Let the real games begin

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - Finally, the games count.

No more Grapefruit League action. No more Team Spain and State College of Florida. No more torturous drives to Dunedin and intimate candle-lit gatherings in Bradenton - at least until 2014.

The Orioles begin their regular season this afternoon against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field. We're still in Florida, but now it matters.

Manager Buck Showalter feels as though he's been at spring training for, roughly, an eternity. Yet, to him, Game 5 of the American League Division Series was played yesterday.

"I think that's good," he said.

Is getting off to a good start here just as intense for the Orioles as their final series that led into the postseason?

"I'd have a tough time to sincerely salute that," Showalter replied. "We've got three opening days this year. Does that mean the one in Baltimore or the one in Boston ... where does it end? And it doesn't end in baseball. There's a question about, is this a big series? I get why people ask, but you've got to stay in the moment and you've got to keep a grip on reality of what's ahead of you, and the ebb and flow of it.

"That's something they heard a lot last year. You heard me say it. Stay focused on the moment and see where it takes us. Don't get caught up in what this means could happen negatively or positively. Just keep grinding and see where it takes you. And usually, the baseball gods are pretty kind to you if you'll do that, if you have the ability.

"I think that's what a lot of people miss about the team we had last year. It seems like there were so many variables that were brought into play that took away from the fact that they were pretty good. They were good players and they were good pitchers. And that's the only thing I take a little umbrage at. You play 162 games, every strength and weakness is going to show up. I'm sure Joe (Maddon) feels the same way. There's no exposer of team in any sport like baseball. We just play so many games.

"We just got through playing 35 games, counting everything we did, and we're getting ready to add another 162. We played over 200 games last year. Two hundred. So pardon me if I try not to get too far ahead of myself and say this is exactly what's going to happen because this happened and this is exactly what can't happen because it can't happen again."

The Orioles have two players on their 25-man roster who didn't play for them last year. Quick, name them!

Too late. Infielder Alexi Casilla and left-hander T.J. McFarland.

Does the familiarity make Showalter more comfortable?

"We've got a lot of people here who weren't with us at the start of the season last year," he said, basically dismissing the entire theory. "You look at (Manny) Machado and (Nate) McLouth and Miguel Gonzalez) and I can go on down the list. I think it's about 11. I look at it from that perspective.

"We went through a heck of a journey together last year, so we've got a lot of people who know what the journey's about and know what's expected and know who they are. I don't think I ever use the word 'comfortable' in this terminology. I don't think anybody ever has a comfort zone about what's ahead of us. You can't assume anything. There's too many good people. It's the best players in the world that we're going to be competing against."

Today they compete against the Tampa Bay Rays.

Today it counts.


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