Adley Rutschman sat with a smile on his face for most of his 11 ½-minute session with the media yesterday. Happy to be in the playoffs. Able to enjoy the attention and focus that he usually tries to deflect. Thrilled to talk about his teammates and how they got here.
“I'm super excited,” he said. “This is a complete blessing to have an opportunity like this to play postseason baseball with a great group of guys in the stadium with an electric atmosphere. There's nothing more you can really ask for. The opportunity to do something like this is amazing. You kind of cherish it.”
“That's why I'm smiling,” he added, “and I just crushed a cold brew, so …”
Catcher turned caffeinated comedian.
If the Orioles are nervous about playing in the Division Series, with Game 1 today at 1:07 p.m., they’re doing a marvelous job of hiding it.
Nothing in view yesterday hinted at feelings of anxiety or stress. They did the usual joking around, like shortstop Jorge Mateo walking up to Ramón Urías’ locker as the infielder spoke to a reporter, leaning in close to listen and maybe try to rattle him.
How did Urías do?
Mateo smiled, nodded and hung with his friend. A passing grade.
“I’ve never seen these guys being overwhelmed where they are,” Urías said. “We’re young, but I’ve never seen these guys getting nervous for what is in front of them. These guys have prepared for it, they’re looking forward to playing baseball at this time, and I think we’re ready for it.”
“I think it’s the same vibe,” said veteran second baseman Adam Frazier. “Everybody knows we’ve got a really good team and knows what we’re capable of, so I haven’t really felt any nerves all year long, to be honest, throughout the clubhouse. Everybody’s confident, and everybody’s confident in each other, too. We know what we’ve got. We play clean baseball, we can come out of this thing on top.”
The clubhouse was overrun by media prior to workout day. A player walked into the room and didn’t make it to his locker before a crowd gathered. Cameramen jostled for position. Microphones were stuck in faces.
Every Oriole subjected to it smiled and was accommodating, the price of doing playoff business. One reporter stepped back or a cluster dispersed, and someone else approached with a request for a few minutes.
A loose bunch hasn’t tightened under the pressure.
“I don’t think anything’s changed with these guys,” said pitcher Jack Flaherty. “We’ve played in some big games this year. A couple series that we played in in August and September. The Rays series. You can say that playoff atmosphere is different. I think that’s what people want to say, but the atmosphere of those three games – Friday, Saturday, Sunday – was crazy. I think the Astros series we played in was very similar. And these guys are just going about their business, going about their work. It’s great to see.
“And the game doesn’t change. They didn’t change the rules or anything.”
This is where Flaherty unintentionally conjures up images of the film “Hoosiers,” with Gene Hackman portraying an Indiana high school basketball coach, calming his small-town Hickory team that’s in awe of the arena that’s the setting for the state championship game. Hackman instructs his players to use a tape measure to show that the dimensions from backboard to foul line and rim to floor are identical to their modest gymnasium back home.
“Talked to (Kyle) Bradish about it the other day,” Flaherty said of the Orioles’ playoff situation. “It’s still three strikes and four balls, and the plate is still 60 feet and six inches away. Bases are all the same. They didn’t move the fences in or out. You just remember that the game in of itself is still the same.
“Everything around, from media and whatnot, all that is different, but nothing about that is going to affect the way that you go out there and play.”
Bradish was the expected Game 1 starter and manager Brandon Hyde didn’t disappoint. Never overthink the obvious choice.
“He always had the pure stuff, but honestly, that sinker he added just opened everything else up,” said reliever Danny Coulombe. “He’s got the ability to be an ace in this league and I think he’s shown it this year. And I don’t think he’s scratched the surface, yet. I think he can get even better. He’s got an ace personality. He really wants the ball, he wants to go deep in games. He’s pretty good.”
The same reasons why the Orioles are the top seed in the American League gives them the confidence to win three more series.
It starts today.
“I think the best thing is we're all friends, having that bond in the clubhouse, the culture that Hyde and everybody else has kind of created. And then just the talent that we have on the team through the free agents that we brought in to the younger guys that came up,” Bradish said.
“I think you see a complete team that actually pulls for each other, no matter what.”