I’m not too sure if what transpired last night in the AL Wild Card race was real. It seemed as if both games were decided but then someone flipped a switch which caused the games to just completely change course. The five minutes encompassing the Orioles rally in the bottom of the ninth against the Red Sox and then Evan Longoria’s bomb in the bottom of the twelfth of the Yankees-Rays game was easily the greatest sports moment of the year and, with a hat tip to my buddy John, maybe even the most exciting five minutes I’ve ever seen in sports. There was drama to last a lifetime. Here are some reactions from an Orioles point of view.
The O’s thoroughly embraced the role of spoiler
I’m not one to toot my own horn but…TOOT! Starting September 12, the O’s had a brutal stretch of 17 games to close out the season: 3 apiece at home against the Rays and Angels, 4 apiece on the road against the Red Sox and Tigers, and 3 at home against the Red Sox. Each of those opponents was either fighting for their playoff lives (Rays, Angels, Red Sox) or had already clinched a postseason berth (Tigers) at the time the O’s played them. The O’s went 11-6 during those 17 games, not once losing a series (they split the 4 game series with the Tigers).
I’m not sure what got into them; maybe their opposition was overlooking them. All I know is they could be the spoiliest (yes, I just made up a word) team I’ve ever seen, in any sport. Last night was the most excited I’ve ever been for the O’s, which is pretty pathetic when you consider they finished the season 24 games under .500. But back in their glory days of being a playoff contender almost every year, I was a bit too young to fully grasp what it meant to be a fan. I’m hoping last night was only a taste of what’s to come with this team.
Robert Andino is a Red Sox killer
After Chris Davis doubled with 2 outs in the ninth and Nolan Reimold came to bat, I said something to my brother along the lines of, “Reimold needs to get on because Robert Andino is on deck and he’s a Red Sox killer.” Sure enough, Reimold came through with an RBI ground-ruled double, setting the stage for Andino. And wouldn’t you know it, Andino laced an RBI single to left that Carl Crawford didn’t come up with, allowing Reimold to score for the win and setting off a huge celebration at Camden Yards.
(Side note: some people–cough…Red Sox fans…cough–are complaining that the O’s overdid their celebration. Are you kidding me? Your team had one of the biggest choke jobs in sports history and all you can think to complain about is the O’s celebration? Why wouldn’t they celebrate? It was a comeback, walk-off win in the last game of the season, and it helped keep the Red Sox out of the playoffs. They were excited! Get over it.)
Back to Andino—the guy is a beast! Including last night, he was responsible for three of the O’s five September wins against Boston. On September 20 at Fenway, he hit a bases-clearing double in the eighth inning off Jonathan Papelbon to give the O’s a 7-5 lead, a lead they didn’t relinquish. On Monday, he hit an inside-the-park 3-run homer to extend a 3-2 O’s lead to 6-2. The O’s eventually won that game 6-3. Then, of course, there were last night’s heroics. I can’t think of anyone more random to do what he did against the Red Sox. He is a utility infielder that has spent most of his career in the minors. But he made the most of his opportunities and that’s about all you can ask for from your players.
This could be the start of something positive for the Orioles
I know what you’re thinking: the O’s finished the year 24 games under .500, at 69-93; the O’s had late-season success last year, and look how this season turned out; the O’s had nothing to play for whatsoever, so they were playing loose and carefree ball; and the O’s are in the brutal AL East. Those are all valid points, but watching the O’s these past couple weeks just felt…different. It felt like they realized they could hang with the big dogs of the American League. I kept waiting for them to give in to the Rays, Angels, Tigers, or Red Sox in their last few series and, unbelievably, it didn’t happen. If there was a time to give in, it was last night: bottom nine, last game of the season, two outs, Red Sox up one, no one on base, and Papelbon on the hill. But then Davis doubled and Reimold doubled him home and Andino singled him home. O’s win, 4-3. Three minutes later, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homer and the Red Sox season was over, which wouldn’t have been possible without the O’s. Astonishing.
If anything, the last couple weeks should give the O’s confidence heading into next year. They have a young pitching rotation that will be a year more experienced and a solid core of young hitters, led by Adam Jones and Matt Wieters. Add to that a marquee free agent or two (Prince Fielder, anyone?), some bullpen help, and Buck Showalter’s penchant for turning things around in his second full year with a team, and the O’s future looks the brightest it’s been in a long time. Next year can’t come soon enough.