The Oriole Bird holds a packet for 2014 playoff tickets. The… (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun )
There was a time when such a scene exceeded the imagination of a new generation of Orioles fans.
On the fourth floor of the B&O Warehouse, Orioles employees stuffed envelopes with playoff ticket order forms and dispatched them to season-ticket holders Tuesday in the hope and anticipation of an Orange-and-Black October.
This is not a unique phenomenon. It's going on all over the major leagues, and the same scene played out the past two years in the Warehouse, but there seems to be general agreement that it all feels more real this year.
"I think that's true," Orioles vice president of communications Greg Bader said. "Two years ago, our fans were excited by the prospects of postseason play. We were kind of learning the process. We hadn't gone through the invoicing process in awhile. Everybody was excited by the possibilities, but I just don't think they were necessarily prepared that we were going to make it."
After advancing to the American League Division Series in 2012, the Orioles again were in contention for a wild-card berth well into September last year. But the 2014 season shows a level of promise that neither of the franchise's previous two winning teams could stuff in those ticket mailers.
The timing of Tuesday's mail-a-thon was coincidental, but it couldn't have been better.
The Orioles were coming off another exciting victory Monday night, and they had extended their lead in the American League East back to 7 1/2 games. Until last Wednesday, the last time the Orioles had held a division lead of that size was Sept. 13, 1997, when the club was finishing up a wire-to-wire title run and today's 18-year-old fan was still in diapers.
Of course, Orioles officials — from Bader to manager Buck Showalter — are loathe to assume anything about the final quarter of the regular season. They haven't won anything yet, and there's plenty of time for just about any scenario to play out. But if you haven't gotten the feeling that this team has a couple of old Baltimore Colts horseshoes hanging in some out-of-the-way corner of their clubhouse, you haven't been paying attention.
This easily could have devolved into a very frustrating season after Chris Davis went on the disabled list with a strained oblique in late April and Matt Wieters followed him onto the DL a couple weeks later with what would turn out to be a season-ending elbow injury. The Orioles pitching staff wasn't exactly setting the world on fire, and the prospect of losing the game's most explosive hitter of last season and one of the best all-around catchers certainly didn't put anyone in the mood to ponder playoff possibilities.
Who really could have foreseen any of this back on May 30, the day they lost their second straight game to the lowly Houston Astros and fell below .500 (26-27) for the first and last time since April? Maybe Showalter, because he has proven he can see into the future, but nobody with normal human faculties.
The past couple months have been a study in good pitching, good chemistry and good karma not seen in these parts since those heady Davey Johnson years. The 2012 team certainly had a "Why Not?" quality because of the string of 14 straight losing seasons that preceded it, but the Orioles didn't dominate the division.
They played great baseball, defied statistical logic in one-run and extra-inning games and took the New York Yankees almost to the wire before eventually losing to them in the AL Division Series. It was magical because there were so many times when it seemed like they were pulling rabbits out of a hat.
This year is simply an impressive display of talent, depth and resolve that has put the Orioles in a position to reach for the top seed in this year's postseason draw instead of scrambling to win a 2012 wild-card berth that didn't even exist the year before.
Nobody is taking anything away from the 2012 team, since it won 93 games and initiated the baseball renaissance that is now in bloom in Baltimore. No one, for that matter, should turn a nose up at last year's 85-win season. Those teams were the works in progress that have brought the Orioles to the point where it isn't silly to believe they could reach the World Series.
For their season-ticket holders, a reminder of that will be arriving in the mail any day now.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.