matter of when the Birds, along with their sluggers Jones and Cruz, and their shutdown bullpen, would clinch the division. They literally ran away with first place, on a run that really started out of the all-star break. They took three-of-four from New York on the second weekend of the month, winning two of those games in walk off fashion. By September 16th, the magic number was down to two, with Toronto being the team chasing the Orioles. Ironically, they were also the opponent that night at Camden Yards.
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While the Birds trailed early, Steve Pearce provided a spark in the form of a three-run homer. And the end was about as anti-climactic as you could get. For the first time since 1997, the Baltimore Orioles were AL East Champions. And in one of the classiest gestures I’ve seen by a team, the O’s came out of their clubhouse and did their champagne/beer celebration on the field in front of the fans. Nobody who was at the yard that night will ever forget the players mingling with the fans, especially Adam Jones pieing fans in the face! It was a moment the city had waited a long time to see; and it was legendary.
Normally we try to keep these columns to 1000 words at a max. But this season went longer than 162 games, so I suppse the column should be longer as well. The O’s drew Detroit in the ALDS, defeating them 12-3 in game one. Again, pretty anti-climactic if you think about it. However despite an early homer by Nick Markakis, the O’s trailed Detroit 6-2 in the middle innings of game two. The mark of the home playoff games at Camden Yards was the crowd, and how loud and appreciative they were for what the Orioles had completed. But perhaps the moment to end all moments in the 2014 season was yet to come –
…the O’s had cut the Detroit lead to 6-4 in the last of the eighth, and had the bases loaded. Buck Showalter sent Delmon Young up as a pinch hitter, and Young drew a first-pitch slider. He jumped on it, and cleared the bases with a three-RBI double that gave the Orioles the
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lead. It was delirium at the yard that day, and from my vantage point I honestly thought the house might be coming down. In all my years of watching sports both as a writer and even a spectator, I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anything quite that dramatic.
20 minutes later the game was over, and the O’s headed to Detroit to close out the series. And they did – on the heels of a two-run homer by none other than Nelson Cruz. Unfortunately the Birds fell short of the World Series and were swept out of the ALCS in four games by Kansas City, in a series that was about as bizzare as they come. But that’s life and that’s baseball.
But Orioles fans should take nothing but positives away from the 2014 season. For a franchise that had been so maligned and so beaten down, they got to see their team celebrate with champagne twice! They added a banner to the wall at Camden Yards signifying the division title, and they gave thrills of a lifetime to the fans. Looking at this from the perspective of a writer, I can’t say that it’s a season I’ll ever forget. Keep in mind that all but one team in every sport finishes with unfulfilled dreams in a sense. However what the players on the 2014 Orioles accomplished was remarkable. And time will not dim the glory of their deeds.