I think it'll be a long time before people forget last August and September at the yard. I would submit that those games were about as much fun for Orioles fans as we've ever seen. Granted, that was only the third playoff season for the Birds since they moved into Camden Yards in 1992, but in both 1996 and 1997, there wasn't the potential for the Orioles' fate to be decided in the last days of the season, as happened last year - and also potentially this year. They were far ahead of the pack, and the dramatics just weren't necessary.
That aside, starting tonight we might be gearing up for another stretch just like that. Tampa Bay comes to town for three games, then there are three with Oakland - and so on. For the remainder of the season, the O's only have series against the Yankees (twice), the White Sox and Toronto (twice) in terms of series against non-contenders.
We all know the numbers, how many games back the Orioles are and so on. But what I do want to say is that Birdland really stands to help this Orioles team right now. Get out to these games against Tampa Bay, because they're probably the biggest of the season to date. Pack the yard this weekend against the A's. Not only that, but show these teams exactly who has the best fans in baseball.
There were a couple of dramatic milestones during that period of time last year that will stick with me for a long time. The first was win No. 81 against Tampa Bay, which sealed that the 14 consecutive losing seasons were over. The second was win No. 82 against Oakland clinching a winning season and the third was the official moment the Orioles clinched a playoff spot
Those, of course, were milestones. The two big moments that will probably be remembered are Manny Machado's fake throw to first and throw to third against Tampa Bay and Adam Jones' dramatic eighth-inning homer against New York to break a tie. So will we see anything resembling these moments moving forward? Nobody really knows, of course, but we can hope.
Regardless of how things turn out this year, I'll never forget this time period in 2012. My dad, who used to take me to Memorial Stadium as a kid to see the Birds, struggled with Lymphoma in 2006-07. At the time I prayed just to have the opportunity to see the O's contend again with him. I got my wish, and that's something I'll never forgot. That, I suppose, is a bit of a personal thought, as is the memory of my kid sister singing the karaoke version of "Thank God I'm a Country Boy" and "Good Morning Baltimore" after the playoff game with Texas.
I suppose that one way or the other, a season is beginning tonight with this Tampa Bay series. One could argue that the 2013 season is beginning in earnest with this stretch to close the season, or that it could be the beginning of the 2014 campaign if things go south. At the very least, the Orioles and the fans certainly hope that it's the 2013 season that's beginning. With a few exceptions, the Orioles have been taking two of three games for most of the season. If they can continue that trend, they'll make a return to the postseason.
That's easier said than done, however. The Birds play some really good teams moving forward, and they really have to bear down and focus on getting the job done. That means that the pitching has to bear down on opposing batters, and the Birds are going to need more clutch hitting with runners in scoring position. I would submit that we saw the bullpen take a bit of an uptick this weekend against Colorado, and perhaps even in the extra-inning game in Arizona.
So the table is set, and now all the Orioles need to do is come to the meal. Speaking for myself, I'm excited about the prospect of having a repeat performance of last August and September. If there's one thing we've learned, it's that 2013 is not 2012, so things may not go just as they did last season. But the O's have found other ways to win. So the mystery burns: Will we see the O's make a run to the postseason starting tonight?
There's only one way to tell for sure, so let's just say that it's time to BUCKle up once again!
Domenic Vadala blogs about the Orioles at Birds Watcher, and his opinions appear here as part of MASNsports.com'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 MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.