Back in Spring Training I jokingly used the phrase today we’re going to play the biggest baseball game in the history of western civilization…well for this year anyway. That was intended as a pun in that we were all glad to see the O’s playing games again (even exhibition games), but they were meaningless in terms of the season’s standings. However in effect, tonight at Oriole Park at Camden Yards we are in fact going to play the biggest baseball game in the history of western civilization…for this year, and perhaps for the previous 14 as well. The Boston Red Sox and Tampa Rays are tied for the final playoff spot; if one team wins and the other loses, that team (that wins) will go and the other will go home. (If both teams win or lose, they’ll play a one-game tie-breaker tomorrow in Tampa.)
From the Orioles’ standpoint, there is more to this than meets the eye. Keep in mind that the Red Sox had a nine game lead in the playoff standings at the beginning of September, and they’ve managed to blow it. Right around the same time, the O’s began to come on fairly strong in terms of their play on the field and in the win/loss column. So in effect, one team was tanking when it mattered, and the other was winning when it didn’t. It seems that in the time since Labor Day the Birds have sprinted to the finish, while the Red Sox were simply hoping that they would get there. Keep in mind that the Red Sox have been one of the two thorns in the Orioles’ side for quite some time. So the players and more importantly the fans would like nothing more than to play a huge part in spoiling what should have rightfully been a World Series-caliber season for Boston.
Many Oriole skeptics on message boards, blogs, etc. all say that the fact that Oriole fans are hanging their hats on having the chance to stop the Red Sox from going to the post-season is a sad state of affairs. And they’re probably right; even if they don’t go to the playoffs, at least the Red Sox can say they were in it until the end. However from my standpoint, I’m not so sure that this is more so about keeping Boston from going to the playoffs, or about the future of the Orioles. There are slight whispers to the effect that Terry Francona’s job might be in jeopardy if they miss the post-season. (My gut feeling is that he won’t get fired, and I’d even go so far as to say that it would be wrong of them to treat a guy that’s meant so much to their organization in that manner.) Does one not think that the scope of the division wouldn’t change from 2012 forward if he was no longer the skipper? If he was to suddenly be relieved of his duties in Boston, I suspect that there might be some turnover on the roster as well because a new manager might want some different people in addition to the core that’s already there. Furthermore, the long-term future of the Orioles begins immediately following the final out of tonight’s game given that all signs point to Andy MacPhail leaving the team. Does Buck Showalter move into that position and out of the dugout? Does he step into a field manager/GM role starting tomorrow? Do the O’s have a new field manager next season? Or do they pull a surprise move and go in a totally different direction?
One could potentially argue that tonight’s game may well be the juxtaposition point between the past, present, and future of potentially two franchises, various different people, and perhaps even the scope of sports’ toughest division. However in the interim, the fact is that regardless of the outcome of the biggest baseball game in the history of western civilization tonight, there is in fact no tomorrow for the 2011 Baltimore Orioles. This was a season that came in with a lot of promise, but yet was passed with disappointment. However tonight’s game provides one more chance for the O’s to rise to the occasion and show that they have the eye of the tiger. We’ll then take a break from the games on a daily basis before beginning fresh next spring. The Orioles will rise again, and while there may well be no tomorrow… let us not forget that in truth tomorrow never dies.