NEW YORK – The realization that the Orioles could be special in 2022, that they had the staying power to contend late into the season, hit some players at different points and for different reasons.
Can’t agree on everything, but can come pretty close sometimes.
Jordan Lyles saw a bullpen filled with unheralded relievers getting important outs and covering bulk innings and felt much better about the club’s direction. The shortened spring training after baseball’s lockout forced managers to reduce the early workload on their starters. The Orioles had a much stronger safety net than anticipated, especially after Cole Sulser and Tanner Scott were traded in March.
Outfielder Austin Hays remembers how it hit him in May.
“We were playing teams really tough, and then the bullpen just started rolling, and anytime we could get them the lead, the bullpen would just come in and close it down. And then our starters grew as the season went on, especially later in the year,” Hays said.
“It just seemed like everybody was getting better throughout the course of the year. As the year was going, you could just see the team growing and guys making adjustments. So, I think we probably noticed it about the second month of the season, seeing we were a lot better than what people were putting on paper.”
Outfielder Anthony Santander had a hunch while the Orioles were playing exhibition games. He was ahead of some others.
His optimism grew stronger when the Orioles won 10 in a row in July. Gut feeling confirmed.
“I think from spring training, from my perspective, I thought we had a really good team going into it.,” he said through interpreter Brandon Quinones. “And then, once we started compiling so much together during that win streak, then it really hit me like, ‘Wow, we have something good going on here.’ So, it’s just building upon that.
“I think that’s when things really started to seem that we were legit.”
Manager Brandon Hyde sensed a turnaround after the series in St. Louis, though the Orioles were swept in Detroit.
They were beat up. Give them a pass.
The Orioles won two of three games in St. Louis, starting Bryan Baker in the finale on May 12 and passing the baton to five relievers. Closer Jorge López was on the bereavement list. Shortstop Jorge Mateo made an over-the-shoulder catch of a Dylan Carlson popup in the ninth inning, spun and threw to first base to double up Tyler O’Neill and preserve a one-run lead.
“We won that day game,” Hyde said. “Baker started. It’s 127 degrees. We had a bullpen day. We’re in St. Louis, trying to win a series. No López, and Mateo makes the play in the ninth. To win that series in St. Louis, me more than anybody knowing how hard it is to win a series in St. Louis, for me that was a great accomplishment.
“Honestly, I don’t even remember what we did after that. But we won that series. For me that was like, we’ve got a chance to be pretty good.”
Good enough to post 82 victories for the first winning season since 2016. With three more games to play at home against the Blue Jays.