Last Thursday I went to what could be considered the best sporting event I’ve ever attended. Here are some photos.
But first, some context: For those unaware, the Baltimore Orioles are on par for their first winning season since 1997, back when Fulham was in League One and Mohammed Al-Fayed just purchased the club. Not only that, they’re in a pennant race with the New York Yankees and the Tampa Bay Rays. Going into Thursdays game, the Orioles were just one game back from the Yankees for the division, and clinging onto a wild card spot. A win and they’d be tied for the AL East.
Going into the season, the Orioles were projected by pretty much every pundit to lose about 90 games. During the offseason they hired a GM who last held a job in George W. Bush’s first term. I couldn’t name their starting lineup heading into opening day. Anticipation was quite low. So, no one saw this season coming.
Thursday was also a night to commemorate the greatest Oriole ever and my childhood hero: Cal Ripken Jr. All season the Orioles organization has been unveiling bronze statues of its greatest players and managers: Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Earl Weaver, Eddie Murray, Jim Palmer, and Cal. Imagine if Johnny Haynes had been alive for his statue unveiling; it would have been a similar raucous atmosphere. Take one part unbelievable pennant race and one part celebration of a player who breaking Lou Gehrig’s 56 year old record for consecutive games played, and you had a sold out Camden Yards.
(I should note that whereas weeks prior it was barely managing 12,000 attendance, Thursday had a capacity crowd of 46,298. And a majority were actually Orioles fans; Camden Yards often has capacity crowds when the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, and other come to town. But it’s often filled with those fans. Sort of like a Wigan-United match).
So on Wednesday evening when my friend calls me, offering a ticket four rows back from the Orioles dugout, I hopped on it. I had to. Enough of my typing, here are the photos:
Cal threw out the first pitch from the actual pitcher’s mound, not at the front of the dirt where most people do. We celebrated. Also note the only man sitting down: that’s legendary Orioles manager Earl Weaver. When we walked onto the field, he kicked dirt over the pristine home plate, like he used to so many times before. We celebrated.
Game time! Beer time! That’s “Fancy” Clancy Haskett. He’s such a storied presence at Camden Yards a documentary was made about him. He usually sells around the higher priced sections, so I don’t seem him around often. Needless to say I had to a buy that $8 Natty Boh.
The Orioles raced out to a 4-0 lead in the first inning, thanks to some wonderful hitting and a balk (hah!) by the starting Yankees pitcher. It was only the first inning, the stadium was unlike anything I had seen before. There were so many people I couldn’t get any cell phone reception; my buddy missed a text from a friend that was waiting outside for his ticket.
Also, ace pitcher Jason Hammel was returning from a lengthy leg injury just in time for the playoff run. That’s him pitching to Alex Rodriguez (and look at all the fans!!!)
Here’s the Oriole bird hugging his dancing partner after the 7th inning stretch. The Orioles always play John Denver’s “Thank God I’m a Country Boy“, which really makes zero sense as Baltimore is not the “country”, nor does it have a rural history like the rest of the state (it was a big port and factory town). Nonetheless, a football club should adopt this.
Anyway, my point is that the stadium was still electric. The O’s were taking a 6-1 lead into the 8th. Confidence was high. But then the Yankees played like THE YANKEES, and scored a run in the top of the 8th. Manager Buck Showalter left reliever Randy Wolf, who had been filling in quite well for the prior two innings, in too long. Despite there being two out, there runners were on first and second, and the score only 6-2.
And so out came releiver Pedro Strop: a talented player but also a headcase and a stress inducer. He could strike out the side but he’d still give you a heart attack.
Strop proceeded to give up a single, throw a wild pitch, walk a batter, walk another batter (and thus the 4th Yankees run), and then give up a single that would score two more Yankees. So, after leading 6-1 in the top of the 8th with two out, the game was now tied 6-6. Balls.
Like he had with Wolf, Buck left Strop in for far too long. The mood, a little on edge when Wolf was relieved too late, turned quite sour when Strop was finally taken out. This is him walking to the dugout, dejected.
Thankfully rhe very next batter popped out to end the Yankee rally. But the damage had been done. What was shaping up to be a historical night was going to be a historic collapse.
The stadium was still in a rather negative mood, and next Oriole batter Adam Jones, the team MVP, quickly found himself down two strikes. Oh brother. Here we go again.
But then things changed with the next pitch: Jones crushed a solo homer to left field. Just like that, the Orioles were back on top, 7-6. Hooray!
The next batter, Matt Weiters, singled to left. After him Mark Reynolds, a player that was so maddeningly inconsistent and error prone that he was just days away from being traded in July, continued his miraculous form and hit a homer to left field: his second home run of the evening and eighth in seven games. O’s up 9-6. Jubilation!
The Yankees changed pitchers, but it made no difference. The very next pitch, the first by Yankee reliever Boone Logan, was hit to right field by designated hitter Chris Davis (who had a rather poor night up to this point). Back it went until it was gone. Home Run. 10-6 Orioles and zero outs. Pandemonium!
There’s no photos of this particular part of the narrative as I was too busy celebrating and high fiving and screaming in joy. I did manage to take this shot though: the scoreboard read “O-Mazing”. It truly was.
The Orioles would cling to the 10-6 lead and win the game. They were tied for first. It was well after 10pm. The stadium was still full. What the heck is happening?!?
And so concluded the greatest game I’ve ever been to. It had it all: drama, home runs, blown leads, emphatic play, hereos honored, dancing Orioles, Natty Boh…
The Orioles would go on to split the weekend series with Yankees: they lost on Friday, won on a blown call Saturday (WHO CARES!), and got shelled on Sunday. They’be now 1 GB behind New York for the AL East, back to where they were on Thursday morning. There’s still 22 games left.
And this is the magic, and also the problem, of baseball: how one game, often lost in the marathon that is the 162 game season, can become so memorable yet be quickly forgotten.
We’ll always remember and discuss a football result because they only happen once a week. Baseball? Barely enough time before the next one begins.