In my professional career — one that has now spanned more than 10 years — I’ve only “played hooky” from work once. (Apologies to AOL, my employer at the time.) The date was Sept. 13, 2012, and the Orioles were in the midst of an exciting push toward the playoffs that caught me and the rest of Baltimore completely by surprise. After 14 consecutive losing seasons, the last thing I or any other Orioles’ fan expected was a competitive season, much less a pennant chase. Yet, suddenly, it seemed that every button pushed by manager Buck Showalter or executive Dan Duquette turned into an extra-inning or one-run win.
I had been at the game the night before, and it was a memorable one. In the top of the ninth inning of a tie game against the Rays, Manny Machado made a play I’ll remember with the go-ahead run at second base. In case you’ve forgotten, he barehanded a slow roller from Evan Longoria, faked a throw to first base, then turned and threw behind the runner at third base to shortstop J.J. Hardy. Rich Thompson was caught in a rundown, tagged out, and the 20-year-old Machado had just made one of the best defensive plays I’d ever seen. (“That is a veteran play by a raw rookie,” Joe Angel exclaimed in his call of the play.)
Machado then led off the bottom of the ninth with a single. Two batters later, Nate “The Great” McLouth delivered a game-winning base hit that was just inches fair down the right-field line.
Orioles Magic was back, and it was in full swing.
When I got to work the next morning, I couldn’t get the highlights out of my head. The final game of the series – a Thursday afternoon game – was just a few hours away, and I badly wanted to go. When I learned that my manager would be out of the office for the day, I saw an opportunity and decided to go against my straight-laced nature. I left our Locust Point offices and made my way around the harbor to Camden Yards.
With the Orioles and Yankees tied atop the American League East, and the Rays lurking just three games behind, it was a pivotal game in the playoff chase. And with so much excitement still lingering from the previous night, I felt like something special was about to happen again. The game didn’t disappoint.
Fourteen innings and five hours later, the Orioles had beaten the Rays, 3-2. Yes, it was a one-run win and an extra-inning win, both signatures of those 2012 “Buckle Up” Birds. And, yes, the rookie Machado was the one who delivered the walk-off single.
I remember calling my dad to relive the moments as I walked back to my car afterward. I remember the wild-card win in Texas that followed a few weeks later, and attending both home games of the American League Division Series against the Yankees. Game 2 of that series marked the first home playoff win for the Orioles since 1997, and I’m lucky enough to own the dirt-stained jersey that I watched Hardy wear at shortstop.
The Orioles lost to New York in five games (Did McLouth hit the foul pole?), but the 2012 season marked the return of winning baseball to Baltimore. And we had Showalter and Duquette to thank.
As the organization parted ways with both men this week, I couldn’t help but think of all the fun memories they’d helped bring me over the last seven summers (and autumns). Before their arrival, the Orioles had been terrible for my entire adult life, and much of my childhood. It was almost embarrassing to be a diehard O’s fan. And then, in the blink of an eye, I was suddenly watching my team in the playoffs. I was seeing multiple Oriole Gold Glove winners and All-Stars every year. I was working with respected journalists to build a website that would cover the team. I truly can’t believe that any of it happened.
Thank you, Buck. Thank you, Dan. Your time in Baltimore brought me tremendous joy as a baseball fan, as a son, and as a professional. And I know I’m not the only one.
Editor’s Note: I was just starting high school when the Orioles won their first world championship in 1966, watched with pride when they were the most dominant team in baseball in 1969, ’70 and ’71, attended the final game of their disheartening Series slide against the Pirates in ’79, and was working in Philadelphia the night they defeated the Phillies to clinch their third and final title in 1983. I was overseeing The Sun’s baseball coverage when they returned to the playoffs in 1996 and ’97. All of which is to say, I lacked Steve’s perspective on the Buck-and-Dan years after 14 seasons of disappointment because I’ve seen a much bigger, and brighter, picture. Let’s hope Steve doesn’t have get used to the old view.
Jack Gibbons spent 46 years in sports journalism, including a chunk of that time as sports editor of The Baltimore Sun. Now retired from full-time work, Jack serves as the lead editor and writer for BaltimoreBaseball.com’s “Calling the Pen,” a periodic feature that highlights baseball essays written by the community. If you would like to contribute to ‘Calling the Pen,” send a 750-1,200-word, original piece via email to [email protected] for consideration.