I hope and believe that one day when looking back on Baltimore Orioles’ history, we’ll point to September 28, 2011 as a turning point. For those that don’t remember, that was the day that the O’s beat the Red Sox (on the final day of the season) 4-3 with a walk-off double by Robert Andino in the last of the ninth. Literally moments after Nolan Reimold crossed home plate to win it for the fighting Showalters, Evan Longoria hit a walk-off homer to beat the Yankees for the Tampa Rays. Both acts eliminated the Red Sox from the playoffs, capping off an epic collapse and the greatest closing act in sports history.
Recently I was going through some of my recent articles, and I came across some pieces that I wrote surrounding that series of events back in September. While in fact that was only just over two months ago, it somehow feels like an eternity. However one thing that I suggested on the morning of that final game was the potential for that one game to be a catalyst for change in several different areas. At the time, many people were saying that the Theo Epstein and/or Terry Francona would leave the franchise (either by their own choice or not) if they didn’t make the playoffs. Let’s not forget that Boston was the so-called dream team, and there was literally no excuse for them not to win the World Series. That, combined with a 7-19 September (going into that final game), made for the potential that someone’s head could roll. Ultimately in the wake of that loss, both Epstein and Francona were gone, and in very short order. Much later we found out that players were eating fried chicken and drinking beer in the clubhouse during games. Jonathan Papelbon took off for Philly, the Red Sox still haven’t resigned David Ortiz, they’re stuck with a struggling John Lackey, and they still don’t have a manager more than two months into the off season.
The Red Sox, a team that’s seemingly taken so much pleasure in beating up on hapless Oriole teams over the years, are sort of in a state of disarray. Granted the jury is still out on whether or not the O’s under Dan Duquette and Buck Showalter will take the turn that they could not take under Andy MacPhail and Dave Trembley/Buck Showalter. However the fact is that with the changes in Boston and Baltimore, the scope of the AL East is now somewhat different. With all of the changes that have been made, and the potential shake-ups in the clubhouse in the wake of chicken-and-beergate, one has to wonder if the Red Sox will lose some of their moxie going into 2012. If so, does that mean that the O’s could make some progress in the win/loss column? Again, that remains to be seen; furthermore, it depends morso on the off season moves made by Duquette and the ability of the Orioles to stay healthy once the season starts than on what the Red Sox do or how they handle themselves in their new dynamic.
In the interim, Oriole fans should keep the memory of that game in their back pockets. Somehow I think that (a small) part of the Orioles’ misfortunes over the years has been their inability to capture lighning in a bottle when something along those lines happens. Whenever they’d win games in dramatic fashion they’d talk about moving onto the next game and so forth. That’s certainly a mark of professionalism, which is something that I applaud. However sometimes if you move on to quickly you seemingly forget the good that happened, and as I said you fail to catch lightning in a bottle. If anything, over time they’ve proven that they’re good at straying away from the spotlight of positives, and almost embracing negatives that happen on the field.
That aside, let us not forget that the above-mentioned Red Sox seemed to always have an answer for the Birds. In a piece entitled No Tomorrow that was published the morning of September 28th, I referenced the 2007 Mother’s Day Massacre at Fenway (in which the O’s blew a 5-1 lead in the last of the ninth). Those are the kinds of things that the Red Sox have done to the Orioles consistently over time. (This is not to say that the O’s haven’t had their “moments” also, such as coming back from an 11-1 deficet to beat Boston in 2009. But those moments have been few and far between.) Therefore when Nolan Reimold crossed home plate that night on the heels of Robert Andino’s double in the last of the ninth, the O’s in effect “did the Red Sox back the same way Boston had done them” so many times. More importantly it happened when everything was on the line for the Red Sox, and nothing for the O’s. I said at the time that I didn’t think that many people had ever seen a team like the fighting Showalters who literally gave everything they had to win, with nothing to play for. Perhaps the fortunes of two different teams and a division hung in the balance that night, juxtaposed on the winds of Andino’s line drive to left field. What will the final result be come the 2012 season? Tough to say right now, but from the Orioles’ standpoint one certainly hopes that the ball sliding under Carl Crawford’s glove foreshadows events to come.