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Meaningful Games in September Have At Last Returned to Baltimore

It has been 15 years since the Orioles could look forward to playoff baseball.
15 depressing miserable years during which the big bullies of the A. L. East the Yankees and the Red Sox used to come to Camden Yards and watch their fans turn Baltimore’s beautiful retro Oriole Park at Camden Yards into home games for the opposition.

It looks like this ignominious period may be coming to an end. As the month of September inexorably unfolds with the Orioles tied for first place with the Yankees before games of September 5, it is not premature to highlight some of the magical improbable moments in the 2012 Orioles season so far:

**After finishing under .500 for every season this century, the 2012 Orioles have never been under .500 at any point.

**They won a 17-inning game at Fenway Park in early May with outfielder-first baseman-dh CHRIS DAVIS pitching the last two shutout innings for the win.

**Their starting pitching started to jell after the All-Star Game break despite three-fifths of their opening day rotation spending considerable time in the minor leagues.

**Over a 20-game stretch in late July and August they won three games after falling behind by 5-0.

**MIGUEL GONZALEZ, an unheralded right-hander plucked out of the Mexican League by FRED FERREIRA, one of the veteran scouts new gm DAN DUQUETTE has hired, has brought stability to the staff. He has beaten the Yankees twice in New York and also held his own in a matchup with Tampa Bay Rays' great southpaw DAVID PRICE that ultimately resulted in a Bird extra-inning win on the road.

**In early August 20-year-old MANNY MACHADO came up from the minor leagues to solidify the infield defense playing a position, third base, he had only played for two games previously.

**NATE McLOUTH, a former National League All-Star center fielder released by the Pittsburgh Pirates early this season, has brought his gold glove to left field and has settled in productively in the number three spot in the batting order.

**After being on the disabled list for the first time in his career because of a broken hamate bone in his hand, NICK MARKAKIS has become an excellent leadoff hitter while continuing to play excellent defense in right field.

**JIM JOHNSON has harnessed his considerable pitching arsenal to become one of the best closers in baseball.

Nothing has been won yet and baseball is such an unpredictable sport that it is foolish to predict that the Orioles will end their post-season drought come early October. Still it is worth at least a minor celebration to salute how far they have come.

And no brief explanation of their change in fortunes would be complete without another shout out to manager NATHANIEL “BUCK” SHOWALTER. When he came on the job in August 2010 he vowed to re-establish a winning culture in Baltimore.
And he has done so just as he did in previous managerial stops with the Yankees, Diamondbacks and Texas Rangers.

A “winning culture” is a cliché of course but it is a very important one and the Orioles have lacked it for a long time. The first dark period occurred under impatient owner EDWARD BENNETT WILLIAMS who tried the always-doomed free agent fix after the decline of the 1983 world champions.

For almost 20 years now current owner PETER ANGELOS has showed similar impatience and petulance, changing managers and general managers so many times there was no chance for organizational stability.

One of the first things Buck Showalter did when hired was to clean up the batting cage area in the Oriole clubhouse. The team had become so accustomed to losing that everything was in disarray – from pre-game preparation to desultory performance on the field.

The new skipper made sure that every player had his own space with his own bats with nothing out of place. He put a premium on responsibility and ownership on the part of the players.

For his part he would always defend players publicly. Many older fans have been critical of Buck’s regular litany about being “proud” of his players but he had their back as long as they were playing hard and smart.

Last season Oriole progress was not visible until September when the team posted a winning record and knocked the Red Sox out of the playoffs on the last day of the season.

In 2012 the Orioles seem to be peaking at just the right time. There will be many tough games within the AL East division as well as a potentially dangerous mid-month west coast trip to Oakland and Seattle. But for the first time this century the Orioles and their ardent fan base have something good and possibly glorious to hope for.
So all hail to the men of Showalter as they take their fighting chance down to the wire.

More on this amazing run later this month. For now: always remember to take it easy but take it!
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