O's just missed re-creating some Oriole Magic

It's not perfect, but this team feels a lot different than last year's

April 10, 2011|By Kevin Cowherd

Orioles fans, I am not going to tell you to be happy with a 3-3 record on this first homestand of the season. Not after all you've been through.

Not after 13 losing seasons. Not after all the horrible baseball you've seen in that time, enough to qualify for a collective case of post-traumatic stress disorder.

But I will tell you this: Even though there was disappointment in the Orioles clubhouse after that 3-0 loss to the powerful Texas Rangers on Sunday, no one was hanging his head.

No one was wailing about lost opportunities against Rangers starter Derek Holland. Or moaning about how great it would have been to pick up another win or two before the start of this coming six-game trip against the New York Yankees and Cleveland Indians.

Because the bottom line is this: The Orioles are 6-3. And this start feels nothing at all like last year's nightmare beginning, when the Orioles didn't win their sixth game until May 1.

Not only that, but this team is still atop the American League East standings despite losing two of three games to the Rangers. And it's still in first place even though players have dropped like flies — shortstop J.J. Hardy (oblique) is expected to join starters Brian Matusz and Justin Duchscherer on the disabled list Monday or Tuesday — and the bats have suddenly gone quiet (one run in the final 24 innings against the Rangers).

Asked to assess his team's first nine games, manager Buck Showalter shrugged and shook his head.

"There were some things that could have made it better," he said. "We played three pretty good clubs. … You gotta keep grinding."

And if you were at Camden Yards on Sunday, you saw the Orioles do exactly that after a gutty performance from their starter, Jeremy Guthrie, who came back from a bout with pneumonia earlier in the week to throw six innings of four-hit ball and keep his team in the game.

In the eighth inning, there was even a chance to see a rebirth of Orioles Magic, and wouldn't that have brought the house down?

It was the perfect situation: With the Orioles trailing 3-0, Mark Reynolds drew a two-out walk. Adam Jones followed with another walk. The Rangers brought on their great young closer, Neftali Feliz, in relief of Darren O'Day.

Showalter countered by sending Luke Scott up to pinch hit for Jake Fox, who had started in left field.

If you were there, you know Camden Yards felt like it was ready to explode, the noise level through the roof, Scott still looking for his first homer of the season and facing the hard-throwing Feliz.

It was a terrific at-bat, too. It went ball, ball, foul ball, foul ball, another ball. Now the count was 3-and-2, and Feliz delivered a letter-high fastball that made Scott's eyes dance.

He put a great swing on it, but not great enough, sending a drive to deep center field that Julio Borbon caught to end the threat.

"He made a tough pitch, and I didn't get squared around," Scott said later. But it wasn't as if Scott was down on himself. And it sure wasn't as if his teammates were down on him, either.

"He had a good at-bat," Jones said. "It's all you can ask for. He hit the ball hard. Of course, in the back of my mind, I'm thinking: 'Throw one over the middle of the plate and let that big man get a hold of one.' [But] that's why [Feliz] is a good closer."

So now the Orioles have a day off Monday and then head for the Bronx and three games against the Yankees.

This is how we'll ultimately measure this team, by how it does against the quality teams of the league, the Yankees and the Boston Red Sox and, yes, the Rangers, too.

Since he came to Baltimore last season, Showalter has made much of not affording too much respect to the bullies of the division, the Yankees and Red Sox. But even he seemed eager to see how his team will do in the pressurized cauldron that is Yankee Stadium.

"They're obviously a team that we know is going to be competitive in the division all year — and competing for a world title," Showalter said. "We feel like we just played three of them. We just got to compete. We will compete."

The rest of the Orioles said much the same thing.

"I enjoy going to the Bronx," Jones said. "I don't care about playing the Yankees. I don't give two [hoots] about playing the Yankees. I want to go there and silence that crowd. They're going to be ready. They're always ready. So we have to go there in there and take our 'A' game and show what we can do."

So far, the best thing the Orioles have shown their fans is that this team is nothing like last year's team. And that's no small thing.

kevin.cowherd@baltsun.com

Listen to Kevin Cowherd from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Tuesdays with Jerry Coleman on Fox 1370 AM Sports.

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