Something had to be done. Or more to the point, some things needed to be said.
The Orioles kept losing, constructing a streak that threatened to produce a team-wide breakdown. Aggression also was lost, as a few veterans noticed, perhaps out of fear that a mistake would only compound the problem.
What had to be understood, and quickly, is that there’s no way out when always playing it safe.
A clubhouse that slants toward youth and inexperience needed a leader to step up. As expected, the first player to speak was the one who couldn’t do it in 2020.
Trey Mancini is back in the lineup after spending last summer undergoing chemotherapy treatments. Just as important to the Orioles, he’s inside the clubhouse and the first choice to address teammates and send a message.
Manager Brandon Hyde called his own meeting as the losing streak reached 14 games and the calendar flipped to June. But the players went first.
Mancini can’t remember whether the Orioles lost nine or 10 games in a row before he spoke. Other details are kept private or dispersed in droplets - what happens in the clubhouse stays there - but the theme is simple to grasp.
“I think especially with Hyder’s talk, that really resonated with the guys and things like that,” Mancini said over the weekend. “We also had one (meeting) and basically I wanted to let the guys know that we just have such a great opportunity. We’re doing what we’ve wanted to do our entire lives and we should take full advantage of it. So that was mostly the gist of that. But it was time.
“Obviously, we had been struggling and we had lost a lot of leads in games. We’d get out to an early lead, but as an offense we weren’t staying on the gas pedal really. We were playing timid at times, I thought, so I just wanted to say a few things and I felt like it was the time to do it. And so did a few of the other guys, too.”
“I’d say they were very much involved in it, too,” Mancini recalled.
“They were talking a lot to our younger players,” Hyde said. “Freddy is always talking to our players and Matt was chipping in also. And Trey is becoming a really nice clubhouse leader. So we have a nice little group there that did a good job of kind of getting our guys together, hanging out a little bit after games, which was nice to see, talking baseball. Those three guys were really the key guys in our clubhouse to keep the good environment.”
Mancini has a much longer tenure than Galvis and Harvey, who signed contracts over the winter. He’s also the de facto union representative with Chris Davis at home recovering from hip surgery.
No one commands more respect than Mancini. A title isn’t needed to justify his role or get the players’ attention.
The Orioles rattled off three consecutive victories before losing to the Indians Saturday afternoon, when ace John Means left in the first inning with a strained shoulder. They dropped seven games during their skid, which began after Means’ no-hitter on May 5, by margins of two runs or fewer.
“It was a really weird streak in the sense that, if you look at the scores of the games, a lot of them were very close. We were winning in, I would say, almost half of them at some point, and it was just strange,” Mancini said.
“Obviously, you’ve got to be not playing your best whenever you lose 14 straight. That’s culprit No. 1, I’d say. But you also have to have things not go your way. I feel like any big spot the other team came through and we didn’t, and there was like a big spot in every one of those games and the pendulum always kind of swung toward the other team in that spot, I feel like, throughout the streak. And it’s hard to break after a little bit. You kind of get used to that happening and you’re almost waiting for it to happen. So the name of the game is washing it, forgetting about it and going out and expecting it to go your way the next time.”
The Orioles have won four of their last five games, including yesterday’s 18-5 blowout at Camden Yards that brought their first back-to-back series wins in the same homestand since May 2018.
Ten players scored for the first time since Sept. 10, 2014 against the Red Sox, when the Orioles were charging toward the division title. Nine players had an RBI to tie the franchise record, most recently done on Sept. 28, 2000 against the Blue Jays.
Those 18 runs were the most since Aug. 16, 2015 against the Athletics.
“Like I said the other day, I think when the calendar turned to June it was a natural reset for us, and that’s when Hyder talked to us,” Mancini said. “It was pretty powerful what he said and I think it resonated with a lot of guys. You just kind of took a deep breath, washed May away, we forgot everything that happened and the last three games (before Saturday) were really fun. The energy has been just noticeably better and it feels like it did at times earlier in the season.”
There are so many moments last summer when Mancini wishes he could have been available to the team, especially on Aug. 27 in St. Petersburg, Fla., when players met for a second time after batting practice and voted to stay off the field and join other athletes protesting racial injustice after the police shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wis. A decision he would have supported, in the loudest voice. The first wave of media questions via Zoom would have been funneled to him.
Losses are so insignificant by comparison, but Mancini is no longer muted on any subject. No longer separated from friends who tried to stay connected with him through video calls during the pandemic and the controversies.
“I feel right back at home, being back and everything, and that’s something else I told the guys,” Mancini said.
“I said I was on my couch watching you in 2020 and I was so proud of the way every single day they played last year. They did a great job and there are times this year where we have done that, especially earlier on in the year, through that West Coast trip, but then after that we weren’t really playing the same way and we were playing a little more timid and things like that. So I wanted to let them know that I was watching as a fan last year and it was really fun to watch, so I really wanted to be a part of that.”
No one is quicker to defend his manager than Mancini, though he’s probably had more opportunities to do it. The social media bluster that Hyde could be on the hot seat in the third year of the rebuild steams Mancini and teammates.
“I think he’s done an incredible job,” Mancini said. “He was tasked with leading a really inexperienced team and we’re still pretty inexperienced, I’d say. We’re a little more experienced than two years ago in some sense, but at the same time whenever you’re going through a full rebuild like we are and we really started from the ground up after 2018, it’s a completely different team now. So it’s a tough job, but I think Hyder has navigated it extremely well.
“He comes to the park every day and he’s the same guy. All he ever asks of us is to play hard and the guys play for him, love competing for him and playing for him, and I think that’s a sign of a great manager. Certainly every day he has the respect of our team and we want to play well for him.”
Like they’re doing in the first week of June.