More reflection on Orioles playoff ouster and moving on from it (Birdland Caravan returns)

More than two months have passed since the Orioles lost to the Rangers in the Division Series. The first sweep by an opponent since May 2022. The finality knocking the sounds out of the visiting clubhouse at Globe Life Field, leaving players sitting in silence at their lockers.

The hurt lessens for some but the mind can’t forget.

“It hasn't eased for me,” manager Brandon Hyde said at the Winter Meetings.

“I think that there's a lot of disappointment. And I'm really proud of our season, I don't want to take that for granted. To win our division, to win over a hundred games, to have the individual performances and team performances that we had, it says a lot about our roster and our guys and how we have some really good players. But you do that and then you fall short like we did, that takes a while to go away. So, it hasn't gone away for me yet.”

Executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias called the sweep “a gut punch” during one his media sessions in Nashville.

“It sucked, it was really abrupt,” he said. “Whether or not you win the series, you want to play better and longer than we did. I think that there are a lot of objective observers who would tell you, don’t draw too much out of a three-game sample. I think it’s my point of view and my responsibility in the position I’m in to treat it as a failure and try to learn from it responsibly. We’re not going to overreact, we’d never look at a player who went 1-for-14 in those three games and think less of him, so you’ve got to be careful, but it’s my responsibility to give the team the best chance to get as deep in the playoffs as possible, not only next year, but years and years and years out.”

Advancing thoughts to 2024 helped Elias to cope.

“We were very busy right away with those three weeks of October that we had dormant preparing for the offseason,” he said. “After you have a playoff ouster like that, you’re kind of hungry to get back to work and you don’t want to reflect too much.

“We had a tremendous regular season, one of the best regular seasons in the last 30 years of Orioles baseball. It’s right up there. And we had a lot of individual successes. It was a big step forward for the franchise. There was a lot to celebrate. But we turned our attention to 2024 pretty quickly.”

The Orioles could have checked with bench coach Fredi González, a man who knows a thing or two about postseason heartbreak. And the kind that hits a team right on the threshold.

González managed the Braves from 2011 to May 2016. In his first season, they held an 8 ½-game lead in the National League wild card race heading into September and were eliminated on the final day with a 13-inning loss to the Phillies. They returned to the playoffs the following year and lost to the Cardinals in the one-game wild card round.

Atlanta won the East Division in 2013 and lost to the Dodgers in four games in the Division Series.

How long did it take González to get over the Rangers sweep in October?

“Probably not as long as Brandon,” he replied.

“It always hurts and you can always go back and you go, ‘Well, maybe this and maybe that.’ But there wasn’t really a point in the game that you did something wrong as a coach or as a manager. Whatever the reason, whether it’s we sat around for those seven, eight days and came out a little flat ...

“I’ve been in his shoes, and a couple times it’s taken me over a month to get over it and the what ifs and this and that. We talked about it at the end of Game 3. He goes, ‘It happened so quickly.’ And this is what I told him. I’ve been in elimination games before but I’ve never been down five (runs) in the third inning in an elimination game. And we never did anything offensively and they just kept adding on, so you kind of feel hopeless at that time. But I’m sure nobody hurts more than Hyder does.”

Proof of the lingering pain is González’s clear recollections of the 2011 collapse, viewed as one of the biggest in baseball history.

“There was only one wild card back then and on the last day of the season we lost to the Phillies in extra innings and it was heartbreaking,” he said. “That one really, really, really hurt because you go back throughout the course of the season and you go, ‘Man, I could have done so many things different now, 10-12 years later.’

“I never even thought about putting an opener in there. We ran with our five (starters) and three of the five were struggling and we kept running them out there. Now, you move forward 10 years and it’s like, ‘I think we should have done an opener.’ We had a 40-man (September) roster. Piece it together, two innings and two innings. But nobody thought about that 12 years ago, right? So, that one hurt a lot. But this one here, I thought we had a great season, I thought Hyder was unbelievable, I thought our players were really, really good and mature.

“I don’t know if it was the six, seven day layoff, because it happened to the Braves. I talked to Snit (Brian Snitker) about it and he seems to think it’s that. Or we didn’t have enough pitching. The majority of our guys had never been in a playoff situation. I thought (Kyle) Bradish pitched a hell of a game and gave us the best chance to win of all the three we played. And we lost that one 3-2. But I’m looking forward to this season with these young guys and adding (Craig) Kimbrel, and I’m sure Mike’s not done yet, and see if we can run it back.”

The first-round bye and downtime beyond workouts at Camden Yards have received blame for the Orioles’ flat performance, though the Rangers were on a roll that carried them to their first World Series title.

The world may never know.

“I don’t have a big opinion about it,” Elias said. “I was very thrilled that we won the division and got the bye. I haven’t seen a scientific study on that. I don’t have a big opinion on it. I know that there’s a lot of baseball people and players that think it could be less than what it is right now without really harming things. It’s not something I’ve spent much time thinking about.”

Note: The Orioles' Birdland Caravan returns Jan. 25-28, with more details available later.

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