The Baltimore Orioles are just beginning to learn that the Major League season is a marathon, not a sprint, and the entire pack of runners is closing in on the early frontrunners in the American League East.
For a team that has long been downtrodden it has been an energizing April and May, but after shooting out to one of the best starts in the league, the Orioles are in danger of being swallowed up by all of the teams we all thought would outdo them during the 2012 season.
Going into Thursday night baseball the Orioles were still in first place in their division with a 29-22 record. But Tampa Bay had pulled even and the New York Yankees, the Toronto Blue Jays and the glacially slow starting Boston Red Sox were all hovering within 2 ½ games of first place.
It is hard not to believe that this is a sign the Orioles are coming back to the herd for good. Although this has been an unpredictable baseball for sure, form may be starting to tell in the AL East. If you are an Orioles fan you have been having the most fun in years.
Once upon a time—and it does seem like a long, long time ago—the Orioles were a consistent American League power. Forgetting about the original Baltimore Orioles that played before the start of the 20th century, the modern-day Orioles got their start when the St. Louis Browns relocated in 1954.
During the 1960s and 1970s all roads to AL pennants ran through Baltimore. Hall of Fame third baseman Brooks Robinson was the team anchor. Hall of Fame manager Earl Weaver guided the team to a long run of success. Sluggers like Boog Powell supplemented the superb starting pitching featuring Jim Palmer, another Hall of Famer.
The Orioles won American League pennants in 1966, 1969, 1970, 1971, 1979 and 1983. They won the World Series in 1966 over the Los Angeles Dodgers, in 1970 over the Cincinnati Reds, and in 1983 over the Philadelphia Phillies. In-between they lost Series to the New York Mets, and to the Pittsburgh Pirates twice.
The 1971 Orioles were memorable for remarkable starting pitching. That season the Orioles sent out a four-man rotation of Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson, Palmer, and Dave McNally. The first three hurlers each won 20 games and McNally won 21. That is a baseball rarity and it is also the last time any team accomplished the feat.
So there have been plenty of good old days for Orioles fans besides the opening of Camden Yards in 1989, but you pretty much have to be in your mid-30s or so to remember anything great to cheer about.
The Orioles have not finished over .500 since 1997 when they went 98-64 and lost in the American League Championship Series. They finished 19 games worse in 1998 and no one could have foreseen the ensuing dry spell which would make the Sahara Desert seem like a wetland.
Current Orioles’ manager Buck Showalter has never been known to be as warm and cuddly as Mr. Rogers, but Buck’s neighborhood has been a pretty happy place this season until now.
Center fielder Adam Jones (.314) looks like the real deal. Catcher Matt Wieters (8 home runs, 22 RBIs) has potential. And pitcher Jason Hammel (6-2, .306) might be somebody.
Man for man the Orioles still don’t match up with the best of the AL East, so count me as a skeptic about the likelihood of the team sustaining its fast start. But one thing Showalter has done is instill hope for the future and in Baltimore that’s a giant step forward for mankind.
Topics: Adam Jones, American League, American League East, Baltimore Orioles, Boog Powell, Boston Red Sox, Brooks Robinson, Buck Showalter, Camden Yards, Cincinnati Reds, Dave McNally, Earl Weaver, Hall Of Fame, Jason Hammel, Jim Palmer, Los Angeles Dodgers, Matt Wieters, Mike Cuellar, New York Mets, New York Yankees, Pat Dobson, Pennants, Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, St. Louis Browns, Tampa Bay Bucs, Toronto Blue Jays, World Series