Forget the future, O’s can have the now

MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

Seven years ago last Wednesday, Toronto Blue Jays slugger Edwin Encarnacion belted a walk-off three-run homer off the most unlikely 11th-inning reliever, Ubaldo Jimenez, to give the Blue Jays a 5-2 win over the Baltimore Orioles in the American League Wild-Card game.

Though to this day there is no rhyme nor reason as to why Orioles manager Buck Showalter went with Jimenez rather than Zack Britton, the game’s best closer at the time, the playoff appearance did mark the Orioles’ third postseason appearance in five years after they had gone the previous 15 years without as much as a whiff of the postseason.

Disappointed and flabbergasted as they were (and remain), Orioles fans still believed the Orioles’ contending ways and their postseason runs would continue under Showalter, for Buck had righted the ship for good.

Little did we know, nor did we suspect, this game seven years ago marked the last postseason appearance by the Orioles and the beginning of the end of the Showalter era. It also provided a classic example of why you never assume in baseball or take anything for granted as to what the future may bring, for baseball, after all, is life.

The postseason drought ends Saturday afternoon for the Orioles, as they open a best-of-five American League Division Series at Camden Yards against the Texas Rangers. The Orioles, with the best regular-season record in the American League, and kings of the mighty American League East, will find themselves to be the only AL East team standing, as the 99-win Tampa Bay Rays and the enigmatic Toronto Blue Jays were bid Happy Trails by the Rangers and the Minnesota Twins in two-game sweeps.

Again, take nothing for granted. As creative and as good as they are, the Rays were unable to overcome the injuries to their starting pitching, not to mention a rejuvenated Rangers team, guided by a Hall of Fame manager with three rings, that just reminded the baseball world they carried the best record in the American League themselves for the first half of the season.

The Blue Jays? Despite all of the entering-their-prime talent, they are dark and cryptic, volatile and vague all at once. Nothing the Blue Jays do, such as their terrific late-season run to the postseason, will surprise; anything they fail to do, and the list is growing, fails to elicit a response. The Toronto Blue Jays are Newman not delivering in the rain.

As for the Orioles, though 101 wins should have and did draw the attention of the baseball world, Saturday will mark the official coming out of this young and talented nucleus for what Orioles general manager Mike Elias sees as the start of deep postseason runs for years to come.

The Orioles are talented, versatile and flat-out good at the big-league level and at all levels below in their farm system. It’s the playoffs. It’s the spotlight, played in front of a fanbase that has been starving for The Way We Were; and from here on in, the entire nation will be watching.

The future is said to be bright, but this team has become so good so fast that it’s important not to forget the future is actually now.

There is a dangerous for-granted feeling amongst the fanbase that since the Orioles are so young and loaded with big-time talent throughout the organization that this is just the start, because they’re surely going to be in the hunt from here on in.

Maybe they will be. But just because it has been that way for the Houston Astros, doesn’t mean it’s going to be that way for the Baltimore Orioles. It doesn’t work that way.

Teams that are thought to have nothing but seashells and balloons ahead of them often have their seashells washed back to sea and their balloons popped. Weren’t the Orioles supposed to keep rolling under Buck? Weren’t the Padres supposed to dominate every year? Anybody see those mysterious Blue Jays?

Given how the Orioles took control of the best division in baseball with the Yankees and the Red Sox out of the way, and how they surged to the top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs, this might be the best chance the Orioles and their future have to win it all.

The Orioles will miss closer Felix Bautista very much, but they are healthy everywhere else, including in a long bullpen; and after seven years of rebuild, you don’t think the Camden Yards crowd is going to explode at the first hint of a Delmon Young moment?

The crowds will be on every pitch of every game in Baltimore, and the Orioles are facing a Rangers team that mashes the baseball but has an extremely thin pitching staff, particularly in the bullpen.

The Orioles don’t have to look to the future for a great chance to win the World Series. The Orioles have a great chance to win one right now.

Take nothing for granted. The future is now.

Mike Burke writes about sports and other stuff for Allegany Communications. He began covering sports for the Prince George’s Sentinel in 1981 and joined the Cumberland Times-News sports staff in 1984, serving as sports editor for over 30 years. Contact him at [email protected] and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBurkeMDT