Orioles outfielder Corey Patterson and the rest of the team… (Baltimore Sun photo by Gene…)
When it was finally over, when Luke Scott's soft liner settled into the glove of diving Detroit Tigers third baseman Brandon Inge, some fans stood up and applauded as the Orioles headed back to their clubhouse for the final time in 2010.
The display, after the Orioles' season-ending 4-2 loss to the Tigers at Camden Yards before an announced 23,914, hardly qualified as an outpouring of support. It also paled in comparison to the rousing ovation that occurred when the final score of the Ravens' 17-14 victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers was shown on the stadium JumboTron.
But for an Orioles team that was flirting with historical futility a little more than two months ago, the applause was an appreciated gesture and nice recognition for its turnaround under manager Buck Showalter.
"I've been very fortunate to have some players who helped, who played real well while I was here," said Showalter, who compiled a 34-23 record after inheriting a 32-73 team. The team "pitched better, and like I said before, I think the same thing would have happened regardless. They've had an impact. We hope it continues."
The Orioles finished the season with a 66-96 record, second worst in the American League. It also is their third most defeats during their 13-season losing streak. But the overall record, along with Sunday's loss, which denied them their first four-game sweep of the Tigers in Baltimore since April 1992, was the furthest thing from anybody's mind in the home clubhouse as players packed up their belongings and before heading to various parts of the country.
The Orioles won 17 of their last 27 games. Their 34 victories since the start of August are the most for the franchise during that span since the 1996 team won 35 games from Aug. 1 to the end of the season.
"We feel a lot better about things," said Orioles outfielder Nick Markakis, who had three hits Sunday and finished the season with a .297 batting average. "We know where we are, and we need to build on that. We have a few pieces we're missing, and we can plug in a few guys here and there and we're going to have a good team. ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ We played baseball as hard as we could. That's all you can ask for as a team, and it was fun to be a part of."
The Orioles had plenty of chances to finish with a fifth straight victory, but they went 4-for-16 with runners in scoring position and stranded 11 base runners against six Tigers pitchers.
Still, they brought their biggest home run threat to the plate in the ninth inning with a chance to tie the score, but Scott lined out after Adam Jones' two-out single off Jose Valverde.
Brad Bergesen delivered one final quality start from the rotation, allowing three runs on four hits over seven innings, but he surrendered a game-tying two-run homer to Inge in the fifth inning and Johnny Damon's go-ahead RBI single in the sixth. Still, it was hard even for him not to focus on the positives as he lowered his ERA from 6.63 to 4.98 over his final 12 starts.
"It's always about getting the wins and going from there, but just to finish the season strong is a good feeling, just with what I've dealt with and the roller-coaster ride it's been," said Bergesen, who was slowed by shin and shoulder injuries before the season and then endured two demotions to Triple-A Norfolk. "You always want to be able to remember the positives and forget the negatives. To be able to have it at the end of the year is a major plus for me."
Showalter met with the players briefly after the game and urged them to take some time to relax and get away from baseball. But he also told the club about the importance of being ready for its mid-February arrival at spring training.
"Realize how fleeting that can be," Showalter said when asked about the positive momentum the club built with its strong finish. "It's a medal you should wear; it's something you are responsible for. You don't shirk that responsibility during the offseason. I think everybody here wants to do everything possible to keep that going. It's not real complicated how you do it.
"They get baseball here. ÃÆÃâÃâÃâ¦ So, yeah, I'm aware of it and I like it. But I like it differently. I look at it, more than they do, it's, 'What have you done for me lately?' I understand the sports world we live in, the sense of shelf life, those feelings, how quickly they can go away. And that's our responsibility, not theirs."
According to Bergesen, the club already has gotten the message. He said the strong finish "meant a lot to us. For the last couple of years, there have been a lot of young guys, including myself, that have come up and there's been so much hype and hope for us. To finally show some flashes from that, it's a good feeling. We just want to pick up where we left off and keep things rolling."
Some want to do that quicker than others. Asked when he will start getting the itch to start spring training, Showalter grinned and said, "Probably in a couple of hours."