2012 was the year everything worked for the Orioles - BaltimoreBaseball.com

Rich Dubroff

2012 was the year everything worked for the Orioles

Photo Credit: Joy R. Absalon

People often ask me what is the most unforgettable game I’ve ever seen. I have a few contenders, but there’s something they never ask me that I have an easy answer for.

The 2012 Orioles were my favorite team.

In September 2011, ComcastSportsNet, now NBCSportsWashington, decided that it should begin coverage of the Orioles on its CSNBaltimore.com webpage, and that I should do it.

The assignment ended up lasting for five years, and the Orioles’ heartbreaking loss to Toronto in the wild-card game in 2016 was the last one I covered.

The first game was the final one of the 2011 season, the fabled “Curse of the Andino,” when Robert Andino sent the Boston Red Sox home with a game-winning single, and set the stage for a pesky team full of unforgettable players.

By 2012, the Orioles had gone through 14 straight losing seasons. There was hope in spring training that the run might end, and perhaps that the team could win 82 or 83 games.

It was the first year of the Buck Showalter/Dan Duquette partnership, and all went smoothly.

There was Matt Wieters, a blossoming star behind the plate, a solid shortstop in J.J. Hardy, Adam Jones in center, Nick Markakis in right, and a young designated hitter, Chris Davis, who filled in at first, left and, when Markakis was hurt, in right.

Compelling personalities all, and none had his best year in 2012.

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Somehow, the team, which according to Baseballreference.com, had a Pythagorean won/loss record of 82-80, managed to win 93 games, despite scoring just seven more runs than it allowed.

This Orioles were a staggering 20 games over .500 in one-run games, (29-9) and won 16 of the 18 extra-inning games they played.

On April 10 and 11, the Orioles lost back-to-back games to the Yankees in 12 and 10 innings, and wouldn’t lose an extra-inning game the rest of the season.

There was an inkling the season was going to be different when the club took a road trip in late April and early May to Yankee Stadium and Fenway Park, and won five of the six games it played.

Arguably, the most gripping game came on May 6 when the Orioles and Red Sox played 17 taut innings, and Davis came in to the game to pitch a scoreless 16th and 17th.

It was the first time Showalter used a position player to pitch. He often said he didn’t want to do it in a game in which his team trailed badly because it made a mockery of the game.

In his final two years as Orioles manager, Showalter softened his stance, but on an early Sunday evening in May, he asked Davis, who had struck out five times as the team’s DH, to try to keep the team afloat.

“It wasn’t like, ‘Hey, Chris, come get your glove,’’’ Showalter said in 2016. “I waited and waited, and he’s right there with me. I said, ‘You’re pitching next inning. Go warm up down there in the bullpen.’ He probably told you he didn’t have time to think about it.”

Davis was clear on what he was thinking.

“It was crazy. It was absolutely crazy,” he said.

Jones had already made a game-saving throw in the bottom of the 16th, relaying the ball to Hardy, who threw it to Wieters, to nail Marlon Byrd.

In the top of the 17th, Jones hit a three-run home run against Darnell McDonald, a one-time top draft choice by the Orioles who was now an outfielder pitching for the Red Sox.

Jones was hungry, and he couldn’t wait to stay around Boston after the game to take McDonald out to dinner.

“It was a lot of fun,” Showalter said. “It was cold. It was the typical challenges you have in Fenway Park. Our guys just refused to lose. It was the epitome of a team winning a game.

“It was kind of an accumulation of everything we talked about to be good. That game really exposed what we were capable of doing.”

That team turned out to be tremendously fun.

Only one pitcher won more than nine games, an unknown Taiwanese left-hander, Wei-Yin Chen, whom Duquette signed along with a more well-known Japanese pitcher, Tsuyoshi Wada, during his first offseason.

Wada ended up needing Tommy John surgery and never pitched for the Orioles. Chen was arguably Duquette’s best signing.

Joining Chen in the starting rotation were Jason Hammel, whom the Orioles acquired in February, Miguel Gonzalez, a totally unknown signee from the Mexican League, and Chris Tillman, who both won nine games.

Jim Johnson saved a club record 51 games while Zack Britton floundered as a starter.

Late in the season, Showalter needed a left-hander in the pen, and he turned to Brian Matusz, who had failed as a starter.

How successful was Matusz? He had a 5.42 ERA as a starter and a 1.35 ERA as a reliever and owned David Ortiz.

Big Papi was just 4-for-29 (.138) with 13 strikeouts against Matusz.

Markakis, a Showalter favorite, played in just 104 games that season because of hamate surgery and later a broken thumb when CC Sabathia hit him.

Showalter used Markakis in the leadoff position because he didn’t have a true leadoff hitter, and he thrived there, hitting .335.

When Markakis was out, Duquette turned to reclamation projects — Endy Chavez, Lew Ford and Nate McLouth — and they came through.

In a season when every decision seemed to be correct, the most important one came in early August when the team decided to call up Manny Machado, who had just turned 20, to play third base.

Machado played shortstop in the minors but with Wilson Betemit a defensive liability at third, Showalter and Duquette knew they needed someone better there.

Minor league infield coordinator Bobby Dickerson worked with Machado at Bowie, teaching him the rudiments of third base, and when Machado was recalled, he saved the Orioles’ season.

Showalter explained the move, saying that if something could make the team “two inches better,” they’d do it.

The Orioles ended up qualifying for the first Wild-Card Game, and behind another questionable starter, Joe Saunders, picked up late in August, they beat the Texas Rangers.

After the game, it was a wild visiting clubhouse. Of course, there was champagne and beer everywhere, but the wildest scene was a long embrace between Duquette and Showalter.

The Orioles nearly beat the Yankees in a close five-game Division Series.

Showalter was named “Marylander of the Year” by The Baltimore Sun, and team made two more postseason appearances.

It was a far better team in 2014 with much better starting pitching, but it lacked the innocence of the 2012 team that won for the first time.

Oriole fans continue to wait for that next first time.

Follow Rich Dubroff on Twitter @RichDubroffMLB

19 Comments

19 Comments

  1. CalsPals

    March 30, 2020 at 8:13 am

    Rich, great trip down memory lane, funny how a difference in philosophy, bringing up Machado at 20 vs today’s exists, it is what it is, thx for all you do…go O’s…

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 30, 2020 at 8:21 am

      If the Orioles weren’t in contention then, Machado might have been held back, Ray. If the Orioles get into contention in the next few years, the philosophy could change.

      Thank you for your kind words.

    • GSISDANNO

      March 30, 2020 at 8:57 am

      One of my favorite memories was Game One of the ALDS at Camden Yards. When I arrived at the ballpark, I saw a beautiful sight. The sold-out crowd was a sea of orange and there were very few Yankee fans.
      That was an intense series and i think the Orioles would have won if Markakis played.

      • mlbbirdfan

        March 30, 2020 at 9:39 am

        Agree! We’d have won with Nick healthy. I have HATED C.C. Ever since he hit Markakis. I always have believed that he threw at Nick’s hands deliberately. A couple of sports writer friends disagree. Either way, terrific reminisce Rich! Thanks

  2. [email protected] yard

    March 30, 2020 at 8:25 am

    Rich,
    I agree with you, my favorite Orioles team was the 2012 edition. And my favorite game was the September 6 game with the Yankees. The O’s blew a five run lead in the top of the eighth, and came back with three home runs in the bottom of the eighth to win. What made this win even more enjoyable was that my wife and I went to the game with a couple that were diehard Yankee fans.
    Thanks for this post.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 30, 2020 at 8:30 am

      Thank you, Pete. That was also the night Ripken’s statue was unveiled.

      • mlbbirdfan

        March 30, 2020 at 9:42 am

        Sept 6 2012: The 17th anniversary of 2131.

  3. Steve Cockey

    March 30, 2020 at 9:30 am

    2012 was my favorite season as well. After 14 straight losing seasons, .500 didn’t even seem possible, much less the playoffs. What a fun run.

  4. garyintheloo

    March 30, 2020 at 10:49 am

    Thank you. I got to see the end of that game on MLB Network and it was amazing. What a magical season and possibly a great postseason without the injuries. One of my top five games and a top two playoff series. Only the 2011 World Series (I live in the Loo) and the 2014 ALDS were better.

    • Rich Dubroff

      March 30, 2020 at 10:53 am

      I was looking forward to being in St. Louis this week, Gary, but that will have to wait.

  5. Eastern Sho Joe

    March 30, 2020 at 11:55 am

    I remember that season well, it was a lot of fun. However, I wouldn’t go as far to say that this was the year that “everything worked” as the title here says. The reason I feel this way is because I came to tears after loosing to the Yankees in 2012.

    Also, being beat in a Division Series is far from what I want from the O’s. When I was a kid the O’s were a powerhouse, and fans were proud. Not trying to be negative, but I’m sick of seeing NY and Boston fans with smiles on their faces. I want a World Series championship, it’s been too long.

  6. dlgruber1

    March 30, 2020 at 2:08 pm

    Baseball can provide memories like no other sport. I was at game 1 vs the Yanks that year and after 14 straight losing seasons I’ll never forget as the game was nearing after the long rain delay the O’s playing the song Foreplay/Longtime by Boston, which begins with the lyrics “It’s been such a long time”. It was absolutely perfect. The O’s lost that game but in the hundreds of games I’ve been to in my lifetime it was the best atmosphere I’d ever seen in Baltimore.

  7. OriolesNumber1Fan

    March 30, 2020 at 7:05 pm

    Awesome trip down memory lane Rich!!! I remember watching that May game against Boston and that relay throw from JJ Hardy from the outfield grass. I remember replaying that play over and over again and saying to my girlfriend this could be the year!!! I remember a lot of great defensive plays that year as well. I remember when Nick Markakis was shown in the corner of the dugout with his hand in a cast and Buck came over and hugging him. I believe the Orioles would have won it all that year if Nick didn’t been hit by pitch from Sabathia!!! Man I despise those damn yanks!

  8. OriolesNumber1Fan

    March 30, 2020 at 7:16 pm

    My bad. Unlucky post 13 I guess. If Nick didn’t get hit by that pitch from Sabathia! I still despise those damn yanks. Awesome trip down memory lane, wish it would have ended differently though.

  9. [email protected]

    March 31, 2020 at 11:22 am

    We made the trip from NC to Camden Yards for that first game against the Yankees. Seven of us, friends and family, made the trip. After a delay of several hours and a difficult loss, the team could have folded, but there was no quit in that O’s team. They took the series to 5 games and we knew that this team was the real deal. We drove back after the game ended at midnight and got home just in time to go to work on Monday morning!! What a great memory!! Thanks Rich.

  10. Johnnypoff

    April 2, 2020 at 10:01 pm

    Oh man I could not agree more with you Rich. I am so in love with the 2012 Buckle Up Birds team. I think I went to more games that year than any other year at Camden Yards. I’ll never forget Joe Saunders stepping up in the Wild Card game and I was lucky enough to be at both home playoff games that year. It was just a magical rejuvenating time to be an O’s fan. And I think it all started in the last game of 2011 with the curse of the andino game. Man I hope that excitement returns to Camden in the near future. It was electric!

    • Rich Dubroff

      April 3, 2020 at 10:53 am

      Thank you, Johnny.

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