Lots of reflection as Orioles approach Game 3

ARLINGTON, Texas – The Orioles are preparing for their first playoff game in Texas since the 2012 wild card game. They headed back to the visiting clubhouse that night and stepped into a champagne shower. A wild scene that left everyone soaked, including media that got too close.

I returned to the hotel, where I’m staying again this week, and the woman behind the desk handed me a plastic bag for my clothes. I didn’t say a word. She didn’t say a word. Just looked at me and understood.

The bubbly won’t be on ice with the Orioles down 2-0 in the Division Series. They need to win twice on the road and get back to Camden Yards for Game 5.

Cover the lockers and floor with plastic again or break out the boxes to be shipped home.

“This team’s pretty resilient,” said veteran starter Kyle Gibson. “They’re young, but they’ve got a lot of experience this year when it comes to playing in big games. None obviously as big as the one (tonight), but I think they’ll be able to draw on that experience and they’ll be all right.”

“I don't sense that we're playing tense or anything,” said manager Brandon Hyde.

“Clubhouse is pretty loose right now. Clubhouse has been loose like just normal before both games at home.”

Gibson recommends taking inventory, teammates remembering how they felt during the season in clutch situations and how they handled the adversity.

“Then, you can draw back on it, right?” he said.

“It’s kind of like a bad start. If you’re not learning from a bad start, then you’re probably going to make the same mistakes. Or, if you’re not learning from the good ones and taking those notes, you’re probably not going to be able to repeat that.”

No one is playing dumb and acting like another defeat won’t inflict the worst damage.

“It’s human nature,” Gibson said. “There is no like, ‘Hey, I’m going to forget that a loss is the end of the season.’ It’s how you can take those feelings and take those emotions and channel them into the game. It’s not easily done all the time, but extremely successful and elite athletes do it really well, and we have a lot of those players here.

“It might be the first time for a lot of these guys, but I think they’re as prepared as most young guys are that I’ve ever seen. I think you’re going to get the best out of these 26 guys and you’re going to see a team playing with a little bit of fire and a little bit of urgency, and excited to get back to Baltimore here in a couple days.”

Gibson is 35-years-old and has made three playoff appearances. He’s made 17 starts at Globe Life Field and posted a 3.28 ERA. He’s comfortable in Texas, but he wasn’t saddled with tonight’s assignment.

Hyde chose Dean Kremer, who started the two clinching games last month. Gibson is in the bullpen and could pitch later, with all hands on deck.

Those hands also could hold the ball.

Skipping Gibson as starter will feed the second-guessers if Kremer has a poor outing and the Orioles lose. It’s the nature of the playoff beast.

Game 3 starts at 8:03 p.m. EST, with the Orioles trying to snap a seven-game playoff losing streak. Perhaps one of the pitchers used will be the first to earn a postseason win since Bud Norris in Game 3 of the 2014 ALDS in Detroit.

Reflect on that one, and a few more.

We’ll never know how much John Means could have impacted the Division Series.

This isn’t an Orioles obit. They have won at least three games in a row 16 times this season. It ain’t over. But the elbow soreness that cost Means a spot on the roster felt like getting smacked by a 2x4 across the skull.

Means flashed hitless stuff and had a solid chance to pitch beyond the fifth inning. He made the rotation and bullpen better, with one of the starters shifting into a relief role. Or Means shifting in desperate times – like Sunday night before Game 2 fell apart.

Losing him hurt. And it did nothing to boost morale.

Players moved on without Means following his Tommy John surgery in April 2022. They had no choice. And they kept winning as he recovered from the strained muscle in his upper back that delayed his return from August to September.

They saw how he could take apart an offense, carrying a no-hitter into the seventh inning in Cleveland. A master craftsman at work.

And then the baseball gods pulled another cruel prank. Why?

Carrying 12 pitchers was risky.

A shorter series and the off-days convinced the Orioles that the extra bench player made more sense. They might return to 13 pitchers if they reach the best-of-seven Championship Series.

Game 1 starter Kyle Bradish lasted 4 2/3 innings, followed by five relievers. Game 2 starter Grayson Rodriguez was done after 1 2/3, followed by seven relievers. Gibson was warming in the ninth in case the Orioles rallied and kept playing into the 11th.

You do not draw it up this way.

Bryan Baker was chosen over Mike Baumann and Cole Irvin as Means’ replacement on the roster. He walked the bases loaded in the third and Mitch Garver hit a grand slam off Jacob Webb.

“Bottom line is, because Bake threw the ball well in Norfolk, especially in the championship series at the end,” Hyde said. “We hoped that would carry over into the roster here. The other guys had seen their struggles also, and we were hoping Bake could give us a boost and throw the ball the way he did in Norfolk at the end of the year.”

Yesterday’s workout freshened the ‘pen, but Hyde might have some trust issues. Webb also surrendered Josh Jung’s solo homer in Game 1. Baker’s loss of control resembled Shintaro Fujinami’s lapses, and he was omitted from the roster.

All hands on deck. With fingers crossed.

The lineup is going to be different in Game 3.

It was tweaked in Game 2 with Adley Rutschman moving into the leadoff spot, Jorge Mateo starting at shortstop and Gunnar Henderson going to third. But the Orioles were facing their second left-hander. Tonight, they get veteran right-hander Nathan Eovaldi.

Ryan O’Hearn is in an 0-for-25 slump, including two hitless at-bats in the ALDS. He flied to deep left field Sunday night, a home run in many ballparks. But he’s been a middle-of-the-order presence this season and likely will make his first start.

“He's had bad luck, honestly, the last couple weeks,” Hyde said. “His at-bats have been good, his passes of the baseball have been good. Lined out a few times. Like a lot of our guys, kind of struggled late in the year, last couple weeks of the season. Just kind of didn't get … nobody really got hot. But I think his at-bats have still been really quality.”

Adam Frazier also should resurface as the starting second baseman, leaving Hyde to figure out the best combination on the left side of the infield.

Jorge Mateo posted his first four-hit game Sunday but usually sits against right-handers. Hyde was going to remove him for a pinch-hitter in the ninth inning, with Heston Kjerstad moving on deck.

Henderson probably returns to the leadoff spot, with Rutschman sliding down to second. Cedric Mullins apparently will remain in center field, but he’s 0-for-8 in the ALDS and 2-for-41 in his last 13 games.

“He's done a lot for us for a while now, and his center field defense is hard to ignore and what he does for us defensively,” Hyde said. “He's definitely caught in between offensively right now and has been for a few weeks. Nobody's working harder in the cage. It's like he needs one to fall, honestly, to kind of get him kick-started a little bit. You see him kind of hitting frustrated.

“And I know he wants to contribute so badly offensively, and it just hasn't happened here as of late. I think he could be really close. Don't want to give up on it. His defense, to me, he plays Gold Glove center field defense. That hard to take out of the lineup.”

And speaking of Kjerstad …

The Orioles kept him on the roster and carried the same position players who ended the regular season. Going with 13 would have removed him.

The Rangers countered by starting lefties Andrew Heaney and Jordan Montgomery, and they also have Cody Bradford, Brock Burke, Aroldis Chapman, Will Smith and Martín Pérez.

Bradford tossed 3 2/3 scoreless innings in Game 2.

To start Kjerstad tonight might require a fairly bold move, like sitting Mullins, but that doesn’t seem to be in Hyde’s plans. Austin Hays was 3-for-27 going into the playoffs, but he collected three hits Sunday.

The Orioles need to get Kjerstad to the plate to justify his presence.

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