Last night as I finished watching the Orioles bullpen squander away yet another win, watching them fall to 0-5 on the homestand, I wondered why it felt so much different than last year’s losses. In my innumerable seasons of watching the Orioles I have seen a lot of losses, occasionally refused to watch them for stretches at a time, and had figured out a method for seeing the best in the rebuilding project. The key is to find parts of the future and highlight their performance to give a glimpse of what could be or what will be in the future. The hope of course being that everything pans out and that these players drive the team to the playoffs in some distant season.
In years past I would have looked at a game like last night’s and said, “Look at how great Matusz pitched (up until the 8th of course), look at how well Felix Pie is fitting into that leadoff spot.” But last night I felt none of that, and all the bitterness that stews after a loss wasn’t fading into acceptance the way it has for the past 12 seasons. Because this season is not a preview of some distant future, it is not a glimpse into a talented player’s potential, and this team is not trying to find a few key parts to build around. Nick Markakis, Adam Jones, Matt Wieters, Nolan Reimold (or Felix Pie), and a host of young pitchers are and will be the future of this ballclub, and there is no more room to give excuses or try to find silver lining.
To put it simply, there are no moral victories for this club. The stakes are higher for fans and players when they come up with the novel idea that wins matter and that this team has .500 as its goal, which if they reach it might qualify for a parade down Pratt Street. As a fan, the sting of a loss, particularly like those the Orioles have endured in this young season, is closer to what one feels when Steve Hauschka shanked the field goal against the Vikings last season. It is the sting when the outcome of the game really matters, and it is incredible the way that feeling can return so quickly when the team you have been waiting to come together starts to become a reality.
Moreover, it is the way this team manages to lose that is most incredible. Blowing leads late (Baltimore is 1-4 when leading after the 7th inning), failing to generate offense, and leaving suddenly solid pitching performances out to dry. The effort is there- these players know what is at stake and they know they have a chance to breathe life back in this club- but the games just aren’t going their way. The Law of Averages would say that meltdowns like the ones we saw last night (yes, there were multiple meltdowns last night alone) won’t last forever, that some balls will find their way into our fielders’ gloves, and the bullpen (remember when that was a strength) regains their form. But that may not matter when this team hits Boston and New York, where even the best of luck might not give them the win.
There are no more moral victories for this team, which means that fans may finally get some return on their dozen years of investment. It also means that the losses are going to hurt a whole lot more.