In the Orioles locker room, surrounded by a sea of players wearing "Take October" t-shirts over their game-worn jerseys, Brandon Hyde commands attention as his voice booms over the sound of laughing players and the occasional accident Champaign pop. "This sh*t is fun as hell" Hyde yells, "But it is the first step of many celebrations. Here we go!" Followed by an explosion of champaign and Budweiser in every direction imaginable.
Some players take the opportunity to douse their manager in alcohol but most spew the flying liquid wherever they can in the midst of the first playoff celebration of the Brandon Hyde-Mike Elias era in Baltimore. As Hyde himself said, there are many more opportunities for similar celebrations in the future as the Orioles hope to clinch the American League East before the calendar turns to October, which would prompt an even more raucous celebration.
A little after 4:30 PM, Camden Yards was rocking as fans received a double dose of good news and positive vibes. With two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning, Adam Frazier hit an opposite field double which easily scored Jorge Mateo from second base and tied the game at 3 runs apiece. As the game entered the tenth, fans in the stadium officially received word that the Orioles had clinched a playoff spot when the Guardians beat the Rangers 9-2 in Cleveland.
It was an unusual circumstance where the result actually meant both teams in the Orioles game clinched a playoff spot simultaneously since both the Rays and O's had 92 wins at the moment. However, there was more at stake over the course of extra innings. The difference between winning the division and not is the difference between a number one seed and a number four seed.
Whoever wins the division will not play their first Postseason game until Saturday, October 7th, whereas the loser of the division will have to beat a good team two out of three times to make the division series. Whoever won this particular game would go a long way to winning the AL East.
The stakes were clear for both managers. Despite strong performances, neither starting pitcher made it past the fifth inning meaning that bullpen management would likely be the difference between a win and a loss. A night earlier, Grayson Rodriguez stepped up with undoubtedly the best start of his young career as he pitched eight shutout innings in an O's 8-0 victory.
The win saved the bullpen as only one relief pitcher, Mike Baumann, was used in the victory which came as a huge savior after the 7-1 loss Friday night, which nearly depleted the already fatigued 'pen. However, Hyde had his full slate of relievers available on Sunday and he pulled no punches over the six innings that needed to be covered.
In a normal regular season game, Dean Kremer would have undoubtedly pitched in the sixth inning after allowing only one run and two hits through five innings. This was not a normal regular season game, however, and Danny Coulombe took the ball in the sixth and for one out in the seventh inning, where he recorded four outs without incident before Jorge Lopez finished the job in the seventh inning. Lopez, however, struggled in the eighth inning where he allowed back-to-back homers to Tristan Gray and Christian Bethancourt before exiting the game with a 3-1 deficit.
If there was any blemish on Hyde for this performance, it was that he allowed Lopez to stay in the game for too long. However, it is hard to blame Hyde for trusting a guy who pitched his way on to the American League All-Star team a season ago for the Orioles.
Anyways, the Orioles bullpen pitched excellently the rest of the way. Cionel Perez, Shintaro Fujinami, Yennier Cano, and DL Hall combined for 3.1 innings pitched with only an unearned run allowed.
Along with bullpen management, Hyde's game management was excellent. With one out in the 11th inning, Hyde called a full mound visit with Hall on the bump. There was a runner on second base but the Rays' most dangerous hitter, Randy Arozarena, stepping to the plate. Most managers would intentionally walk Arozarena in that situation, but Hyde allowed Hall to pitch to him.
The risky move paid off. DL immediately jumped ahead 0-2 in the count against Randy and eventually forced him to ground out. Hall got out of the inning with the game still tied. The legend of Brandon Hyde grew further in the bottom of the 11th. Ryan O'Hearn stepped to the plate with no outs and Adley Rutschman was on second as the ghost runner. O'Hearn has been an offensive juggernaut all season. He hits dingers. He doesn't bunt, he hasn't laid down a bunt in almost five years.
Hyde wanted him to bunt anyway. He bunted, which was a beauty, allowing Rutschman to reach third easily as the winning run with only one out. Cedric Mullins stepped to the plate next, and he hit a fly ball deep enough to allow the Orioles to begin their locker room celebration full of champagne, Budweiser, unknown liquids, and cigars.
Of course, Hyde pressed all the right buttons and simply outmanaged Kevin Cash in a must-win game. The decision to have O'Hearn bunt or allow Hall to attack Arozarena were X's and O's decisions that not every manager would make, but it paid off for Hyde. Managing, however, is about a lot more than just x's and o's.
For one, Hyde has commanded respect in the clubhouse. That was proven when he gave his speech in the locker room before the celebration officially began. If there is anyone who has earned respect through sheer dedication and commitment, it's Hyde.
Hyde was hired in 2019 and he knew he was in for a long and painful rebuild. In his first three seasons, the Orioles were 131-243 and one of the five worst teams in the sport each season. He had the thankless task of trying to get wins out of a team that did not have many wins in them. He consistently had one of the worst bullpens in baseball and never had a dominant closer until Lopez emerged in 2022.
Any reliever who did pitch well, such as Richard Bleier or Paul Fry, would be immediately traded. His very first lineup card featured Dwight Smith, Jr. as the two-hole hitter. It was a tough situation, but Hyde was able to push through the frustrations and continue to give his best to the organization every night.
Anyone who followed the Orioles through the tough years deserves every bit of praise and celebration as the O's embark for the Postseason. No one deserves to celebrate more than the man who represented the team every day since 2019.
It is amazing to think about just how much and how quickly everything turned around. The team is a 7-6 stretch away from their first 100 win season since 1980. This comes two years after having the worst record in baseball and a 52-110 record. Certainly, bringing up young players like Rutschman, Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez, and others has helped that.
However, this turnaround is not possible without a culture of respect towards the manager. Hyde has earned respect through his demeanor and now his proven ability to get the best out of his teams. As hard as it is to believe, a 54-win season in 2019 was actually fairly impressive considering that he came in to his first season with a less-talented roster than the team a season before that went 47-115 under the universally respected Buck Showalter.
Most managers don't make it through multiple 100 loss seasons. Hyde did. While many fans love to complain and nitpick at certain managerial decisions he will make, it is clear that Hyde has made a far greater impact on the team than most fans give him credit for, and this weekend series proved why he is the best manager in the American League.
Kevin Cash may use analytics and unconventional decisions to grind every possible regular season win out of his teams, but Brandon Hyde clearly knows how to earn respect from a clubhouse full of professionals and the series split following a gut-wrenching four-game losing streak proves just that.
Regardless of how the division race plays out over the next two weeks, Brandon Hyde undoubtedly deserves to win AL manager of the year because he has been far-and-away the best manager in the American League.