A mostly fun decade of Orioles baseball ends with pain and perhaps some hope - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

A mostly fun decade of Orioles baseball ends with pain and perhaps some hope

The Orioles’ decade began with the Opening Day crowd booing manager Dave Trembley’s removal of Mike Gonzalez from the mound after he blew his second save in the first four games.

Nearly 10 years later, that image is still fresh. Gonzalez blew saves in the team’s opener at Tampa Bay and four days later in Baltimore.

Less than two months later, Trembley was gone and replaced by Juan Samuel. It was clear that Samuel was an interim manager, and when Buck Showalter took control in early August, Samuel refused to head back to the third base coaching job he’d held previously.

In 2010, the Orioles had three managers who each managed roughly a third of the season, something unprecedented in baseball. It wouldn’t be the last time in the decade the Orioles did something unique.

Things changed when Showalter came, and he inherited Gonzalez, who complained he wasn’t pitching enough. “If you want to pitch more, pitch better,” Showalter would tell players and repeat to reporters.

In the decade that ends tonight, there were so many names that were memorable and forgettable.

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The Orioles’ All-Star on the team that Showalter took over was Ty Wigginton, an infielder who was chosen over Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and Matt Wieters, all in the early parts of distinguished careers.

After a fine final two months of 2010, expectations were raised for 2011, but that season turned out to be the 14th straight losing one.

The 2011 season wasn’t a waste because in the last six weeks the Orioles went 22-16. In the final game of the season, they knocked the Boston Red Sox out of the playoffs on a single in the bottom of the ninth by Robert Andino that scored Nolan Reimold.

That was the final game for Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail, who chose Showalter as manager and acquired Jones, Chris Davis, J.J. Hardy, Manny Machado  and Chris Tillman through the draft and trades.

MacPhail’s good work was improved on by Dan Duquette, who brought in Wei-Yin Chen, Miguel Gonzalez, Jason Hammel and Nate McLouth in 2012.

Perhaps the most remarkable regular-season game in team history took place on May 6, 2012 at Fenway Park when in the 15th inning, Showalter remembered that Davis had pitched in college.

To that point, Davis was a free-swinging slugger who’d played at third, first and in the outfield.

On that late Sunday afternoon, Davis, who began the day as the Orioles’ designated hitter and struck out five times and hit into a double play in his first six at-bats, shocked everyone by warming up in the bullpen.

He pitched two scoreless innings, and the Orioles won in 17 innings when Jones hit a three-run home run off another position player, Darnell McDonald, who had once been a No. 1 pick by the Orioles.

That game finished off a rare winning road trip to New York and Boston, and put the Orioles 10 games over .500.

In retrospect, it marked the beginning of the Orioles’ renaissance, one that would last for much of the decade.

Later there would be the historic relief work of Zack Britton and the slugging of Nelson Cruz, which helped overcome  season-ending injuries to Machado and Wieters in 2014.

The decade that’s ending brought fun to Baltimore, but after Showalter declined to use Britton in the wild-card game in Toronto in 2016, things turned sour.

The 2017 season started off well, and the team was threatening to make the postseason once again before a late-season sputter ended the year sourly.

The next year, the Orioles hoped that the old gang could again produce some magic, but it quickly became apparent that it wasn’t going to work.

No one could have imagined 223 losses in two years to end the decade, nor the small crowds.

For years, Camden Yards was the place to be. In 2015, after the city’s disturbances, it hosted the only fanless game in major league history as fans demanded to be let in.

In 2018, the team tried to pump some excitement by allowing children in the park for free with paying adults, and while that was critically acclaimed, and continues, there just weren’t enough paying adults.

General manager Mike Elias is trying to rebuild the organization in every way, bringing in younger people with newer ideas and hoping that sometime soon, the crowds will return.

Davis, who began his Orioles career with so much excitement, is nearing the end of it and fans find it hard to remember the great home run years and that wonderful afternoon in Fenway.

The decade ends with Jones, the most memorable player of the 10 years, beginning a new decade thousands of miles away, playing for the Orix Buffaloes in Japan and Showalter still hoping for another managerial job.

Dylan Bundy, one of the most publicized draft picks in team history, spent nearly all the decade as Orioles property, but now moves on to the Los Angeles Angels for 2020.

In the 2020s, there will be new names for Orioles fans to learn and a younger generation of fans can only hope that the coming decade will be as much fun as most of this decade was.

It’s just hard to remember where the fun went sometimes.

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