By: Wyatt Ridgely
The 2023 Orioles were really special to watch this year.
I attended game 2 of the ALDS, and it was absolute hysteria. Built up frustration from the long rebuild was finally over as I, along with the rest of a rabidly hungry fan base, was ready for the exciting game.
Despite trailing by seven runs after the third inning, we were still in the game. The team's never-say-die-attitude defined the season. The fans did not stop cheering, even when the last out was recorded and the O's found themselves down 2-0 to the eventual ALDS champion Texas Rangers.
Still, there was something magical about watching, and experiencing, how different the atmosphere was between regular season and postseason baseball. It's an atmosphere that O's fans certainly hope to repeat next year, and one that, despite the team's early playoff exit, we will all remember for quite some time.
Afterall, few anticipated that we would even make it to this moment at the beginning of the season.
The Orioles and baseball fans alike expected success this season, especially after Adley Rutschman’s call-up in late May last year, which seemed to galvanize the team. The Orioles have gone 158-109 since he was promoted to the majors.
Fans, though, were frustrated with General Manager Mike Elias for promising big time free agents and then not signing any to over $10 million. Despite the additions of Kyle Gibson, Cole Irvin and Ryan O’Hearn, among others, the Orioles had seemed to regress.
But in the beginning of the year, the team felt different. They started off slow but quickly became one of the best teams in the AL. Still, because of the Rays 20-8 start to the season the Orioles were overlooked. Starting in the middle of May the Orioles hit their grove.
Despite lackluster performances from Irvin, Henderson and Ramon Urías, the Orioles were still clicking. And by the middle of June the Orioles were on fire, quickly climbing the division ladder. Even when disaster struck and stars Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle went down with injuries, O’Hearn and free agent signing Aaron Hicks stepped in perfectly.
During this time, Henderson, who should win rookie of the year, was playing like a seasoned veteran. He seemed to have made an adjustment at the plate and his defensive numbers improved tremendously. Along with the call-up of Jordan Westburg, the Orioles continued performing above expectations. After sweeping Tampa in late July, they would take the division and hold on until the end of the season.
It seemed the lineup was continuously coming through, and ultimately helped the starting rotation, which was, at times, a bit inconsistent. Grayson Rodriguez, a big time prospect, struggled in his first 10 starts as his ERA ballooned over 7, leading to his demotion to Triple A Norfolk. Tyler Wells was giving up a lot of homers. Dean Kremer and Gibson were both okay but weren’t playing up to par.
The one pitcher who performed well was Kyle Bradish; his ERA hovered around three, and was complemented by a heavy fastball and a devastating splitter. After getting called back up, Rodriguez turned into one of the best pitchers in baseball. Unfortunately, it all came crashing down in the playoffs as Kremer, Bradish and Rodriguez struggled. However, the bullpen was a different story.
Led by the best closer in baseball, Felíx Bautista dismantled opponents prior to his season-ending injury. Danny Coulombe was a great lefty option in high leverage situations. But the biggest shock was Yennier Cano. The Orioles acquired Cano when they dealt star reliever Jorge Lopez for Cano and three other prospects last season. Cano didn’t even make the opening day roster. But after early injuries he was called up in mid April and was unstoppable, not walking a batter in a month and not giving up a run till early June. His disgusting slider moved from one side of the plate to the other, completely fooling batters along with his splitter and 97mph fastball.
With the Orioles on the brink of reaching the playoffs, they had a pivotal four-game set with Tampa. The Orioles had a two game lead in the division with about 15 games to go. After the Orioles dropped the first two games of the series their backs were against the wall. They won the third game to reestablish their lead. But in the rubber game it would fall apart. Down two in the bottom of the 8th, Rutschman sent a ball deep into the right field bleachers to cut the lead to one. Cionel Perez came into the game to throw a scoreless ninth. Still down one in the ninth with two and two strikes, the Orioles got a base hit. With Mateo on first as the pinch runner and excellent speed all it took was a ball in the gap and the game would be over. Adam Frazier was down to his last strike. Magically, he inside-outed a ball down the left field line to tie the game. After a scoreless 10th the Orioles had to score one run. After Rutschman moved to third on a ground out, Mullins, who was recently off the injured list hit a ball into deep center, winning the game and clinching the playoffs for the Orioles. The Yard was sent into a frenzy as the Orioles made the playoffs for the first time since 2016. Orioles magic is a real thing.
They clinched the division a few days later ending the draught during their long rebuild. As Baltimore and the surrounding area reflects on the season, it's fair to say the O's weren't given much a chance at the beginning of the season. But they proved everybody wrong. They went from a team not expected to make the playoffs to winning an American League high 101 games.
The playoff outcome may not have worked in our favor, but this team is absolutely the beginning of something special and it is time that we soak it in and enjoy the years to come.