On Thursday evening I hopped in my car and made my way from my Remington house towards downtown Baltimore. As I passed through neighborhoods in various stages of gentrification, the recession of urban decay and the seemingly endless stream of commuters it began to hit me what I was about to see. I was going to see my hometown team face-off against a bitter rival, in my city, in September, for a chance at first place in the American League East. As I approached midtown Baltimore I realized I was not the only one thinking that – the traffic stretched on forever.
I gave up about 10 blocks from the stadium, saw a spot on the street took it and walked the rest of the way.
As I approached the gates, the rush of people was amazing. I walked onto Eutaw Street and my heart leapt into my throat. I literally teared up a bit I looked around to the completely packed stadium, almost entirely in orange. This was a night I have anticipated for so long. For a decade all I have ever wanted was to experience that night.
And what an experience it was.
As you all know by now the Orioles used six homers, including one incredibly clutch solo-homer from Adam Jones to avert a near catastrophic collapse, to beat the New York Yankees 10-6. The Yankees returned the favor last night getting out to a big 7-0 lead before finally winning by the more respectable score of 8-5. So the season series is down to its last two games, with both teams owning eight wins apiece. The Orioles still sit only one game behind the dread New York Yankees and the next two games will go a long way to deciding the fates of both these teams.
This weekend means so much to Orioles fans everywhere. Thursday night was an experience I will never forget. This city wore its heart on its sleeve for one night and if Thursday September 6 is any indication playoff games at Camden Yards would be astronomically ridiculous. I simply can not describe the sound, the sonic detonation of 47 thousand competition-starved fans. When Matt Wieters hit his first inning homerun into the left field seats the undulating mass of humanity, the sound that was released. You could feel the 14 years of misery and heartbreak. 14 years of broken promises and cheap, penny-pinching moves, 14 years of bad luck, bad karma, bad calls and bad losses were finally blasted away with a three-run homer into the second row of the left field lower boxes.
This weekend could mean final absolution, final redemption and the final recognition that the Orioles are no-longer the doormats of the American League. The paradigm is shifting. The AL East of ’10’s will be vastly different than that of the naught’s. The age of New York and Boston hegemony over the American League seems to be coming to an end. The Yankees seem to finally be showing their age, the Red Sox are going to be weak for the next couple of years, the Jays seem to be spinning their wheels and the Rays could become the power of the division. But if the Rays are the power, then gone are the days where you need 95 wins to be in the conversation of the AL East. Gone are the days of 100 win division leaders. The AL East will be a lot more open and it seems the Orioles are hitting their organizational stride at exactly the right time.
If the Orioles win the next two games and take sole possession of first that will not be the end of it. The Orioles still have three and a half weeks of baseball remaining and every Orioles fan knows that if there is one team that can go into an ill-timed tailspin – it is the Baltimore Orioles. But I don’t see that happening this time. Buck Showalter will not allow that to happen. Adam Jones will not allow that to happen. Markakis, Wieters, Hammel, Johnson, Reynolds will not allow that to happen.
The Orioles may or may not make the post season in 2012, but sitting a measley five wins away from finally escaping from the shadows of 14 years of futility will mean so much to this fanbase, this city and this team. That being said, it is ours for the taking, the Universe in its glorious sense of randomness and humor has allowed the Orioles to be in a position where they contorl their own destiny. The prize is within reach, the Birds need only reach out and take it.
Standing in their way tonight is the historic juggernaut of the New York Yankees.
Bring it on.