On chemistry and who's going to lead

NEW YORK – The mood yesterday morning inside and outside the Orioles’ clubhouse made it appear that Game 162 was due to begin in a few hours.

The media was armed with reflective questions on the season. The pain and disappointment of falling out of the wild card race. The pride and joy of lasting until the morning of Oct. 1. When it dawned on the team that it could win. What needs to be done to improve in 2023.

The Orioles were preparing for Game 158.

Elimination felt like the end, but the Orioles want to claim their weekend series in the Bronx and return home to fans who should salute them. And hop on flights Wednesday night or Thursday morning as the first Orioles team to finish above .500 since 2016.

They’re only guaranteed to be .500 with their 81 victories.

Eighty-two would be sweet.

What we heard yesterday was predictable. Seattle’s walk-off win stung them. They won’t view the season as a disappointment after the entire universe tabbed them to lose at least 100 games, but it hurt to be eliminated. The reality smacked them hard.

Hopes were raised as the comebacks mounted against good teams, which set them up for a mighty fall.

Life can be cruel. The baseball world can aim for the midsection and connect below the belt.

Also confirmed again is how Jordan Lyles would like to return, which only requires the Orioles to pick up his $11 million option – a big, fat “no” in past years with the team slashing payroll, but a logical consideration now.

He wants to stay with the Orioles. Teammates hope that he does. Manager Brandon Hyde said, “If we didn’t have Jordan Lyles this year, I don’t know what we would have done.”

“Lyles is a machine,” said outfielder Austin Hays. “The guy goes out there and just crushes seven innings every start.”

Lyles and two other veterans signed to contracts over the winter, second baseman Rougned Odor and catcher Robinson Chirinos, are credited with tightening the bonds inside the clubhouse. They were the undisputed leaders. And Lyles made the biggest contributions on the field, though Odor had a few big hits in the late innings and Chirinos was a terrific mentor and example-setter for Adley Rutschman.

“I think a big part of it was just the clubhouse culture and some of the things that we were doing here as a team,” Hays said. “You could see the relationships building, and as the relationships between one another started to build, the chemistry of the team started to build. It was showing on the field, and I think a big part of that was Lyles, Chirinos and Roogie, and just the culture that they were creating for some of us younger guys that didn’t have a ton of experience.

“They created a good culture. And then we had a lot of guys who just went out and performed really, really well. So, I think it was just both parts. What was going on in the clubhouse was showing up out there on the field.”

A little louder for the people in the back who don’t think chemistry matters.

Lyles seems to be the most likely of the three to return, but again, it’s going to cost $11 million. The Orioles could check on younger backup catchers. And though they might want to bring in a veteran infielder, they’ll need to make room for some prospects who are ready to debut in 2023.

Who is poised to lead if the trio breaks up?

“Having guys like Lyles, Chirinos, Odor, who come from winning backgrounds, they know what it takes to have a good culture and win, and that was huge for us this year,” said outfielder Anthony Santander, who is qualified based on tenure, production and popularity.

“I’ve been able to learn plenty from them,” Santander continued via interpreter Brandon Quinones. “So, coming into next year, hopefully I’ll be able to be around the entire season, as well, and that’s something I hope to carry over next season, to continue that great chemistry, to continue that camaraderie that we built this year. I think it’s really important for us to have, so that’s something I’ll look forward to taking from them.”

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