Calling the Pen: Orioles ran the race with perseverance -
Calling the Pen

Calling the Pen: Orioles ran the race with perseverance

Photo Credit: Tommy Gilligan USA TODAY Sports

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In 1973, when I was a sportswriter for The News American, sports editor John Steadman wanted a different approach to covering the first Maryland Marathon. He wanted me to write a first-person story. He wanted me to run the marathon.

He knew I had run in high school and thought I could provide a perspective no one else would have. I did run in high school, and I learned a lot, particularly in my third race when we ran at Hereford High School and I was overmatched by the hills. It was then I decided I would need to make friends with the hills if I was going to have any kind of success.

But I hadn’t kept up my running and wasn’t in the shape I would need to be to take on a marathon, a 26.2-mile race. So, I tried to make up for lost time and did too much too soon. A severe case of shin splints developed, and I told Steadman there wouldn’t be a first-person story.

A 162-game baseball season is often compared to a marathon. It’s a six-month endurance test, separating the pretenders from the contenders. The last 6 miles of the marathon are considered the wall, a point where runners can start to break down and struggle to get to the finish line.

September appeared to be that wall for the Orioles, although no one thought they would be among the leaders late in the race. In the previous three 162-game seasons they had lost 115, 108 and 110 games. They weren’t a team others thought they’d be seeing in their rearview mirror down the stretch.

On Labor Day, which signals the end of summer, they went into a doubleheader with Toronto 2 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays for the third and final wild-card spot. They had stumbled the day before against the Oakland A’s when they had an opportunity to sweep the series. It put them in a position in which they needed to win three of four against the Blue Jays to stay with the leaders.

The day started poorly when starting pitcher Jordan Lyles called in sick. He tried to put aside the illness to start the second game, but he was too weak. The Orioles lost the doubleheader, unable to maintain the pace they ran July 3rd through September 3rd, when they were 36-17. They bounced back for a win on Tuesday, when manager Brandon Hyde helped them find another gear. But they fell back again on Wednesday when they totaled three hits to fall 4 1/2 games behind.

Boston, which is home to the most prestigious marathon, came to town after the Blue Jays left and the Orioles dropped another series — their offense managing just three hits again in the finale and getting shut out for the ninth time this season. Before the month was through, they would lose another series to the Blue Jays and Red Sox and one to the Detroit Tigers. They finished the month 13-16 after three consecutive winning months. They learned they were eliminated from postseason play a half-hour into October 1st.

That didn’t mean that they wouldn’t finish the race, just that they wouldn’t be among the leaders. Hyde had been reminding folks that September is a different month, that their heartbreak hill was still to come. Although the front-runners had pulled away, the Orioles weren’t about to give up. Hyde had given them a new goal — to finish strong, and with a winning record.

They secured the winning record on Sunday while preventing Yankee slugger Aaron Judge from hitting his American League record-breaking 62nd home run, a feat he accomplished on Tuesday night against Texas. On Wednesday, the Orioles reached into their reserve tank for a doubleheader against the Blue Jays. When it was done, the 2022 marathon was over for the Orioles. The fans who were at the finish line gave them a standing ovation. The Orioles applauded back.

They’re surrendering the spotlight to those who finished ahead of them. But the heart they demonstrated in running this year’s race won’t be forgotten, not for a group that won 31 more games than the year before.

I finally trained the right way for a marathon late in 2019 and early into 2020, including a 20-mile run. On March 12, 2020, baseball called off spring training because of Covid-19. That same day I received an email from officials of the Salisbury Marathon — the April 4th race I was training to run was canceled.

It wasn’t meant to be, just as it wasn’t meant to be this year for the Orioles in terms of a postseason berth. But they left us with a feeling that they will be back, and even stronger next year. I wish I could say the same for me, but time, and youth, is not on my side. That’s OK, though. I’m thankful to still be running. And I’m excited that the Orioles are in position for a long run among the leaders.


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