MIKE BURKE

Allegany Communications Sports­­

The day after the Baltimore Ravens’ latest absurd loss, this one 33-31 to the Cleveland Browns after leading by 14 points in the fourth quarter, head coach John Harbaugh once more discovered his inner Clouseau in deducing, “If we finished strong in every game we’d be undefeated.”

In the immortal words of Charles E. Lattimer, “Nooooooohh …” ah, never mind.

What led Harbaugh to this epiphany? I wonder …

Since the start of the 2022 season, the Ravens have six losses after having double-digit leads, which is the most in the NFL.

Since 2021, the Ravens have nine losses after having had at least a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, which is the most in the NFL.

Since 2021, the Ravens have 10 losses after they’ve led entering the fourth quarter, which is the most in the NFL.

“Can’t panic and get all upset about one game,” Harbaugh said. “It’s a long season. You have games like this.”

You have games like this? Yeah, in Baltimore the Ravens have made it an art form three or four times a year under the Harbs watch. Can’t panic and get all upset about one game? Seven of the Ravens’ last 10 regular-season losses dating back to last year have come after the Ravens blew two-possession leads. This season, the Ravens have blown leads in all three of their losses, including two with double-digit leads.

If we finished strong in every game we’d be undefeated?

“If, dog, rabbit,” as my sainted mother used to say. Or, as the sainted Morgan Wootten used to say, “’If’ is the biggest word in the world.”

In Baltimore it appears to be a coaching point.

Meanwhile, there is good news for Baltimore, as Gunnar Henderson was unanimously voted the American League Rookie of the Year by the Baseball Writers Association of America and manager Brandon Hyde was voted AL Manager of the Year one week after general manager Mike Elias was voted Major League Executive of the Year.

Henderson is the Orioles’ seventh Rookie of the Year and the first since reliever Gregg Olson in 1989; and because Henderson’s honor comes after the former top prospect spent all year in the majors, the Orioles will receive an extra draft pick after 2024’s first round. That pick will come one pick before the Orioles’ Competitive Balance Round A pick, which means a team that just won 101 games will have three draft picks before the second round.

I don’t know why, but I know with the way the Orioles draft, this is a good thing.

Henderson was absolutely sensational for the Orioles in 2023, and in a season of the entire 40-man roster contributing to an AL-best 101 wins and the O’s first East Division crown since 2014, Henderson was the difference maker.

Splitting his time between third base and shortstop, he overcame early throwing issues to become a dynamic defender at two infield positions, ranking third among AL shortstops with 10 defensive runs saved in 64 starts and three runs saved at third base in 68 starts.

Offensively, it seemed all he did was produce extra-base hits with 28 homers, 29 doubles, nine triples, 82 RBIs and 100 runs.

Though he also started the season in a funk at the plate, hitting just .170 through mid-May, it was clear that it would be only a matter of time before he took off, just as it had been clear in 1982 when rookie Cal Ripken Jr. followed a 3-for-5 Opening Day by going 4-for-63. Henderson hit .320 with a .994 OPS in the month of June to win AL Rookie of the Month and never looked back, and his 66 extra-base hits were the most ever by an Orioles rookie, topping Ripken’s 65 in his Rookie of the Year season of 1982.

Hyde, who is just the second manager in Orioles history to skipper a 100-win team in a season (Earl Weaver did it five times) has been the bedrock of the Orioles’ rebuild, having been hired to manage the club after the 47-115 season of 2018.

Things were as bad as they were promised to be, but under Hyde’s strong and steady hand, the club eventually climbed from 110 losses to 101 wins in two years to earn the organization’s first playoff appearance since 2016.

Despite a 3-0 sweep to eventual World Series champion Texas it was a remarkable Orioles season in every respect, as Hyde guided the team to the championship of baseball’s toughest division with baseball’s second-smallest payroll. He served as the perfect leader for a resilient team that produced 48 comeback wins, never lost more than four consecutive games and never was swept during the regular season.

It’s comforting to know that somebody in Baltimore actually knows what the heck they’re doing.

Just 136 days until Opening Day.

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