Orioles gave fans a season and a reason to be thankful - BaltimoreBaseball.com
Rich Dubroff

Orioles gave fans a season and a reason to be thankful

Photo Credit: Scott Galvin USA TODAY Sports

The end of baseball season was just 19 days before Thanksgiving, though the Orioles’ season has been over for seven weeks. The Winter Meetings are just 10 days away, and the revival of the Orioles allows them to be bigger players in the free-agent market. For many Oriole fans, that enough is reason to be thankful.

There are so many more reasons.

The 2022 season was entertaining and unexpected. So many new players contributed to the team’s success and to the hope for a brighter future.

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Two who helped, Trey Mancini and Jorge López, aren’t with the club any longer. Mancini’s gallant battle with colon cancer in 2020 and his leadership in the clubhouse and on the field will always be remembered by Oriole fans. As will his final at-bat at home, an improbable inside-the-park home run.

Though he struggled in the postseason with the Houston Astros, we can be delighted for Mancini’s World Series win and hope that he finds a happy and productive baseball home for 2023 and beyond.

López’s bullpen brilliance, which earned him an All-Star Game invitation, will be remembered. So will the love he showed for his son, who has faced medical challenges with a sweet optimism.

Winning teams bring fun characters. There was 6-foot-8, 280-pound Félix Bautista, who succeeded López as the closer and became an unlikely hero. His entrance video delighted fans.

There’s outfielder Ryan McKenna, the “Ferrari,” whose energy made him a valuable fill-in even as an emergency reliever.

Relief pitcher Joey Krehbiel unexpectedly stayed with the club for nearly the entire season. He enlivened the home clubhouse with his mastery of pool and ping pong.

There was Bryan Baker, another reliever whose unforeseen late-season heroics kept the Orioles afloat when Bautista tired.

Dillon Tate had another solid season, and became one of the game’s top setup men.

Cionel Pérez hopped out of the bullpen with joy. Another of general manager Mike Elias’ shrewd waiver pickups, he gave up just nine earned runs all season.

Be thankful for that waiver wire. Baker, Krehbiel, López and Austin Voth were acquired that way.

So was Jorge Mateo, who was snubbed in the Gold Glove voting at shortstop except by the Fielding Bible, which had him No. 1.

Ramón Urías, who unexpectedly won the Gold Glove at third base, was a waiver pickup, too.

The Orioles have many more starting pitcher candidates than they’ve had in years — Voth, Kyle Bradish, Dean Kremer, Spenser Watkins, Bruce Zimmermann are just some of them. There’s excitement over the chance that two former No. 1 picks, DL Hall and Grayson Rodriguez, could be part of the rotation in 2023.

Tyler Wells gives the Orioles another rotation candidate, another unexpected success story. He was chosen in the Rule 5 draft, another tool the Orioles have used with success.

Outfielder Anthony Santander came that way, too. He had a team-leading 33 home runs and 89 RBIs.

Centerfielder Cedric Mullins didn’t duplicate he Orioles’ first 30-30 season in 2022, but he stole more bases, 34, than he did in 2021. He finished second to Mateo’s 35, most in the American League.

Though outfielder Austin Hays and first baseman Ryan Mountcastle had disappointing second halves, they had their moments. Hays hit for the cycle in a rain-shortened game on June 22nd, and the next night dazzled the Chicago White Sox with a series of outstanding defensive plays in right field. Mountcastle had three two-homer games.

Second baseman Rougned Odor and catcher Robinson Chirinos won’t be Orioles next season, but their professionalism helped Orioles become winners. Odor hit only .207, but he delivered some clutch hits early in the season. Chirinos tutored rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, helping him adjust to the big leagues and guiding him to his first of what could be many Most Valuable Oriole awards.

Rutschman had plenty of many memorable moments. It was no accident that shortly after he arrived, the team began playing better and ran off a 10-game winning streak, its longest in 23 years.

Outfielder Kyle Stowers hit an unexpected game-winning home run, and rookie sensation Gunnar Henderson provided energy and fun with his helmet falling off while he dashed around the bases.

There were bit players, too. Anthony Bemboom drove in only one run, but it was a big one. The left-hander hit a home run against St. Louis lefty starter Steven Matz to give the Orioles a one-run win on May 12th. Rylan Bannon made his long-awaited major league debut in that game, and made an outstanding play at third base on his first big league chance.

Tyler Nevin filled in at first, third and the outfield and got to fulfill a lifelong dream when during the 10-game winning streak, he played against the Los Angeles Angels, managed by his manager, Phil.

Terrin Vavra filled in capably at second and earned a chance at a job on the 2023 team because of his plate discipline.

Left-hander Nick Vespi, who might not have been with the team had there been a Rule 5 draft in 2021, didn’t give up an earned run in 26 games at Triple-A Norfolk and won five games without losing any in the big leagues.

There is a good chance we’ll see more of John Means in 2023 than we did in 2022. Means started just two games before he needed Tommy John surgery but was a helpful presence in the clubhouse and a contributor in the broadcast booth as well.

Perhaps we haven’t seen the last of veteran starter Jordan Lyles, who managed to be both homespun and businesslike on the mound. The Orioles decided not to pick up his $11 million option but will keep engaging with him over the winter after he led the club in wins and innings pitched.

Brandon Hyde is thankful that he led the team to a 31-game turnaround, which should have been good enough for Manager of the Year. Maybe next year, he’ll get to manage in the postseason and win that award.

My favorite obscure Oriole was Brett Phillips, who was with the team for a few weeks in August. Phillips came with the reputation of being one of the friendliest and funniest players in baseball. When he met me, he called me “sir.” I told him it wasn’t necessary. He said he always called people who were older sir.

“How do you know I’m older?” I asked.

It was my turn to make him laugh.

Most of all, thanks to our readers who’ve made this the most successful year for BaltimoreBaseball.com and thanks to the Orioles for creating that interest. Happy Thanksgiving!

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