The Orioles: Remember winning? Remember that?

Getting used to rooting for a contender after all those losing seasons

And just think, Orioles fans, they got this far without Nolan Reimold. Remember him? No. 14. Tall, good-looking guy, 28 years old. Left fielder at the start of the season and the Orioles' lead-off batter to replace the injured Brian Roberts. (Remember him?)

Despite a not-great spring training, Reimold appeared to be headed to the breakout season that some of us — the ones who actually paid attention to the Orioles through so many losing seasons, the ones who foolishly held out hope, year after year, that the Birds would fly again — believed would one day come.

In 16 games, Reimold batted .313, hit five home runs, drove in 10 and even had a stolen base.

Alas, he hasn't played since April.

Reimold had "Peyton Manning surgery" in June at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Dr. Ziya Gokaslan, a neurosurgeon with a specialty in the spine, removed a herniated disk that was placing pressure on a nerve in Reimold's neck. The procedure is called a discectomy. Sportswriters have another term for it: "season-ending."

So the Orioles got this far, into September and a completely unexpected and amazing pennant chase, without Reimold and all that nice promise he once showed.

And that — if you're just catching up and joining our season in progress — is just one of a long list of setbacks that the Birds somehow overcame to have the team's first winning season since the time of Linda Tripp (remember her?), the Howard County woman who secretly recorded conversations with Monica Lewinsky (remember her?) about her relationship with Bill Clinton (remember him?). I hope that provides sufficient historical perspective.

Not only did the Orioles last have a meaningful September/October way back in 1997, but they quickly became a franchise of consistently low expectations, with only a few minor flare-ups of promise along the way.

There were all those seasons of humiliation, with more Red Sox and Yankee fans at Camden Yards than Orioles fans.

We had the American League manager of the year in 1997, but he left town after a long and foolish feud with the team owner. (And a few months later, the team owner brought us Albert Belle. Remember him?)

The Baltimore Ravens soon owned this town.

By May of most seasons, people didn't even talk about the Orioles. You could say 1998-2011 were the wilderness years, the baseball counterpart to the BWCY (Baltimore Without Colts Years) between 1984 and 1995.

Don't get me wrong, we loved the players (OK, except maybe Belle) and even some of the managers (Dave Trembley, remember him?), but there came a point when, with the losing team so TV-revenue-rich and profitable, winning didn't seem to matter.

So, every spring, same thing — hope sprang eternal for about a month maybe. Orioles fans, their ranks diminished, learned to keep their expectations low, or have no expectations at all.

And, the way the 2012 season started, even with the accomplished repairman Buck Showalter in place as manager, no one predicted what we're seeing now, especially after the injuries — Roberts, Reimold, then Nick Markakis (out of the lineup twice, and for the rest of the regular season the second time) and Jason Hammel, the best starting pitcher at the time. Wilson Betemit apparently re-injured his wrist and is out of commission. Mark Reynolds was on the disabled list for a while, too.

You add that to what's there at the bones — a team with a couple of stars, one late-arriving, fabulous rookie and a lot of "undervalued assets" (Nate McLouth?) — and that's why you get to use the word "amazing" when you talk about the 2012 Orioles.

Would the Orioles have walked away with the American League East had all the stars aligned, with everyone, including Nolan Reimold and Brian Roberts, perfectly healthy and productive? Would this race even be close had Brian Matusz and Jake Arrieta lived up to expectations — there's that word again — as starting pitchers?

I don't know.

But I know this: I like how it happened.

I don't like that guys got hurt — especially Markakis, who has been a solid player through six losing seasons — but I like that our team overcame low expectations compounded by bad luck.

I like that the team has been cobbled together — whatever works, whatever wins — by this taciturn, genius manager who keeps finding adequate replacements for his disabled or under-performing players and using them wisely. I like that there have been so many different heroes along the way, that the Orioles don't give up, that they believe they can win. Remember that?

I like that it's September, headed to fall and the good old days when both the Baltimore baseball team and football team made us proud and happy. Remember that? You can't beat that.

dan.rodricks@baltsun.com

 
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