Phoenix rising—for one night in Baltimore

Over the entrance to old Memorial Stadium, it saluted Baltimore’s war fallen: “Time Will Not Dim The Glory of Their Deeds.” Over the entrance to Camden Yards, the temptation is powerful enough to hang a sign reading “Deed.” Singular.

This is how badly the Orioles wanted to snap their losing streak before it arrived into the Terrible Twenties: Catcher Austin Wynns had sage shipped to Camden Yards, which he and first baseman Trey Mancini paraded around the park before the game. Mancini bragged about his freshly-grown superstition mustache, and center fielder Cedric Mullins went the opposite way and shaved his beard.

You’ll do anything to break the spell. If you’d seen assorted Orioles conducting a clubhouse seance asking for kind permission to address Frank Robinson in the Elysian Fields, you wouldn’t have been terribly shocked—though you might have expected Robinson to pass the line to any St. Louis Browns who happened to be eavesdropping.

The Orioles entered Wednesday with the sixth-lowest season’s winning percentage of any team in franchise history. Of the other five, four were Browns . . . and one was the sadder-sack 2018 Orioles. The last thing these Birds wanted was to continue like cooked geese.

They finally put superstition, supernatural, and extraterrestrial to one side and decided the only way to do it was to play baseball. When Angels third baseman David Fletcher flied out to deepest right field in the top of the ninth Wednesday night, the ballpark audience already on its feet roaring let out a scream as though their Woe-rioles had just won the seventh game of the World Series.

That’s what ending a nineteen-game winning streak with a 10-6 win does for a crowd maybe half of whom actually came to the park to see the Angels’ two-way star Shohei Ohtani. As if they were half conceding the game before Orioles opener Chris Ellis threw his first pitch of the evening.

That’s what prying, pushing, and pounding a five-run eighth out of the Angels’ bullpen does, an inning after it looked as though the Orioles wasted their best chance to overthrow the Angels for good.

That’s what shoving back after an early two-run lead turned to a still-too-early four-run deficit closed back up to a pair does. That’s what playing in the end like anything but a team designed explicitly to go into the tank for who knows how long does, too.

That’s also what knowing damn well you need to atone for one of the least-timely wasted outs of the season when you have only six outs left to play with, which is just what the Orioles in the eighth had to do about the seventh. Two on, nobody out, is the time to shove with your shoulder, not nudge with your hip.

Damn lucky for the Orioles that they had an eighth-inning push, shove, and mind over matter with a pair of bases-loaded walks setting up a bigger shove and a punctuation mark to nail the win that would keep them short of the gates of infamy for the time being. They haven’t joined the 20+ loss in a row club occupied ignominiously by the 1961 Phillies (23), the 1988 Orioles (21), the 1969 Expos (20), the 1943 and 1916 A’s (20 each), or the 1906 Boston Americans (20).

Yet.

But when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde ordered Austin Wynns to sacrifice with Jahmei Jones (leadoff single) on second and Victor Gutierrez (plunked) on first, jaws should have dropped. And Hyde should have had his hide tanned. Why not reach for Jorge Mateo—hitting .356 as a part-timer—to pinch-hit for Wynns and take over at shortstop the rest of the game, and insert Pedro Severino behind the plate, when you might get a two-run base hit out of Mateo?

Oops. Wynns dropped his bunt right back to the box. The Orioles merely closed the deficit to a single run. They had a lot to atone for in the eighth.

Lucky for them Mancini greeted Angels reliever Jake Petricka with a base hit up the pipe. Lucky for them that Anthony Santander—he taking the American League’s best OPS in August into the game—doubled to the right field corner almost promptly for second and third. Lucky for them Petricka and the Angels decided to hand D.J. Stewart first on the house to load the pads.

Lucky for them Jose Urias and, one out later, Gutierrez caught Petricka unable to find the strike zone if he’d sent out a surveillance mission, sending Mancini and Santander strolling home with the tying and go-ahead runs. Very lucky for them pinch hitter Austin Hays introduced himself rudely to Petricka’s relief James Hoyt with a double off the left field fence, and that Mullins greeted yet another Angel bull, Sam Selman, with a sacrifice fly to left.

That all had to be far more satisfying than Mullins hitting Ohtani’s first pitch of the bottom of the first over the center field fence, or Santander sending an 0-1 fastball into the right field bleachers two outs later. Or, Stewart following Satander’s leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth with a blast over the left field fence.

The crash carts stayed on double red alert when the Angels tied at two with rookie Brandon Marsh lining a two-run single down the right field line. But after Marsh got thrown out stealing with Adell at the plate, and Juan Lagares lining out for the side, the game suddenly looked like a question of who’d outplay their own mistakes better.

When the Angels took the 6-2 lead in the fourth, it looked like the answer would be them. Ellis’s evening ended when Jared Walsh hit his inning-opening meatball into the right field bleachers. Reliever Marcos Diplan carried a 1.80 ERA over his past seven days in from the Oriole bullpen. Jose Iglesias was so unimpressed he whacked a double into the right field corner. Stassi was even less impressed, letting Diplan fail to find the strike zone even with a GPS and taking a leisurely walk up to first.

Up came Marsh, who resembles a young man with the life ambition to star in any future reboot of The Life and Times of Grizzly Adams. He cared about Diplan’s impressive week’s ERA the least, sending his first career home run over the left center field fence. Making him the sixth Angel to hit his premiere Show bomb in Camden Yards.

I’m rooting for the Orioles to lose two more games,” tweeted an Oriole fan, “not because I don’t like them, but because at this point it’s like, why not go for the history books?”

“”There was tension in our dugout, there was pressure,” Hyde told reporters after the game. “Everybody was on the top step. “Our guys just really wanted this one. We’re tired of hearing, tired of seeing it on TV. Everybody’s tired of it.”

“”It’s electric in there,” Mullins said of the post-game clubhouse, after Wells got Fletcher to hit the game-ending fly out and took a hug with (read carefully) ninth-inning catching insertion Severino, while their mates celebrated more casually on the playing field than the fans in the stands.

Conner Greene relieved Diplan after ball one to Lagares and got rid of him, Ohtani, and Fletcher almost in a blink. On a night the Orioles couldn’t afford too many blinks. As if to remind his mates, Stewart followed Satander’s leadoff single in the bottom of the fourth with his own launch over the left center field fence. And Greene kept the Angels quiet in the top of the fifth.

Yet another Oriole bull, Cole Susler, shook Marsh’s leadoff single off in the top of the sixth to lure Adell into forcing him out at second before striking Lagares and Ohtani out swinging. At minimum, the Orioles might at least brag that they sent Ohtani’s season ERA up to three after five full innings.

Dillon Tate picked up where Susler left off in the Los Angeles seventh. Oriole fan kept telling him- or herself that a two-run deficit wasn’t equal to trying to climb the Transamerica Tower in beach sandals. Tate shook a two-out walk (to Walsh) off and lured Iglesias into an inning-ending ground out to third. Nine outs left to close and overcome.

Tate got rid of Stassi on an inning-opening ground out in the top of the eighth, then yielded to Tanner Scott. Scott struck Marsh out and got Adell to ground out to third. Swift enough inning. The Orioles still had six outs to play with, with three reasonably loaded weapons—Mancini, Santander, and Stewart—due up in the bottom of the eighth.

Wynns ought to buy Hays chateaubriand for dinner for the rest of the year, after Hays performed his penance for that seventh-inning bunt. The Orioles might want to send Ohtani a bottle of wine—Wednesday was the first time any team hit two or more home runs off him in the same game.

“These guys have dealt with a lot,” said Hyde. “Call it rebuilding or what you want, but it’s not fun to lose. You want to show your fans that the big league club is going to be fun to watch and there’s pieces coming. That’s what’s been disappointing.” If only Hyde could pound that into the thick skulls of the Orioles’ ten-thumbed ownership and by-design-hobbled front office.

No. We’ve already made that argument. It’ll be made again come the off-season and the talks for a new collective bargaining agreement. Tanking is a disgrace. It’s fan abuse and unworthy of the game. Even Oriole fans know the difference between this year’s model and the team that opened 1988 0-21 is that that team, at least, wasn’t built to tank.

Let’s push that all away for other days. There’s no percentage or pleasure in it now. On Wednesday night, the Orioles played and stood beyond. They played like . . . anybody but the Orioles.

Sure they caught a few breaks and damn near wrecked their own cause themselves late. But they took fair advantage of the breaks they caught, atoned for their self-near-ruination in fine style, and looked for once in their lives like something resembling their well-storied forebears.

Cooked geese the night before, the Orioles became a phoenix for one night. For the first time in nineteen games, and maybe all season long, these built-for-failure Orioles found a way to play better than the way they were built.

2 thoughts on “Phoenix rising—for one night in Baltimore

  1. Imagine how cynical your fandom must be to actually ROOT for your team to lose for the history books. I have a nervous breakdown and am ready to punch anyone in my general vicinity if my team loses even three or four in a row! 🙂 (note: the A’s have lost four in a row in a generally pathetic fashion so run while you can)

    Liked by 1 person

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