Ryan Mountcastle called it “the greatest day of my life.” Ryan O’Hearn laid down a sacrifice bunt in the 11th inning, mentioned the number of times James McCann performed the same unselfish act and said, “I love this team.”
Félix Bautista walked around the clubhouse with a cigar and a smile, and nobody was more aggressive spraying champagne than the injured closer, who threw his first bullpen session yesterday since suffering a partial tear in his ulnar collateral ligament. The elbow didn’t slow his celebration.
Heston Kjerstad arrived Thursday, received only four at-bats, and was treated like family. If your family circles you with champagne and beer bottles and empties them over your head. And dumps you in a laundry cart and takes you for a spin, which explained the ice water forming large puddles on the sheets of plastic covering the clubhouse floor.
The Orioles know how to win and to celebrate. They honored their veterans who spent the most seasons exposed to the painful rebuild, and the athletic youngsters who sped the recovery process.
They made sure that everyone in the organization felt loved yesterday. There were no outsiders. Rankings in the organization didn’t matter. High ranking officials or public relations staff. You were joining the fray and getting doused. You were invited – no, urged – to partake in the homer hose.
Putting a baseball over the fence wasn't a requirement. Just be a good sport.
The scene meant a lot to O’Hearn, who was designated for assignment two days after the Orioles purchased his contract from the Royals in January and he had to earn his spot on the 40-man and active rosters. He’s a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
“It’s a testament to my faith, I know, because there’s been a lot of times that I didn’t think something like this was possible,” he said. “I’ve continued to work and tried to get better and to better myself, not knowing if I was going to have an opportunity to play for a club like this. Just the way things have turned out here has been unbelievable. I feel so blessed, I feel so elated to be a part of a group like this.
“We have a long way to go, we’ve got a lot of awesome things in front of us. I’m going to put myself on the line to help this team win in any way I can.”
A few more observations before reporting from Houston:
* The crowd didn’t get the full celebration like in 2014, but Major League Baseball frowns upon alcohol being taken on the field.
However, the Orioles showed their appreciation by staying outside as long as they could before attacking those bottles of champagne and beer. They posed for a group photo and began applauding fans who pumped energy throughout the ballpark for the entire weekend.
The place was loud. It rocked after Adam Frazier slapped a game-tying double down the left field line with two outs in the ninth inning.
"Unbelievable fan reaction,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Just really happy for the players in that clubhouse. This is just the first step. Hopefully we have a few more celebrations the rest of the way. Love to see our guys feeling really good about themselves. For the guys that have never been a part of anything like this, this is why you do this, and it makes it all gratifying.”
* Chairman and Chief Executive Officer John Angelos isn’t a regular visitor to the clubhouse, at least during media access. But he stood in the back and watched the celebration before coaxed into joining it.
I can’t say that Angelos’ vision for the organization after hiring Mike Elias included beers poured through a homer hose, but that’s how this younger generation swings.
It was more about moving further into the analytics age, investing in the foreign market, modernizing the franchise. Allowing Elias to make the hires and the decisions. Trust in his methods for constructing the talent pipeline.
The PowerPoint presentation blew everyone away. Elias couldn't wait to get started. The Orioles couldn't wait to put him in charge.
“Mike is a big believer philosophically in investing for the long haul and we’ve been doing that,” Angelos said. “We’ve been investing internationally. Our new complex in the Dominican Republic that we will own and operate as a club should be open in December or January. We’ve been maxing out on international amateur players, maxing out in the domestic draft, and signing everybody, too. That’s important.
“Everything Mike really talked about, he’s done. I think a lot of it does come back to creating humility and creating a culture, and maybe that’s why we’re a little earlier and a little better. I don’t know. But it is great to see the success come the way it has.”
The stadium lease runs out Dec. 31 and fans won’t relax until there’s a new agreement. They are going on a thrill ride with this team, but many of them can’t fully enjoy it until they see the club’s commitment to stay in Baltimore.
“We’re 30-plus years at Camden Yards and 70 years, nearly, in Baltimore,” Angelos said. “We’re going to be another 30 more. It’s a foregone conclusion. It’s just that the state and the Orioles and the city are really trying to get it right, to max it out and really optimize it.
“That will help the team to get better, too. It will bring more fans downtown. Already these guys have brought a couple million people downtown this year, and hopefully we’ll get back to three million soon as these exciting things happen and winning hopefully continues. All boats rise and all good things to come, I hope.”
* Jorge Mateo pinch-ran for Austin Hays with two outs in the ninth inning and scored from first base on Frazier’s double.
Hays is fast. He isn’t usually a guy who comes out of the game. But he isn’t running at full speed. He’s playing through some pain.
One of the guys who’s banged up or has “a little something.” However the Orioles describe these situations.
A scout from another organization recently mentioned how Hays appears to be limping. Hyde is giving him some days off. But he can impact games in multiple ways, like his sensational running, leaping catch near the left field wall Saturday night to take away extra bases from Osleivis Basabe.
* Reliever Jorge López was standing outside the home plate plaza entrance with his phone in his hand rather than heading toward the buses for the ride to the airport.
Could be nothing, but it was odd.
López surrendered back-to-back home runs to Tristan Gray and Christian Bethancourt in the eighth to give Tampa Bay a 3-1 lead. He was in the middle of the clubhouse celebration.
Update: López is with the team in Houston.