This week brought some of the best moments of the Orioles' 2011 season. On Monday, they beat a detested foe, the Red Sox, in a home game -- and in doing so forced Boston, recently the clear leader in the American League wild card race, into a tie with the Tampa Bay Rays for that spot. Designated hitter and future Hall-of-Famer Vladimir Guerrero, with a single in the sixth inning, became the all-time hit leader among players from the Dominican Republic. And Robert Andino, who has been filling in for the ailing Brian Roberts at second base, capped a surprisingly productive season with a thrilling inside-the-park home run.
Then, at the stroke of midnight Wednesday, they bested that feat with a come-from-behind victory in the bottom of the ninth, ending the Red Sox' playoff hopes. Mr. Andino was again the hero, driving in the winning run off Boston closerJonathan Papelbon.
That said, those were high points in a season of far too many lows. This, after all, was supposed to be the year when things began to turn around for the Orioles after 13 consecutive losing campaigns. Unlike so many other seasons over the past decade, this one started with justifiably high hopes: a beefed-up batting order featuring several proven sluggers; a talented young pitching staff seemingly poised to blossom; good vibrations left over from the end of last year, when the team had a year-end surge under new Manager Buck Showalter. Andy MacPhail, the president of baseball operations, declared that the painful "rebuilding" process of recent years was essentially over; success would no longer be measured in the progress of individual players but by what matters most to fans: wins and losses.
We all know by now how that turned out. Thanks to another September surge, the Orioles finished the season with 69 wins and 93 losses, a better record than last year — but only slightly better. Again, they are in last place, more than 20 games below .500. Again, they are one of the worst teams in baseball. Again, we are left to wring a bit of comfort out of the continued progress of young stars-in-the-making such as Matt Wieters andAdam Jones.
What went wrong? It's a familiar litany. Young pitchers expected to take big steps forward too often strode in the opposite direction. Injuries marred the seasons of several of the team's top players. Veterans brought in to boost the lineup and provide a mature presence failed to live up to expectations — in some cases (such as erstwhile closer Kevin Gregg) disastrously so.
One immediate result of all this is likely to be the departure of Mr. MacPhail, a respected executive who perhaps was not quite up to the task of reassembling this Humpty-Dumpty of a team; changes could be announced as soon as Thursday. Whoever leads the Orioles into the future will need energy, skill and luck in unusual quantities.
Local baseball devotees will spend the offseason analyzing the organization's deficiencies, said to range from an underperforming player development system to a feckless owner. Such things, of course, are beyond our control. All we can really do is put another disappointing season behind us and look forward to spring training with the irrational optimism that characterizes the clinically insane and the 21st century Baltimore Orioles fan.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun