Over time it would be an understatement to say that the Boston Red Sox had the Baltimore Orioles’ number. Starting with the Mother’s Day Massacre in 2007, it seemed that no matter how good of a fight the Orioles would put up; somehow Boston would come through with 9th inning heroics sending the Orioles to the showers with the deer-in-the-headlight look. Each time we’d hear some of the same things, starting with you have to play 27 outs and so forth. Fast forward to this year; the O’s were supposed to start to turn the corner. While the final month had certainly been entertaining, going into the season’s final day this team had still not found its place in the sun…
We all know what the stakes were in last night’s game, so I’m not going to bore everyone with those details again. Last night this Oriole team found out something about itself over the last few weeks, capped off by a five-to-ten minute sequence of events last night which drove a spear deep into the heart of moxieland. William Shakespeare and Andrew Lloyd Webber couldn’t combine to write a better opera than what we saw last night. The O’s and BoSox ended up with an hour-and-a-half rain delay with Boston up 3-2 in the middle of the 7th, while Tampa was stumbling along trailing their game 7-0 to NY. By the time the rain delay ended, that lead had evaporated to one run (7-6). The O’s threatened in the last of the 7th, only to leave two runners on base. However perhaps more importantly as Dan Johnson tied the Tampa game at seven with a homer in the last of the ninth, Carl Crawford hit a double to the gap in left center. As Marco Scutaro rounded third to go home we saw a familiar sight. Adam Jones relayed the ball into J.J. Hardy, who combined with Matt Wieters to nail Scutaro at the plate.
As the Tampa game moved into extra innings and the O’s into the last of the ninth, an autumn breeze blew through Oriole Park. There was in fact no tomorrow for the O’s, however in battling to the final out they were doing a great service to the game of baseball and its fans. The Red Sox brought in Jonathan Papelbon to preserve the win as the Yankees had runners at the corners in Tampa. However that game seemed to slow down at that point with guys fouling balls off left and right. That brought us into the final sequence of a closing act that will long be remembered as one of the greatest ever in all sports. After Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds both struck out, Chris Davis was down to his final strike before sending a double down the right field line. Nolan Reimold stepped to the plate with Evan Longoria on deck in Tampa and Kyle Hudson pinch-running for Davis in Baltimore. As Reimold doubled Hudson home to tie the game, both Camden Yards and Tropicana Field erupted in cheers. That brought Robert Andino and Evan Longoria to the plate at almost simultaneous moments in time. Andino hit a line drive towards Carl Crawford in left field…as the ball hung in the air the fortunes of potentially several different franchises, players, and coaches seemed to hang in the balance juxtaposed together all at one moment in time. Crawford came on strong for the ball; however he failed to dive to catch it, prompting the ball to slide under his glove. At almost the same moment Kyle Hudson crossed home plate to win the game for the fighting Showalters, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homer in Tampa.
Make no mistake about the fact that the Rays are the real winners here. However I go back to the whole thing about the Red Sox beating up on the Orioles so often in the past. The fact that the O’s ended what was supposed to be a dream season for Boston in the same manner that the Red Sox had beaten them so many times was poetic justice and great theatre. Perhaps more importantly, the Orioles had the honor of participating in arguably the greatest closing act in sports history (as I said above). If the Orioles can somehow right their course moving forward, one might look back to this moment in time as a turning point. Ultimately the afterglow of this is that the Orioles’ season is over. For those of us who follow the team as fans, writers, etc. on a daily basis, that’s somewhat of a sobering thing. However as is the case in all good operas, does it not leave us wanting more?
…at the beginning I said that 2011 would be a season to remember in Birdland. To the final day of the season, it had almost become an afterthought. Losing season number 14 (in a row), right? Perhaps, however at the end the 2011 Baltimore Orioles left their mark in baseball history. In doing so, they proved Stevie Wonder’s point. In the last hour of the last day, before their life was done, they found their place in the sun.