ARLINGTON, Texas—The clubhouse was quiet. Teammates exchanged handshakes and hugs knowing that the 2023 Orioles’ season is finished, and by the time spring training opens a little more than four months from now, some familiar faces will be gone.
Orioles manager Brandon Hyde is the favorite for Manager of the Year, and he can take pride from winning 101 games, the most for an Orioles team since 1979, but a three-game sweep by the Texas Rangers in the Division Series is painful, and the satisfaction will have to wait.
“Really proud of our group,” Hyde said. “They defied all the odds. Nobody gave us a chance. These guys played their butts off for six months. We just didn’t play well for these three, unfortunately, and it’s definitely a successful season, and these guys are going to be really good going forward.”
Most of the Orioles in the room will be back in 2024, but some won’t. Pitcher Kyle Gibson, who led the team in wins and innings, is a free agent, and he’s about to turn 36.
“It always stinks,” Gibson said. “It doesn’t matter how it is, when it is, three games, four games, seven games, it stinks, and then when you do it in the postseason, it stinks even more.”
Many of the Orioles watched the Texas Rangers celebrate their three-game sweep, knowing they’ll be going to the American League Championship Series on Sunday, and the Orioles will go home for the winter.
“You can kind of taste where you want to be,” Gibson said. “You get into the postseason and you’re one step closer to where you want to be. Any time you lose and you come up short, it’s easy to focus on those failures.”
Besides Gibson, the Orioles’ notable free agents are second baseman Adam Frazier and outfielder Aaron Hicks. They have 16 players eligible for arbitration, and some may not be back.
“You normally only get to do something with that one group one time. There’s always somebody not there,” Gibson said. “You try to savor these moments because this team for the most part will never be together again.”
One of the key Orioles who will be back is infielder Gunnar Henderson, who’s the heavy favorite for the American League Rookie of the Year award.
“I just don’t want to feel this feeling again,” Henderson said. “I’m sure everybody’s going to have that on their minds going into the offseason, especially into next year. We just lost in the playoffs, not a good feeling, especially after the year we had. I don’t know how to describe it, just not a good feeling.”
Two of the Orioles, outfielders, Austin Hays and Cedric Mullins, have watched the teardown and the rebuild, and now some success.
“It was a hell of a run we had this year,” Hays said. “A lot of losing here over these last few years. Living in the moment the entire season realizing we were turning the corner and what we were doing was really special, just seeing the city rally around us again, seeing the fans show back up, everything that comes into winning.
“Just how fun the clubhouse was, the locker room, the bus rides … just how much fun this season really was is what I’ll take away from it.”
While other Orioles thrived this year, Mullins struggled with two stints on the injured list, a prolonged slump at the end of the regular season and a hitless postseason.
“Last year we just missed the playoffs. This year we get in there and don’t have a lot of opportunities,” Mullins said. “Next year, the sooner, the better.”
The Orioles will start 2024 with 91 straight regular-season series without being swept, but they’ll remember this three-game sweep.
“It’s ironic,” Mullins said. “It’s a learning experience for all of us. Young team as a whole we’ll make our adjustments. We’ll keep our head up for what we did this season.”
“I look back at some of these games. I had some hard-hit balls, just couldn’t get nothing to fall, soft liners, hard liners, hard ground balls, couldn’t get nothing going.”
Like Mullins, first baseman Ryan Mountcastle had two stints on the injured list, too.
“I’m just happy I battled back through a couple of tough times and just to be out there for the postseason, I was super pumped about it.” he said.
Pitcher Dean Kremer got just five outs and allowed six runs in his first postseason start.
“Pretty much everybody in this clubhouse is coming back,” Kremer said. “A lot of good years to look forward to …I think three teams won over 100 games, and we’re one of them. We won the division. The goal is the World Series. Step-by-step, we’ll get there.”
Hyde knows how hard it is to win in the postseason, and how hard a team must work to get there.
“This hurts, and it’s okay to hurt,” he said. “It’s okay to have this kind of fuel your fire in the offseason. It’s going to take a while for us to get over this.”
Catcher Adley Rutschman took the defeat especially hard.
“It’s tough to kind of reflect right now because you’re saying all your goodbyes,” Rutschman said.
Like many of his teammates, he watched the Rangers celebrate.
“Watching that, that’s what you want to be doing,” Rutschman said. “That’s where you want to be. Our goals are high and they were this year. They’re going to be next year. We’re going to come back ready to go.”
Rutschman acknowledged his thoughts were “jumbled,” and he wasn’t sure he was using the right words, but he was.
“It doesn’t really feel real right now,” he said. “All of our guys were focused on this and what we had going.”
In mid-February when Rutschman, Henderson and others gather in Sarasota for spring training, there’ll be some new faces and some others will be elsewhere.
“You don’t really want to think about that,” he said.