The 2022 season has reached its end for teams on the outside of the playoff arena. The doors will be locked after today.
You don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here.
Last call for the Orioles is a traditional doubleheader against the Blue Jays at Camden Yards, which is attracting rain the way a picnic lures ants. It’s an open jar of marmalade.
(We’ll … wait for it … toast the season later.)
A “traditional” doubleheader for me still conjures images of carrying a cooler of beer into Memorial Stadium. Or screwdrivers for the last Colts game before they moved to Indianapolis, which wasn’t a doubleheader but is in keeping with the theme.
But I digress …
Why in the world are the Jays forced to play a doubleheader before Friday’s first wild card game? OK, I’m still digressing.
There’s a collective sense of accomplishment that major league baseball played a full schedule. The expiration of the old collective bargaining agreement, the lockout, and the frustrating minute-by-minute updates from the media seem like they happened years ago.
We didn’t know if or when spring training camps would open. If or when opening day would be held. If we could trust the deadlines imposed, since they kept moving as if on wheels.
Somehow, someway, commissioner Rob Manfred fit 162 games into the season. Some were rearranged like furniture. The Orioles are finishing at home against the Blue Jays instead of hosting them in the opening series.
Nothing back in March led anyone to believe that the Orioles would contend until just past midnight on Oct. 1. That their record would climb above .500 and stay there.
The bullpen was supposed to collapse, and it didn’t seem that strong prior to the trades of Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott. Fans viewed the deal with the Marlins as a surrender. I remember the hostility on social media.
John Means had Tommy John surgery after two starts. Death to the rotation, which later lost Tyler Wells to injuries and Bruce Zimmermann to demotions.
Catcher Adley Rutschman, the No. 1 prospect, strained his right triceps in March and any hope of breaking camp with the team was lost. He wasn’t promoted until May 21. We’ll always wonder whether almost two months more of Rutschman, or certainly more than the 112 games he’s played, would have gotten the Orioles into the postseason.
Grayson Rodriguez never made it after straining his lat during what appeared to be his final start with Triple-A Norfolk. He’s back home. He won’t be walking through that door.
Take away Trey Mancini, take away Jorge López, and the Orioles kept winning and shocking the industry.
Maybe it makes sense that such an unpredictable, unsettling and explosive offseason would lead to the Orioles blowing up the projections on them.
PECOTA had the Orioles winning 61 games. They reached that total on Aug. 16 in Toronto.
Players will appreciate the accomplishments more after settling into their homes, many with families, and shedding the disappointment of falling short in the wild card chase. Hopes were raised. They really wanted it. Being close for so long only fed the beast.
“I would say that initially it is a tough thing,” said pitcher Tyler Wells. “The pain initially hurts, but eventually it’s like, as everything starts to wind down you finally get home and you actually are able to take that breather from end of season moving and traveling. I think it will be a good time to look back and really just show how many young guys came up and how they stepped up, how we reacted whenever they traded Trey, and understanding that not only did we lose a great guy and teammate, but how we responded to that.
“It felt like we didn’t really skip a beat. And on top of that, too, just with how people looked at us in preseason and then how we came out and we just shocked the world. To me I think that’s a pretty special thing.”
Center fielder Cedric Mullins is leaving behind the hurt feelings as he heads south for the winter, making various stops along the way to catch up with family.
“I think the disappointment has already like come and gone, just in terms of how we’ve attacked this season and what our expectations were going into the season,” he said.
“We knew we had high expectations to come in and be competitive, give teams a hard time every single day. We’ve done just that. We’ve done an amazing job this year. New guys coming up and being very helpful on both sides of the ball. Pitching, hitting, defense, all that stuff’s important, and for us to go into next year. Of course, none of us really know what the roster will look like, but the expectation of what we expect to do is there and that’s big for us.”
Starter Jordan Lyles is completing his 12th year in the majors - he won't get a 33rd start in the doubleheader - and 2022 will stand out for being so unique. Perhaps not the most unusual, but darn close to it.
Lyles lost a sense of normalcy going back to his contract agreement right at the deadline to do business before the sport shut down on Dec. 2.
“Other than the COVID spring training where the whole world was upside down, this is right behind it. So many unknowns back then. So many unknowns this offseason with the new CBA,” he said.
“And me personally, I was in between waiting out the CBA or jumping on board with Baltimore on a handshake kind of deal, so that added to some questions in itself. And shortened spring training. And then the guys in some eyes outperforming some predictions and projections. Being so young with a smaller payroll, just having so many young, talented guys step up and make their debuts and contribute that way, it was special for me.
“I definitely felt like I made the right decision this offseason, being in contact with Baltimore and ending up signing with them.”
Lyles might have set a record for longest wait between an agreement and a physical and signed contract. The lockout lasted 99 days. The Orioles couldn’t comment on him until the deal became official. Very odd.
“Just the human aspect of it,” Lyles said. “Family and friends, ‘Hey, are you with Baltimore or are you not with them?’ ‘Yeah, kind of.’ I didn’t know how to answer that.
“It was a little weird just from the personal side. But everyone was thrown a wrench with the shortened spring training and trying to build up really quick. Everyone was kind of playing at a disadvantage, and luckily we came out of it pretty strongly. Not many injuries in spring training for us, so that was definitely a positive.”
Eighteen more innings, if they don’t play extras, and the Orioles can close the book on 2022. It might read like fiction, but it really happened.