2. Baltimore Orioles vs. Toronto Blue Jays (September 16 – 7:05 pm – 7 -2)
Today is December 25 – Christmas Day for a lot of people around the world.
For Orioles fans, Christmas, or should I say, Clinchmas, came three months earlier.
The Orioles first division title in 17 years wrapped up with a week and a half worth of games en route to a 96-win regular season.
You often hear about baseball being a humbling game. A pitcher can throw a no-hitter and then five days later not make it out of the third inning. A red hot batter can take one bad swing and fall into a slump. Orioles manager Buck Showalter often laments that even after a win, there is no time to celebrate because you are only as good as your next game. The Orioles had been humbled for 14 straight seasons before the current revival started in September 2011.
September 16 had been building for a few years, a slow burning crescendo that peaked around 10:05 pm EST on a beautiful Tuesday evening in Baltimore.
But there were four years of important milestones that built up to the wonderful night this past September.
* Buck Showalter taking over as the Orioles manager in August 2010 and guiding the team to a terrific finish that season, instilling hope with the fans that the team finally had a competent manager;
* A 5-2 record against the Red Sox in September 2011, with the pinnacle of Robert Andino’s game-winning hit coming just seconds before the Rays Evan Longoria hit a walk off home run to put the Rays in the playoffs and eliminate the Red Sox;
* The amazing August-September 2012 run that landed the Orioles in the first ever American League Wild Card game, where they beat Yu Darvish and the Texas Rangers to advance to the American League Division Series (ALDS);
* Jim Johnson striking out Alex Rodriquez to win game two of the ALDS. It was the Orioles first home playoff win since 1997;
* Chris Davis hitting 53 home runs to break the Orioles home run record en route to an 85 win season that showed 2012 wasn’t a fluke.
And then came September 16, 2014.
There isn’t really much that needs to be said about that night. If you were in the stadium on that Tuesday evening, words can't truly encapsulate all of the amazing moments.
50 million dollar man Ubaldo Jiminez, banished to the bullpen after having a miserable season, got the start and proceeded to throw five innings of quality baseball to take the win. Who could have seen that coming?
Steve Pearce, a good utility player whose primary strength was hitting well against left handed pitchers, found a full time role on the 2014 team and thrived. His three-run home run in the first inning was all the Orioles would need that night.
Tommy Hunter, the Orioles closer on Opening Day who was removed from that slot in May, got to close out the clincher after having a very strong second half as a sixth and seventh inning specialist.
Post-game, the team celebrated the first home AL East clinching since 1969 with the fans on the field for almost two hours, an extra special moment for those of us who didn’t leave during the rough times.
There was no Manny, no Wieters, no Chris Davis. Baseball analysts lamented that it shouldn’t have happened, not without those three guys missing significant time during the season. But loss often leads to opportunity. Zach Britton, Steve Pearce, Nelson Cruz – all came through after having something to prove. Pearce and Britton articulate the signifigance of the night best in the video below. Pearce, maybe best so, let’s his emotions tell the story, as he almost breaks down talking about getting the opportunity and running with it.
It will be a night we will never forget.