As World Series begins, it's hard not to think 'What if?'

With a few more winks from the baseball gods, the Orioles could be preparing to play on the sport's biggest stage

October 23, 2012|Peter Schmuck

It is the nature of sports and our passion for them that the novelty of newfound success only lasts so long and is eventually replaced with a bittersweet mixture of pride and regret.

So it will be as Orioles fans tune in to the World Series, which begins Wednesday night in San Francisco, and watch the Giants play the Detroit Tigers for a championship trophy that wasn't even a twinkle in anyone's eye around here eight months ago.

Call it the theory of sports relativity. The Orioles were expected to reside near the bottom of the American League East standings again in 2012. They beat those long odds and made it all the way to the second playoff round. They did it in a magical and entertaining way that made it impossible to view the season as anything but an unqualified success.

And yet, you can't help thinking that if Adam Jones had delivered just one more big hit or if that Nate McLouth fly ball off C.C. Sabathia had gotten just a little more of the foul pole the Orioles might still be making magic and we'd be dressing up the downtown area for the arrival of the Fall Classic this weekend.

What a compelling national story it would have been. What an opportunity to rub 14 years of tarnish off the Orioles franchise in front of the whole country.

There's one thing you all know for sure: The Orioles definitely would have given a better account of themselves against the Tigers than did the Yankees, who looked old and tired in that resounding four-game sweep in the American League Championship Series.

Who knows what would have happened if the Orioles had gotten there, but they played the Tigers to a regular season draw (3-3), and they forced Tigers ace Justin Verlander to throw 116 pitches in six innings in a no-decision the last time he faced them.

Of course, they probably wouldn't have gotten through that best-of-seven series swinging the bat the way they did against the Yankees, but you have to figure that they would have pumped up the offensive volume at some point.

It is entirely normal to look back on the past few weeks and see the moments when a slightly better outcome could have sparked a chain of events that might have led farther down the postseason turnpike.

It's normal — at some point — to begin judging the team in its current context rather than through a prism of low expectations, so it's okay to question whether the Orioles had the right approach at the plate against the Yankees pitching staff.

It's okay to think it was a great season, but that it could have been greater — because it could have been greater.

Manager Buck Showalter said when he first got here that one of his major goals would be to raise expectations. That would be the key to reversing a long slide in attendance at Camden Yards and making the team more attractive to its disillusioned fan base and to free agent players who were loathe to consider playing in Baltimore.

Don't expect the Orioles to hang a "Mission Accomplished" banner on the B&O Warehouse any time soon, but Showalter and Dan Duquette have engineered a turnaround so dramatic that it isn't crazy to envision the Orioles back in the hunt for baseball's biggest prize next season.

Why not, indeed. The Orioles knocked the big-swinging Rangers out of the playoffs after Texas spent much of the season considered the most powerful team in the American League. They took the $200 million Yankees all the way to Game 5 of the Division Series before Sabathia closed the door on their terrific season. They outlasted the Tampa Bay Rays to win a wild-card playoff berth and finished the regular season four games better than the Tigers and five games better than the high-priced Los Angeles Angels.

In other words, they were as good as anybody, and — with a couple more winks from the baseball gods — they might be getting ready to step onto baseball's biggest stage.

If that makes you a bit wistful when the World Series begins Wednesday night, you're not alone.

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

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