Nobody will feel sorry for Orioles, so they shouldn't

After recent injuries, team can't forget the mindset that helped them overcome previous obstacles

September 11, 2012|Peter Schmuck

The Orioles have been through this before. So have the Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees, so it's not as if the challenge of replacing a couple of productive star players at crunch time makes them worthy of particular note as they head into the playoff stretch.

Manager Buck Showalter has said basically the same thing every time they've hit a pothole on this amazing ride through the 2012 season. If you're waiting for somebody to feel sorry for you, you'll still be waiting when you sit down to Thanksgiving Dinner.

“There is no sympathy in this sport,'' he said on Tuesday as he fielded another pre-game question about how the Orioles will respond to the loss of leadoff hitter extraordinaire Nick Markakis for at least the rest of the regular season. It's fair to assume his opinion didn't change when ace Jason Hammel left Tuesday night's big series opener against the Rays with renewed knee soreness just 3 2/3 innings into his second start since returning from the disabled list.

Former Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda had a slightly more colorful response whenever he was asked about some injury or other problem besetting his team.

“There's no point in complaining,'' he would say, “because 90 percent of the people don't give a damn about your problems and the other 10 percent are happy that you have them.”

The circumstances facing the Orioles in the wake of the Markakis injury do make the situation different from those other teams, however, because of the way they have gotten to this point in the season and because the stakes are so much greater for a young team that could be on the verge of freeing Baltimore from its ignominious recent baseball past.

The O's have not come this far just because of Markakis, though their record with him in the lineup would argue for an outsized contribution to their surprising performance. The same goes for Hammel. They have come this far because just about everyone on the roster — and we're talking about the 40-man roster, not just the 25-man active roster — has found a way to win a game or make a clutch contribution at a key moment.

First baseman Chris Davis beat the Red Sox with two innings of scoreless relief in a 17-inning marathon. Steve Johnson came up late in the season to win a pair of important starts. Taylor Teagarden is only batting .119, but had the game-winning hit in two of the Orioles' 12 consecutive extra-inning victories. Any questions?

This team has thrived on the concept of shared responsibility. Showalter likes to call it “passing the baton,” but that doesn't really capture the essence of what has been going on. It's more a case of each player or pitcher finding a way to stand and deliver when nothing else will suffice, which is why the second Markakis and Hammel injuries — at this point in the season and under this particularly set of circumstances — could be more problematic than his earlier wrist surgery or the knee injury that sidelined Hammel at midseason.

The problem might not be so much replacing them as trying too hard to replace them and getting out of that mindset.

Markakis is such a popular figure in the Orioles clubhouse that his teammates were struck more by the impact of the injury on his chances of playing in meaningful late-seasong games than on their own. Now, they have one more reason to burn for a chance to reach the playoffs at a time when they need to just keep doing what they've been doing for the last five months.

“I know that mentality is going to be there and it's something you've got to be careful of,'' Showalter said. “We played 35 games without Nick and there was always that feeling of holding the fort down until we get some reinforcements back, and we still look at it somewhat that way, but you can want something too much…that's human nature.”

The players know all this on an intellectual level. That's why they constantly talk about “staying within” themselves, but it's a lot easier said than done, especially when the playoffs are just around the corner.

Nate McLouth, who has replaced Markakis at the top of the lineup, said Tuesday that it's all about staying true to yourself.

“That's the key,'' McLouth said. “He brings a lot of things to the table. He's a real professional hitter and a real good ballplayer. For me to try to be him, that's not going to work. I've got to know what my strengths are and know what type of a player I am, and not try to pick up all that slack myself.”

Center fielder Adam Jones confirmed the strong desire throughout the clubhouse to fill the giant void that was created when Yankees pitcher C.C. Sabathia cracked Markakis's thumb with that inside pitch on Saturday night, but he believes that the key to continued success will be treating each setback as the latest in a series of challenges the Orioles have faced during this turnaround season.

“It's professional sports, man. You've got to overcome hurdles,'' Jones said. “No one foresaw [the Markakis injury] coming. Trust me, it stunned the entire team, the organization and the fans. It [stunk], but in professional sports, injuries are part of the game. It's just unfortunate it happened to Markakis, especially since this is his first time getting to play in competitive games. But we've got to battle. ... Now our mindset is, let's play as long as we can so we can get him back.”

Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.

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