Leftover thoughts and observations from the ALDS

The end was laid out early for us, the six runs scored over the first two innings in Game 3 of the American League Division Series. And yet, it felt so abrupt. Funny how that works.

A strikeout with two down in the top of the ninth inning, Rangers sprinting out of the dugout to celebrate, Orioles staying in theirs to watch and maybe learn. The hurt so evident later.

“It doesn’t really feel real right now,” said catcher Adley Rutschman.

Everyone looked like they were in a haze.

I could carry away so many images from the 2023 season, but I may be stuck with the sight of players sitting in front of their lockers after the media entered. Pretty much a full room, which is highly unusual. It actually was jarring. And not a sound made. Just blank stares.

It felt more appropriate to tiptoe inside.

I don’t know whether guys just collapsed in their chairs and couldn’t move or if they knew that we needed to gather quotes and wanted to get it over with. But also understanding that we had a job to do, because this is a good group. The scrums are part of it.

“And now we take you to the losing side.” It isn’t pleasant for anyone.

Here are some other impressions. I’ll have plenty more to share while the Orioles shut down for a while.

No moment is too big for rookie Gunnar Henderson.

The best player for the Orioles was a 22-year-old former top prospect with an abrasion underneath his right eye from a helmet incident while sliding into home plate.

He looked like a fighter.

He is a fighter.

Henderson is special because of his vast skill set – a scout from outside the organization yesterday said the kid is going to be the best player in baseball - but also his intangibles. He’s got the right makeup, though apparently no concealer for his bruise.

The Orioles finished with six hits in Game 3 and Henderson accounted for half of them, making him 6-for-12 in the playoffs. He was lining singles to the outfield and gesturing toward the dugout as if the teams were tied and he represented the winning run. The effort never wavered. He didn’t look defeated until he stood at his locker.

Asked how losing felt, Henderson paused and showed his maturity by not snapping.

“We just lost in the playoffs,” he said. “Not a good feeling.”

These losses are supposed to come with lessons. What did Henderson take away from the ALDS?

“Just go out there and be yourself, don’t try to do too much,” he said. “Just go out there and try to do your job and try to pass the baton to your teammates.”

The Rangers were wielding clubs. They’re a dangerous bunch, the three home runs hit Tuesday measuring a combined 1,300 feet.

“Hats off to them, they did really well,” Henderson said. “They hit a lot of balls hard and hit a lot of homers. It seemed like they string at-bats together really well. So, hats off to them for a good series.”

Some of the hugs and words felt like final goodbyes.

It’s hard to decipher whether some players were more emotional than others because of the finality or how they might not return in 2024. That a magical season that they cherished would be followed by their disappearance.

The Orioles have 16 arbitration eligibles and there’s no way that they’re retaining everyone and doling out that many raises. And it isn’t just about money. Some guys underperformed or were injured and can be replaced internally.

The playoff roster also held four pending free agents: Kyle Gibson, Jack Flaherty, Adam Frazier and Aaron Hicks. Shintaro Fujinami, who wasn’t on the roster, also can leave and seems like a certainty to do it.

Gibson signed for $10 million, was the Opening Day starter and registered 17 quality starts. The Orioles seem certain to dive back into the starter market, with more questions about how much they’re willing to spend. It isn’t inconceivable that they try to re-sign Gibson, who loved pitching for them and was a valued leader. One of the most popular guys in the clubhouse. Or they could aim higher.

At the risk of reading too much into elimination comments, Gibson at times sounded like someone who didn’t think he’d be back to watch the Orioles take the next step. Or at least had his doubts. “They,” instead of “we.”

Ryan O’Hearn choked up while talking about the most fun he’s had in baseball. And again when asked if that’s what makes the ending so painful. A couple words and he was done. He had nothing left.

The scene reminded me of high school graduation, except much sadder. When you spend so much time together and then think about how you might not see this person again, or not nearly as much.

The best team doesn’t always win.

The Orioles were that team if we’re judging by records. The Rangers didn’t even win their division. And yet …

“There’s no other way to put it, they kicked our ass,” said outfielder Austin Hays.

He said more, but we could stop right there.

“It sucks,” he continued. “Just couldn’t really get anything going, couldn’t get any momentum on our side to get things going. It hurts. It really hurts.”

“It’s obviously not fun to lose, and it’s tougher now,” said first baseman Ryan Mountcastle, “but as a whole I think the team did great this year, and a lot of positives to take from it.”

The same scout doesn’t give Texas much of a chance to win the World Series, pointing to the one area where I kept pouncing. The bullpen fits Hays’ description of losing.

It didn’t factor into the ALDS. There were tense moments, but the Rangers just mashed their way to the next round. And Nathan Eovaldi was a stud – someone the Orioles certainly could have used in their rotation. But I digress …

The starters totaled eight innings in three games. Two of them didn’t get out of the second.

“It's tough to win when a starter goes an inning-plus,” said manager Brandon Hyde. “Try to piece it together.”

Or watch it fall apart.

Ballots for the Baseball Writers’ Association of America awards are turned in before the playoffs.

Remember that after Hyde finishes first for Manager of the Year.

I didn’t have a vote, but I would have put Hyde first, Kevin Cash second and probably Bruce Bochy third. Bochy is the only one still managing. He’s a Hall of Famer. And he’s pushing all the right buttons again. It’s a gift.

Hyde is the one with the low-payroll team that won 101 games and posted the best record in the American League, two years after losing 110.

Don’t overthink it. He’s the choice.

The sweep shouldn’t cause all the good to be swept under the carpet.

Take time to grieve over the finality. And then smile.

Transport yourselves to the pre-Game 1 hysteria. The orange towels waving as the video board counted down to zero. The house rocking again. The Orioles legends who came back.

The 48 comeback wins. The moments – and there were so many that it’s impossible to tabulate them – that made 2023 as enjoyable as any season in franchise history. The creative celebrations, the youthful energy and joy. The many uses of a hose. Fans approaching Hyde to thank him. How wearing Orioles gear didn’t make you a target of jokes anymore.

(And bless those of you who kept wearing it through the hard times. You’re the true champions.)

Going from 83 to 101 wins and a division title constituted many giant leaps. To win a World Series was probably asking too much. But this is how it works. Knock on the door, then kick it in, then hoist a trophy while standing on top of it.

The experience in the ALDS will be beneficial down the road.

“I'm sure it's helpful,” Hyde said. “And now we have experience. This team going forward, heads up. It's going to be a really good club.”

You’ve been warned. Everyone has.

Hey, Birdland: Sometimes you just get beat
In postgame clubhouse there was disappointment but...

By accepting you will be accessing a service provided by a third-party external to https://www.masnsports.com/