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Best of BP: Let’s Go (to the Playoffs) O’s!

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This article was originally published October 8, 2023.


The magic is old in Baltimore.

New magic is flashy and slick and constantly blinking. You’ve got to plug it in every couple of hours. It doesn’t get remembered, it gets upgraded.

Old magic is in the bones, the roots, the foundations. It’s in every creak of the doors and rattle of the windows. This ballpark and the adjoining warehouse are teeming with it. It’s in the yellowed old game programs displayed behind bars and in the stories about how they used to beat the crap out of Yankees fans at Memorial Stadium. And it’s in a lot of the faces walking into Camden Yards today.

Every time Baltimoreans make more Baltimoreans, they’re making more Orioles fans. And each new crop hopes they’ll be the ones whose patience will last or lifetimes will occur within a window of contention.

It becomes hard to believe. When they’re losing 18 in a row–by an average of almost six runs a game–it really becomes hard to believe.

But it’s dormant, kept alive by whoever’s around to remember it; by reminders carved into the walls and painted into the murals. But every second that passes makes it a little easier to forget.

That’s why you’ve got to, you know. Try to win every couple of years. Maybe go nuts and try to win the most. Stir things back up again, so the kids can see what magic even looks like.

Because there’s more to life than waiting for Orioles Magic.

Good thing they’re not waiting anymore.

When you woke up in Baltimore this morning, the forecast wasn’t good: John Means was off the ALDS roster due to elbow problems. This changes things. You glanced out the window. A trash can was floating down your street. That’s not great either. But by ten in the morning, the clouds had been shed and a beautiful autumn day was beginning to break through.

The Means thing remained a problem. They make you pay for every win in this town, and the Orioles finished with 101 of them. All summer long, the distractions have ranged from the idiotic to the painful: John Angelos, Camden Yards’ lease with Baltimore, and a week ago, Brooks Robinson died.

When they watched Robinson and the O’s win their first American League pennant in 1966, people uncorked all the Orioles Magic they could get their hands on.

“Baltimore waved its first American League pennant today,” read the paper, “like a grand dame who knew her boys would do right all along.”

The boys have been doing right all summer. And everybody’s here today to watch them do it again; even Brooksie, whose number “5” presides over the ball field from its spot on the warehouse wall.

As you file into Camden Yards with the rest of Baltimore, you are suddenly in a museum of Orioles giveaway hats from the last ten years: Straw hats, bucket hats, military appreciation hats, Pride hats, all free and with logos faded by the sun. Kids with fresh mohawks and lifers with gray stringy hair that pours out from under a pillbox. Some of them have been to a playoff game before. And some of them can’t believe this bathroom line.

The day’s first cheers are for a weather update. The delayed game will begin at 2:15, says the big screen. That’s only about an hour from its original time, but an hour closer to the Billy Joel traffic forecasted due to a concert across the street. But nobody’s thinking about leaving. People are meandering about the stores and food stands until there’s so many people that no one’s really moving, just shuffling like a relaxed herd, unafraid of predators. Occasionally you get a guy on his phone who plows through everyone because he’s separated from his friends and knows that if he’s isolated for too long, he’ll die.

Given what everybody’s waiting for, you’re always on the verge of hearing it. This time, it starts from above in the upper deck and drifts down to the ticket lines. It blows through the stadium like a six a.m. storm.

Let’s go, O’s!

Let’s go, O’s!

Waves of orange burn through the turnstiles and seat by seat, the whole place is on fire. Jesus stands in his blessed garments, arms spread out on the first base side. He is wearing his famous fedora and preaching the gospel of attention-seeking. A section away, another fan holds up a sign: I ENJOY BASEBALL.

One guy takes a video of the stadium. Well, everybody does. But one guy’s doing it nearby.

This is what playoff baseball looks like, Tampa!” he yells. “You dicks!” he adds, giving the Rays’ corpse a little kick as he steps over it.

When Kyle Bradish strikes out the first Rangers batter of the game, a father in the stands grabs his young son and hugs him like he’s home from war.

But by the fourth, the Rangers have picked up on something after once through the order and they’re attacking Bradish quick on the first pitch. When a fourth straight hit finds its way into right, the groans are audible and the Rangers are up 2-0. Bradish loads the bases with two outs and suddenly the game is on the line with Marcus Semien coming to the plate.

Let’s go, O’s!

Let’s go, O’s!

With the crowd behind him, Bradish loops a curveball around Semien’s bat and the Orioles stay down two runs, well within range of Orioles Magic.

These people have been patient. It’s been seven years, an hour rain delay, and several quiet innings since somebody hit a bases-clearing double. They’ve been talking about that moment all week and even display it again today at the ballpark. But they’re ready for some new moments—not new magic, but their magic. You can only watch a moment like that so many times before wanting one of your own.

Something about the fourth really appeals to the O’s. Ryan Mountcastle doubles in Anthony Santander and now it’s playoff baseball. The energy has been sitting over the stadium, quietly fading with each out, needing a catalyst, a target, a reason to exist.  As Evan Carter runs around the baseball a few times before picking it up in left and Santander comes thundering around third, they finally have one.

The Rangers decide to have a discussion about it. There doesn’t seem to be a situation in this game that Texas won’t try to solve with a committee meeting. Unlike the kind you have at work, whatever they’re saying seems to be helping because they keep getting out of trouble.

But the crowd doesn’t see this as a helpful development. It also takes too long. Why are the Rangers allowed to take all the time they need to get their heads on straight? Why do they seem to get every strike call? Why do their normal ground balls roll exclusively toward parts of the field without Orioles in them? This isn’t magic. It’s stupid.

Andrew Heaney bends down to tie his shoelace in the fourth and that’s it. That’s the breaking point. If you didn’t know the crowd was restless and disgruntled and tired of waiting for the bathroom lines to shorten, you do now.

“DON’T YOU KNOW THERE’S A CONCERT TONIGHT?!” somebody yells. The last thing anybody needs is a reminder of the clusterfuck awaiting them in the parking lot, win or lose.

It gets worse.

It’s the top of the sixth and Jacob Webb is blowing it. Brandon Hyde’s starting to hear it, too, by association. At least one anti-analytics rant breaks out in every section. Even Jesus doesn’t seem ready to forgive Webb when he gives up a home run to the first Ranger he faces. He manages to record one out before departing from the game. The crowd can’t even look at him. It’s 3-1.

There’s got to be a little magic around here somewhere. Maybe in the statue garden, or at the bottom of your beer. Santander finds it first and parks one twenty rows deep and everybody joins that guy with the sign in remembering how to enjoy baseball.

But of course, since anything happened, the Rangers hop on a call to talk it out.

The Orioles are only down a run now. For this team, that’s like not being down at all. Austin Hays finishes off the seventh with a diving tumble into the left field shadows and comes up with an inning-ending catch, and the energy has shifted once again. When John Denver starts playing, there’s going to be a surge in this ballpark and the Orioles will have a chance to ride it into a comeback.

With the lead-off man aboard, there’s two balls on Adam Frazier and the Rangers have another meeting. They get an out. They have another meeting. Hyde senses an opportunity and goes to a pinch hitter, Ryan O’Hearn, for the home run Ramon Urias wouldn’t have hit.

A fan yells “It’s all coming apart! You can feel it all… coming apart!” It’s unclear who he’s talking to.

O’Hearn strikes out.

It’s bleeding onto the field now. Before the eighth, a man in a speedo enters the field of play. He does not work here. Security is on him pretty quick, giving him the length of two body slams to think about his choices before the cops get there.

“Fight the power, man!” one fan suggests.

The power wins. He’s yanked off his feet and carried away like a fresh kill.

The Orioles get two runners on with no outs and Santander at the plate. He smothers the rally with their second double-play of the day. But there’s still a man on third, and Mountcastle just needs a single to bring him in. Aroldis Chapman gets him to strike out swinging after opening the inning with five straight balls and two straight walks.

A single person claps.

The magic is barely there. But it’s alive.

In the ninth, Cionel Perez corners Corey Seager with two strikes.

You’re either going to find the magic here or spend the next 24 hours debating where it was. Going into the Orioles’ last chance, you hear the loudest spellcasting of the day.

Let’s go, O’s!

Let’s go, O’s!

Gunnar Henderson, the kind of young player you like to imagine throwing out the first pitch before playoff games decades in the future, will start us off. He’s young, he’s a star, and his destiny lies somewhere on the left side of the Orioles infield. His success is a big part of this team’s success. It’s also why John Angelos will simply have to raise hot dog prices to $17.50 if you want to keep him beyond free agency.

Let’s go, O’s!

Let’s go, O’s!

But all of that is part of a stupid, unwritten future. Right now, Henderson just has to step in that box and deliver. He lines a single into right and the Orioles’ have a lead-off base runner. He carries with him the tying run, and he’s less than a full trip around the diamond away. The trick is going to be getting him over without—oh shit there he goes.

Henderson seems to have a terrific jump. But Jonah Heim springs up with the sound of missiles priming and cuts Henderson down, relieving the Orioles of their base runner—who may have gone rogue with that stolen base attempt.

The magic may be old, but the team’s still young.

It’ll be back tomorrow. Somewhere, at least; it’s never completely gone. You could hear it when Bradish struck out that first batter; when Mountcastle doubled in Santander; when Santander launched one to center. In moments like that, it doesn’t matter that Heim has a cannon or Webb wasn’t the right move or that Billy Joel’s bus has a terrible turn radius.

Orioles Magic is echoing through Camden Yards, and it hasn’t been this loud in years.

The problem, as always, is baseball.

Baseball doesn’t give a fuck.

The post Best of BP: Let’s Go (to the Playoffs) O’s! appeared first on Baseball Prospectus.

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