Austin Hays knows this season won’t soon be forgotten.

He was around when the Orioles lost twice as many games as they won. He felt every step they climbed over the past five years.

“This is what you dream of,” he said Tuesday. “Going from multiple 100-loss seasons … to turn it around this year and be right on the cusp of winning 100 games, it’s going to always stick with us.”

The Orioles rekindled a fan base’s hope when they leapt from 52 wins in 2021 to 83 last year, but few analysts predicted another jump. Vegas sportsbooks had the team’s over/under at 76.5 wins. Instead, the Orioles are nearing 100 wins and on the doorstep of an American League East title, achievements that put them among the greatest breakout teams in franchise history.

Over their 70 seasons in Baltimore, the Orioles have fielded brilliant teams and putrid ones, but only a precious few carried the whiff of fresh, wonderful surprise that exists around the 2023 club. Not all of them made it to the postseason as this team will; that was a more difficult standard to reach in the years when only one or two clubs from each league played past the regular season. The feeling of discovery, however, of young stars passing unfamiliar tests and unexpected heroes stepping to the fore, is common to all these breakout seasons.

“I think what I would say about this team that coincides with our team is that they almost expect to win every night,” said Ken Singleton, the leading home run hitter on the “Orioles Magic” team of 1979. “Even when we lost a game, it felt like, ‘Oh, we’ll fix that tomorrow.’ You just feel like the outcome is going to be in your favor, and that’s a good way to play baseball.”

The last time Baltimore baseball fans enjoyed this particular brand of euphoria was 11 years ago. As bleak as the club’s fortunes felt during a 110-loss season in 2021 or a 108-loss season in 2019, it’s difficult to convey to younger fans the relentless despair — 14 straight losing seasons — that hung over the Orioles in the run-up to the 2012 season. Almost every pundit picked them to finish last again that year, even with respected manager Buck Showalter pulling the strings and core players such as Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nick Markakis and Chris Davis entering their primes.

The Orioles had other ideas, starting with a sweep of the Minnesota Twins and refusing to go away for the next six months. In May, they beat the Boston Red Sox in a six-hour, 17-inning affair that featured Davis pitching the last two innings. In September, with a playoff spot in reach, they kept their fans up until almost 4 a.m. before they finished off the Seattle Mariners in the 18th inning.

They relied on a curious blend of rising stars, midseason additions such as Nate McLouth and Joe Saunders and a sublime August call-up in Manny Machado.

When the New York Yankees finally outlasted them in the American League Division Series, the sadness in the Orioles’ clubhouse testified to their belief that they really could have gone all the way.

“It’s been about as much fun as I have had in the big leagues,” Showalter said that night. “Watching how they play the game every day, the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore.”

Owner Peter Angelos made a rare visit to the team, saying to the hated Yankees: “We just want to tell them we will be back next year. They better get ready for it.”

After 14 years of pain, the Orioles finally felt comfortable sticking their chests out again.

Why not?

Baltimore fans had not waited as long for a ray of hope in 1989, but the 1988 season, which began with 21 straight losses and ended with the Orioles at 54-107, certainly felt interminable.

Cal Ripken Jr. trotted out to shortstop every day as the franchise pillar, but few thought a supporting cast featuring Froot Loops-loving catcher Mickey Tettleton as the chief power source and Dave Johnson of Middle River in the starting rotation would lift the Orioles out of the doldrums. Their 13-17 start was better than expected but hardly screamed contender.

Then, the Orioles started winning in improbable ways. Who could forget their four-run rally in the ninth, capped by Mike Devereaux’s home run that appeared to curl foul on television replays, to beat the California Angels, 11-9? A different obscure hero — hello Tim Hulett and Stan Jefferson — seemed to arise every day.

They led the AL East by 7 1/2 games on July 20, and fans started asking the question that would become the team’s identity: Why not?

“I think we were too young to realize we weren’t supposed to be winning games,” closer Gregg “Otter” Olson would recall.

The 1989 Orioles would have played in the postseason under today’s rules, but in their reality, the season ended bittersweetly, with a pair of one-run losses in Toronto knocking them out of contention on the last weekend of September. “Our magic dust ran out,” second baseman Bill Ripken said.

This run was a one-off; the Orioles would not return to the playoffs until 1996. But what a treat it was. Nearly 2,000 fans showed up in the rain to greet the team’s flight home from Toronto. No one wanted it to end.

Orioles Magic

The context was different 10 years earlier. The Orioles were still an institution in the upper ranks of the American League, but they had not made the playoffs since 1974. Most of the stars from their first four World Series teams had moved on and retired. Jim Palmer was still their ace, but it was time for a new generation — Eddie Murray at the heart of the lineup, Mike Flanagan, Dennis Martinez and Scott McGregor flanking Palmer in the rotation — to step forward.

The 1979 Orioles lost eight of their first 11 games but blitzed the league from there, moving to 30 games over .500, with a firm hold on first place, by July 1. One of those victories, on June 22 against the Detroit Tigers, became known as the birth date of “Orioles Magic” thanks to a pair of ninth-inning home runs by Singleton and Doug DeCinces. Crowds at Memorial Stadium mushroomed, with home attendance rising to 1.68 million, up from 1.05 million in 1978.

“I think what fans learned, and you could say the same about this year’s team, is don’t leave early,” Singleton said.

Manager Earl Weaver often said the talent could not match that of the dynastic Orioles of the early 1970s, but the chemistry, which would carry through an era that climaxed with the 1983 World Series win, was exceptional.

“The ‘79 season was the turning point for the Orioles,” general manager Hank Peters told author John Eisenberg for his oral history “From 33rd Street to Camden Yards.”

In the World Series, the Orioles ran into another feel-good story, the “We Are Family” Pittsburgh Pirates led by Willie Stargell, and squandered a 3-1 series lead. Stargell slammed the door with four hits, including a go-ahead home run off McGregor, in Game 7.

But as Peters suggested, it was just the beginning for a core that would add Cal Ripken in 1982 and win it all in 1983.

The Orioles were known as the most stable winners in baseball from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s, but that run had to start somewhere.

Scaring the Yankees

By 1964, the Orioles had enjoyed several winning seasons, with a steady flow of talent arriving from their robust farm system. But they had finished a distant fourth the previous year and dumped their laissez-faire manager, Billy Hitchcock, in favor of an ex-Marine named Hank Bauer who commanded the attention of his players.

“He just expected you to act like a man, nothing less,” recalled Boog Powell, who starred as a 22-year-old left fielder on that team.

With seasoned everyday starters such as shortstop Luis Aparicio and first baseman Norm Siebern and grizzled pitchers such as Robin Roberts and Harvey Haddix, the Orioles didn’t exactly chase the pennant with a youth brigade. But with Brooks Robinson peaking on his way to Most Valuable Player honors, 21-year-old Dave McNally bolstering the rotation and Powell slugging 39 home runs, they offered a glimpse of the core that would bring Baltimore its first World Series triumph two years later.

After an uneven start, they moved into first place May 20 and stayed there for most of June, July and August. The Yankees, with Mickey Mantle and Whitey Ford enjoying their last gasps of greatness, did not push them into second until Sept. 19.

The dazzling young talent general manager Harry Dalton had amassed — Palmer, Paul Blair, Davey Johnson, Andy Etchebarren and the list went on — was about ready to terrorize the American League, with Frank Robinson’s arrival via trade putting a giant cherry atop the sundae in 1966.

But it was the 1964 season that told the Orioles how good they could be.

Baby birds

Those were not the first Orioles, however, to ambush an unsuspecting American League. The year was 1960, and the club had yet to post a winning record since moving to Baltimore in 1954. Led by a sharp, taciturn team builder named Paul Richards, whom Brooks Robinson would later call the most knowledgeable manager he’d ever played for, the “Baby Birds” featured three rookies and a 23-year-old Robinson as their starting infield and five starting pitchers 22 or younger. The Baltimore Sun picked them to finish fifth in the American League.

These upstarts got hot in May, held first place for much of June and hung close to the top of the American League throughout the summer. They peaked on the first weekend of September, sweeping the Yankees at Memorial Stadium to take a two-game lead in the pennant race. All of a sudden, it was time for the front office to print World Series tickets. The Baltimore Sun editorial board offered a mea culpa, writing that “the American League pennant, which last spring seemed as likely to fly over the stadium as did the flag of Siam, is within their grasp.”

It was not to be. The Yankees beat them four in a row in New York in mid-September and that was it for their flirtation with first place. The Bronx Bombers closed the season with a 15-game winning streak, leaving their young rivals from Baltimore eight games in the rearview. Richards would resign with a month left in the 1961 season to become general manager of an expansion club in Houston, and the Orioles would take a step back in 1962 and 1963 before reorganizing for their push to the summit. But the 1960 team was the first to give Baltimore cause to dream of the World Series.

“We’d had a real good year, our first good year, and we felt there were more good things to come,” Brooks Robinson told Eisenberg. “The Yankees were supposed to win. They were the kings at that time, and we didn’t feel bad. We felt like, ‘Well, you know, there’s next year.’


Share this:

  • Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
  • Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)

The Trust Project Logo

  • Policies
  • Report an Error
  • Contact Us
  • Submit a News Tip
  • 2023
  • September
  • 28

Most Popular

  • Suzanne Morphew’s remains found in Saguache County

    Suzanne Morphew's remains found in Saguache County

  • Keeler: Where’s Cormani McClain? Stuck in Deion Sanders’ doghouse. There’s only one way out. “It’s time to grow up.”

    Keeler: Where's Cormani McClain? Stuck in Deion Sanders' doghouse. There's only one way out. "It's time to grow up."

  • Here’s how the Floyd Hill project on I-70 will affect ski traffic this winter

    Here's how the Floyd Hill project on I-70 will affect ski traffic this winter

  • Lauren Boebert escorted out of “Beetlejuice” musical in Denver after “causing a disturbance”

    Lauren Boebert escorted out of "Beetlejuice" musical in Denver after "causing a disturbance"

  • Pot boom wakes sleepy Dinosaur, Colorado: “There’s money running out of our ears”

    Pot boom wakes sleepy Dinosaur, Colorado: “There’s money running out of our ears”

  • Six buddies open gay bar in former Prohibition Bar space on East Colfax

    Six buddies open gay bar in former Prohibition Bar space on East Colfax

  • Parent sues Denver school board member Auon’tai Anderson in test of Colorado’s new social media law

    Parent sues Denver school board member Auon’tai Anderson in test of Colorado’s new social media law

  • Denver area homes have shed $5 billion in value the past year amid jump in mortgage rates

    Denver area homes have shed $5 billion in value the past year amid jump in mortgage rates

  • Opinion: Republicans should be laughing at Boebert too — that they’re not is a sign of the times

    Opinion: Republicans should be laughing at Boebert too — that they're not is a sign of the times

  • Denver mayor Mike Johnston warns migrant counts could “eclipse” previous highs as Texas sends more buses

    Denver mayor Mike Johnston warns migrant counts could "eclipse" previous highs as Texas sends more buses

Trending Nationally

  • Baltimore entrepreneur community mourns Pava LaPere: ‘She was our de facto leader’
  • Target says organized retail theft too much, will shutter stores in Oakland, San Francisco, Pittsburg
  • Pot boom wakes sleepy Dinosaur, Colorado: “There’s money running out of our ears”
  • Condo Wars: Boards can use defamation laws to stifle dissent | Investigation
  • New law says California schools must provide gender-neutral bathrooms

Source: Read Full Article