There’s a reason why Orioles manager Brandon Hyde stumbles over his words whenever he’s asked about the special ability his team has shown to shrug off a tough defeat or stage a rally against a shutdown relief pitcher.
There is no easy way to describe it.
Sure, the youngest Orioles are showing surprising confidence at crunch time in a sport that puts a high value on experience and track record.
Of course, this mix of star-quality rookies, emerging twentysomethings and a few grizzled veterans has displayed an unusual level of collective resilience throughout this terrific season, but that is just a manifestation of an individual quality that so many of those talented players clearly possess.
It’s what allows rookies such as Gunnar Henderson, Grayson Rodriguez and Jordan Westburg to struggle through some tough early weeks in the major leagues and emerge with more confidence than they walked in with.
It’s what allows veteran second baseman Adam Frazier to stay on a breaking pitch well out of the strike zone and four inches off the ground and poke it through a keyhole for a game-saving double and prompts a guy like Ryan O’Hearn, who hasn’t bunted in five years, to stick his face in front of a pitch to set up the biggest game-winning run of the Mike Elias/Brandon Hyde era. So far.
It’s what makes super stopper Félix Bautista want to keep pitching with a torn ligament in his elbow.
The Latino players would use the term “cajones,” but in the interest of good taste, you’ll have to consult your English/Spanish dictionary of slang for clarity.
Pardon the brief first-person narrative, but I’ve been observing big league baseball close up for almost 45 years and this is one of the most mentally tough groups of players – young or old – that I’ve ever been around.
Most of these guys had to suffer through seasons that would have tested the confidence of Reggie Jackson, who once boasted that he was more fun to watch striking out than most players hitting a home run. But you’ll find much more humility than braggadocio in the O’s clubhouse.
O’Hearn, who has to be everybody’s Comeback Player of the Year, didn’t even make the team out of spring training and now he’s currently batting cleanup on the winningest club in the American League. He and veteran outfielder Aaron Hicks have delivered both emergency relief after key injuries to Ryan Mountcastle and Cedric Mullins and provided both everyday production and terrific platoon depth at different points in this amazing season.
Henderson is well on the way to being voted American League Rookie of the Year and might be this year’s Most Valuable Oriole, but if you’re looking for bravado, you’ve come to the wrong place. It must be hard to be humble when you’re on the road to super stardom, but Henderson and fellow youth movement cornerstone Adley Rutschman really are mature beyond their metrics.
Does this mean they are on the way to a World Series title this year? Maybe not, since that’s now a long shot for everybody entering baseball’s four-tiered postseason format. The Orioles can certainly improve their chances by continuing to hold off the Tampa Bay Rays the way they did over the weekend and earn a bye during the first playoff round, but — by any measure — this has already been an unbelievably successful season. And probably the first of many.