The Orioles are off again today, leaving them with two more open dates on their schedule.
Manager Buck Showalter, resisting the urge to take in a minor league game, is having a barbeque at his home.
“The players don’t want to see me anymore,” Showalter said.
Actually, the players enjoy their interactions with Showalter, but they’ll gladly take a break today and recharge their batteries as the pressure mounts over these final six weeks.
I’m often asked about the mood or the vibe inside the clubhouse, especially as the Orioles were losing six of eight games before last night’s 4-2 victory over the Rays. Do guys appear to be pressing? Are they angry? Are they quiet? Is there dissension in the ranks?
The answer will bore you, but there’s no change. It could be early April or the middle of June. Heck, it could be March in Sarasota.
Guys are loose. They joke around, shoot pool, play ping pong - shortstop J.J. Hardy is the best - stretch out on the couch and watch television. They duck inside the video room, swing in the cages, gather around a teammate’s locker and swap stories. Heavy metal music blares inside the weight room, streaming down the hallway toward Showalter’s office.
Same as it ever was.
Yesterday, the Orioles invited kids from the Maryland Table Tennis Center in Gaithersburg to tour the ballpark and show off their skills. It was amusing to watch players and vice president of baseball operations Brady Anderson struggle to return their serves. There were future Olympians in the house.
The previous day, clubhouse attendant Blakely Cain (@blakerockMD), guitarist/vocalist for the band “Skies in Chaos” that’s releasing its first album in November, performed before batting practice. Nothing like a 30-minute clubhouse concert to get everyone fired up. Showalter was extremely impressed, and as you know, he’s a pretty harsh music critic.
Trust me, everyone is taking their jobs seriously. They’re intensely focused on the pennant race. Televisions are tuned to NESN or YES for updates on their division rivals’ games. They’re aware of the standings and how each loss can impact them. But they’re not going to slip into panic mode after consecutive defeats. And they’re going to seek temporary escapes - including their fantasy football draft - with the blessing and encouragement of their manager.
“Everything’s so serious and there’s so much during a game, before and after,” said Showalter, who purchased a cornhole board in spring training. “Every clubhouse has something like that, I think. I don’t know. I’ve had it that way for years. It’s the players’ clubhouse, it’s not mine. It’s a place I want them to want to come to. It’s not like it’s, ‘OK, today’s schedule we have this, today’s schedule we have this.’ There’s some days they just want to be left alone, like on the off day. We’re not going to say, ‘What do you guys want to do tomorrow?’ Let them do it.
“The environment is important. There are so many serious things that go on for three or four hours. But we have a lot of things on the road that a lot of people don’t know about. They’ve got 100 things going on down there. And God bless them.
“We’re all from the same ilk. You guys have things that take you away from what you do. We all have some things we don’t want everybody to know about. Thank God. Otherwise, it would be boring. Some of them we can’t talk about. Pretty funny. A lot of good things, charitable, that nobody talks about, that they don’t talk about. They just do them because its right.
“Our bullpen has this thing going on with people in need that’s unbelievable, but they don’t want anybody to know about it. It’s unbelievable the impact they’ve had on people’s lives.”
Showalter has been stressing the importance of staying off the emotional roller coaster over a 162-game season. Remain on an even keel. However, as we move toward September, Showalter smiles and says, “There’s a time to get off an even keel, too.”
“There are a lot of different ways to look at it,” he said, referring to the streak of six losses in eight games. “You can look at it that you won two out of four. But that’s not good enough. Our guys know that. There’s nothing that they’re not aware of. And sometimes you can want something too much.
“Emotionally, we’re in a good spot, as well as can be expected. This time of the year, things can snowball one way or the other, but you’re always going to seek your level. We’re facing, obviously, some good pitching here. There’s a lot of baseball left. I know that’s the proper thing to say. We want it all to change, but every game is an opportunity for it to start anew.”
Perhaps that’s what happened last night, when the Orioles used three relievers in the ninth to protect their 4-2 lead and avoid being swept by the Rays.
Stay off the roller coaster?
“Yeah, I think so,” said reliever Troy Patton. “It does you no good to dwell on what’s already happened, because it’s already happened. You can’t do anything about it. We’ve been struggling of late and everyone knows that, but there’s nothing that you should carry over from game to game, because you can’t let the last one affect the next one. You try to stay light and approach each game like it is, a new game.”
“It’s hard to do,” said outfielder Nate McLouth,” because you know what point in the season you’re at, you know where you’re at in the standings and things like that. But you can’t let one day affect the next. You can’t come out today and say, ‘Oh no, we lost the first two games, so we have to win tonight because we lost these first two.’ As a player, you can’t have that mentality, because there’s still 35, 38 games left. Whatever it is. And that’s plenty of time for us to get where we want to be.”