Matthew Taylor: On opposite directions and changing fortunes

June has provided me with renewed appreciation for the Orioles’ success since 2012. It’s not simply that the team seems to have turned things around after a slow start to this season, although the early struggles certainly served as a reminder not to take things for granted. Rather, my appreciation stems from the O’s wins - seven of them in nine tries - against the Boston Red Sox and the Philadelphia Phillies.

Beating two teams that have a combined 58-90 record isn’t typically cause for celebration. The wins might keep you from banging your head, but they don’t exactly warrant thumping your chest. Nevertheless, the recent series victories against two former powerhouses reflect how much fortunes have changed for all three franchises. The mighty have fallen and the meek have inherited their playoff berths.

The Red Sox won the World Series in 2007. The Phillies won the World Series in 2008. The Orioles lost 93 games in each of those two seasons. The records alone don’t do justice to the misery of those years for the O’s, much of it caused by Boston who handed the Birds a dozen losses in each season. I marveled during the Phillies series at how improbable it seemed back then that the Orioles would be competing for division titles a handful of years later.

The 2007 season brought the Mother’s Day meltdown on May 14 at Fenway. Jeremy Guthrie left the game with one out in the ninth inning, having allowed only three hits and with his shutout intact, after Coco Crisp reached first base on an error by catcher Ramon Hernandez. A 5-0 lead evaporated as Danys Baez and Chris Ray combined to record only one out as six runs crossed the plate. It was a sign of things to come for the team’s $42 million bullpen.

On Aug. 22, with Perlozzo having gone from the clubhouse to the outhouse two months prior, the Orioles lost 30-3 to the Texas Rangers. By October the team’s streak of losing seasons would reach double digits, an outcome that you didn’t need a Magic 8 Ball, much less a crystal ball, to see coming. The Phillies, meanwhile, earned a playoff spot for the first time since 1993 to start a run of five consecutive postseason appearances.

The 2008 season started promisingly enough as the O’s raced out to a 6-1 start and a 16-11 record in the month of April. One month of good baseball wasn’t enough to produce optimism in a jaded fan base. Whatever early-season feeling fans possessed - desperate hope, perhaps - it faded fast. The team found itself in last place for the first time since 1988 and only the third time in franchise history. The O’s would remain in the cellar for four consecutive seasons thanks in large part to the ascendant Tampa Bay Rays.

Every other American League East team finished with a winning record in 2008. Forget first place, the Orioles found themselves 17 1/2 games out of fourth place by season’s end. Beyond the win totals, or lack thereof, 2008 brought us the indignity of Manny Ramirez hitting his 500th home run and being celebrated like a conquering hero at Camden Yards. For me, it was nadir of the Fenway South era. Go ahead and watch the video, if you have the stomach for it.

After a torturous run versus the Red Sox for so long, the Orioles have won the season series with Boston for the past three years. They look to be on their way to clinching a fourth consecutive season series given their recent six-game win streak versus the Red Sox. The O’s haven’t strung together that many victories against Boston since the 1980 and 1981 seasons.

The Phillies, meanwhile, have the worst record in baseball at 26-48 (for the record, that’s still not as bad as the 2010 Orioles were at the point in the season) and appear to be close to hiring former Orioles president of baseball operations Andy MacPhail to a front office position.

Fans in Boston and Philadelphia are seeing red these days. In Baltimore, meanwhile, the Orioles are finally back to being black and orange after so many seasons finding themselves black and blue.

Matthew Taylor blogs about the Orioles at Roar from 34. Follow him on Twitter: @RoarFrom34. His ruminations about the Birds appear as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. 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.

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