Domenic Vadala: On closing acts and changed fortunes

On Friday night, the Boston Red Sox come to town for the final home series of 2012’s regular season. Friday is also the Sept. 28, which will mark the one-year anniversary of last season’s spectacular finish to the regular season.

I’ll spare everyone the details yet again, however the act of Robert Andino hitting an RBI single to win it for the Fighting Showalters followed almost immediately by Evan Longoria hitting a walk off homer in St. Petersburg, Fla., is something that will not soon be forgotten. At the time (and still), I called it the “greatest closing act of all time.” What we didn’t know was that it was only the beginning.

Leading up to that one moment, the Orioles had been playing until the final out and so forth, but the curtain was pulled back on that concept to the fan base for the first time in that game. This season, the Orioles are where they are due to that very fact: They simply don’t give up in games. So looking back a year, game No. 162 of last season and perhaps the entire month of September served as a launching point for what we’ve seen in 2012. Year over year, there are changes to the roster and so forth, so this isn’t an exact science; however, I feel that the core of the team came of age last September and especially on that day.

The Orioles were as much as part of the playoff push in 2011 as they are this year, albeit with different goals. Many people remain stunned at the way the Orioles have won so many big games, both of late and throughout the course of the season. Not this writer; I’m not surprised in the least.

Again, think back to last year. While the Orioles certainly didn’t go to the playoffs, nobody can convince me that they didn’t play postseason baseball during that stretch. Even in games they lost, the Orioles played at a feverish pace, and in the process wrote themselves into the history books by being a part of the aforementioned great closing act.

Think back to that final series with Boston last year: Buck Showalter managed those games like a manager would a playoff game (in terms of the bullpen, pinch hitters/runners, etc.). That entire experience gave the Orioles a taste of what they could be a part of if they put their minds to it. Going forward a year, this team is now fighting to secure its first playoff spot since 1997, and they have the experience of how to play in big games based on what happened last September. They say that the first pitch of the baseball season sets the tone for the whole year. But perhaps the final pitch of the previous season was, in fact, the trend-setter in this case.

That game sent both the Orioles and Red Sox in opposite directions, as Boston has gone from dysfunctional to chaotic. Whereas it seemed for years there were questions of whether or not the manager du jour would be the same in Baltimore, now all of the signs point to Bobby Valentine being out in Boston after one season. Does that mean that the fortunes of the future hung in the balance on Andino’s line drive to left last September? Not really, but you’d be naive not to agnowledge that the two franchises have continued on a similar path as last year.

Speaking for myself, that will always be one of my favorite moments of following this team. I’ve never seen a series of events unfold like that in succession to in effect triumph good over evil (the baptism sequence in “The Godfather” comes to mind). I can still hear Gary Thorne’s voice ringing in my head: “The Oriole’s coming to the plate - Reimold ... They did it! They did it! They did it!”

You might also argue that at that moment the city of Baltimore reclaimed its team and its ballpark. The rest of the league was put on notice that no more would the Birds allow teams to push them around, and baseball became relevant again in the city. As the one-year anniversary of that moment approaches, the Orioles will once again find themselves up against Boston. However, this time the stakes are very different, and needless to say, perhaps at least part of the reason why is that moment last year - the greatest closing act of all time.

Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our pages. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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