We know that the Yankees and the Orioles are in a terrifying last-three-days dead sprint for the AL East title — and avoiding any of those wretched play-in games — so we can all go back to cursing that upstart Baltimore in a sec, but for now ... the Baltimore Orioles are in the playoffs! Crazy, right? They clinched with a win yesterday and an Angels loss, and it's the Orioles' first playoff appearance (and their first winning season) since 1997. For all the talk about how the Orioles have overperformed and that they'd be the worst playoff team of recent vintage, it certainly merits mentioning that with all these wins lately, they now have a positive run differential. Sure, they've had a ton of luck. But that doesn't mean they're not good.
Don't worry, you can all go back to booing these guys and fretting about these last three days in a sec, but let's take a moment to appreciate how nutty it is that the Orioles have won 91 games and are going to the playoffs. (Whether that "playoffs" is a play-in game or the ALDS, well, we'll know in a few days.) The Orioles, thanks in large part to owner Peter Angelos, have been as depressing a franchise as any in sports for more than a decade; this was a team that couldn't find anyone who wanted to be their general manager this offseason (eventually settling on Red Sox reject Dan Duquette, who turned out to be terrific), reeling from the suicide last year of Mike Flanagan, beloved booster, and generally expecting another year of pain in the American League East.
And then they started winning this season and never really stopped. They won all year, but they won the most at the end, when they were supposed to collapse under their own sabermetric weight. However, the Orioles have done it — and luck has certainly been a large part — they are here and they are playing better than they have all season. Whatever sort of enmity they'll foster these last three days, it's difficult not to be happy for their long, long-suffering fans.
At the beginning of the season, Deadspin's Tom Scocca, a diehard Orioles fan, penned a lovely little essay about the end of last season, and about hope. When we read it back then, we thought, Man, that was great. Sure would be nice if the Orioles ever did something someday. And then, here they are. From the essay:
Maybe the real undervalued asset was in hiring an unwanted veteran general manager, rather than the sixth- or eighth-best whiz kid on the whiz-kid market. Duquette seems to be trying to get ahead however he can, not angling to position himself to implement a long-range plan to create a future window of opportunity. The long view doesn't require you to grab Zelous Wheeler off waivers at the last minute.
Scocca didn't exactly call this season in advance, but he recognized the value of hope, of playing every game, of grinding it all out with the possibility of something great happening, when it's all compiled. That's what has happened for the Orioles this season. It may end up in just one "playoff" game on Friday and that's it. Or it may be more. That we're even here at all is amazing, and yet another reason baseball is so freaking great.