KANSAS CITY - It’s never easy to say goodbye. To teammates, coaches and especially a season.
Players hugged each other in the Orioles clubhouse following a 2-1 loss in Game 4 that completed the Royals’ sweep of the American League Championship Series. Pitching coach Dave Wallace made sure to approach everyone on his staff, shaking hands and embracing guys who needed it. Executive vice president Dan Duquette also worked the room, approaching every player at his locker.
Manager Buck Showalter’s eyes were moist as he sat down in the interview room after speaking to his team. Later, Royals manager Ned Yost stopped inside the clubhouse and shook his hand.
How long does it take for the disappointment to fade and allow him to sit back and appreciate how much the Orioles achieved in 2014?
“I don’t know. I’ll let you know when it fades. What do you think? I don’t know,” Showalter said.
“It’s disappointing and frustrating. Not frustrating, but disappointing for our guys and our fans. It’s not like something we didn’t do. It was more of what they did. And it wasn’t like somebody wanted it more than somebody else.
“It’s just, you saw how close the games were. And it’s more a testament of what they did. They were playing great defensively. I congratulate them. Ned did a great job, and the whole organization. They get a chance to represent the American League in the World Series and we wish them well. But through it, we got some good things done. We reminded the country what a great baseball city and city in general Baltimore is. I feel good about that. Some people kind of know our secret, so to speak. So there’s a lot of positive things there. But it’s kind of shallow.
“There’s so many things that during the year, it’s just an unspoken word, a look at each other. There’s a real respect for each other. And like I just told them, the game’s not always fair. Someone’s going to be extremely disappointed. It’s our guys. When you put that much time and effort into something, then it’s done, so close...”
The Orioles lost four games by a total of six runs, which has to intensify the hurt.
“That’s part of it, but whether it’s one or 100, it still has the same sting. And just like Detroit felt, just like Oakland felt,” Showalter said.
“Like I said, there’s going to be 29 disappointed teams when this season is over. The emotion is there, like you all saw. I didn’t wait around to see (the celebration). I knew what it was going to be for them, to accomplish, a team, a city, a group of fans and an organization’s hopes. It’s just a testament to what a group of young men can do when everybody is pulling on the same rope. But my support and my love of our guys is unconditional. They didn’t have to win a World Series for me to feel differently about them.”
Showalter won his first series, reaching his first ALCS, but his thoughts today weren’t centered on himself.
“I’m not saying this because supposedly it’s the right thing to say. My emotion is for the players and the organization and the fans, because I keep thinking about something I or we could have done differently. That’s what you think about,” Showalter said.
“If you care like our people care, it hurts, and that’s why I know how much it hurts those guys and our fans. They’ve been there through thick and thin for us in Baltimore. The support of ownership has been there. Really feel bad about disappointing them and not be able to get over the hump and roll the dice again.
“You see how close the margin is. We pitched so well again today. Just the two runs they scored, they didn’t hit a ball out of the infield. Some of that was self-inflicted. Steve (Pearce) made a good choice because where Caleb (Joseph) has to set up nowadays, it makes it tougher to tag outs.”
Perhaps this experience will make the Orioles a better team in 2015.
“You know, there’s so many roads to cross to get here, and it’s not always health,” Showalter said. “The things that we overcame on paper, we didn’t look at it like that. We said, ‘OK, this is why we do this.’ And to answer your question, it can’t hurt. But it’s about players and talent and doing the right thing consistently over a long period of time. And holding themselves to a high standard on and off the field. There’s so many things that have to happen for you to get a chance at this. So, we’ll start over again. I know Dan and I will meet tomorrow and get moving to figure out a way to get back here again.”
Will Nelson Cruz be with them?
Cruz is a pending free agent who is seeking a long-term deal. The Orioles are expected to make him a qualifying offer and stay away from deals ranging from three to five years.
Cruz said he’d like to return, and the Orioles making it to the ALCS strengthened those feelings.
“I want to come back, no doubt. Just wait and see what happens,” he said. “I love the clubhouse, I love all my teammates. The whole organization is great from top to bottom. Even the guys you don’t see every day, they treat us the right way and makes your transition here, makes every game more easy for you. They find a way to get it done. I appreciate that.”
Cruz had a chance to deliver the tying run with two outs in the sixth, but his line drive was hit directly at Royals second baseman Omar Infante.
“I hit it pretty good,” Cruz said. “It was right at Infante. It’s baseball. Sometimes, it goes your way, sometimes it doesn’t.”
It was a microcosm of the entire series.
“It was close,” Cruz said. “They don’t do anything wrong. They don’t miss any plays. Everything they do was right.
“I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates. We lost key players and everybody was pointing like, we’re not going to make it because we lost those guys. And the guys that came up did an amazing job. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
Pearce appreciates everything the Orioles accomplished, but as he said, “It’s so painful right now.”
“We did a good job in Detroit. Kansas City, they’re a good team and a tough team and it kind of hurts a little bit,” he said.
“They’re a good team. It’s just shocking we didn’t get any off them. Just credit their guys. They had timely hits, they took advantage of opportunities and we didn’t. That’s why they’re going to the World Series.
“A loss is a loss, but we’re one hit away every single game. It’s tough when we’ve come this far and if one break could have gone our way, we’d still be playing.”
If one line drive or deep fly ball could have eluded the Royals.
“You sort of laugh after a while,” Pearce said. “It’s frustrating. They have good pitching and that’s what made it more frustrating because you’re battling as hard as you can up there and you’re hitting good pitches and you’re hitting them hard and they’re just going right at somebody. It’s frustrating.”
Asked to sum up the season, Pearce said, “We had a great bunch of guys. We fought together and it was fun. It was a fun group of guys. We leaned on each other and we went through a lot of adversity together and that’s why we made it here. We relied on everybody and that’s what good teams do.”
The adversity included Chris Davis’ 25-game suspension. He’s got one game remaining, which will keep him off the field for opening day.
Davis declined to be interviewed after Game 4. Approached by a small group of reporters after getting dressed at his locker, he said, “I don’t think so, guys. I’ve still got one game left.”
Showalter won’t take more than a few hours before plotting how to get back to the postseason.
“I guarantee you, we’ll do everything possible to try to give them and the organization and our fans this opportunity again,” he said. “I can promise you that.”