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Buck Showalter is in the hunt for AL Manager of the Year

The grind of the baseball season had just hit Memorial Day and the Orioles were struggling. They had lost six straight in tough-luck fashion, including a three-game sweep in Toronto.

The bats were struggling, pitchers were frustrated and Orioles manager Buck Showalter called his team together for a meeting that many players pointed to months later as a testament to their skipper's ability to get the most of his club.

Instead of a fiery speech, Showalter inspired his team with calm.

"It was a two-minute special," Showalter said. "I think they were expecting something else, but I just felt they didn't need it. When I walked away and I saw what happened that whole day, I took a deep breath because I knew that's what that team needed versus the other thing. It didn't need what's typically done there. It was just, 'I trust you. It's one of those bumps in the road. I'm only going to get [angry] if you give in to it.'"

It was just one example of how Showalter helped turn the Orioles into a winner in his second full season as manager. Selected by many to be the AL East doormat, the Orioles went from 93 losses to 93 wins, competed in a pennant chase, made the postseason for the first time in 15 years and came within one win of beating the New York Yankees in the American League Division Series.

As a result of his leadership, Showalter could be rewarded Tuesday night with his third AL Manager of the Year Award. He's won the award following the strike-shortened season of 1994 with the Yankees and then again award in 2002 as manager of the Texas Rangers.

Showalter's success with the Orioles is the latest in an established managerial career, where he quickly made winners of the Yankees, Arizona Diamondbacks and Rangers — all within his second full season at the helm.

This season, Showalter's main competition is Oakland's Bob Melvin, who led the A's to an unlikely American League West division crown won on the final game of the regular season. White Sox rookie manager Robin Ventura is the third finalist, but the race between Showalter and Melvin appears to be the tightest in years.

Only once since 2004 have two AL managers received double-digit first-place votes and it could happen again this year with votes split between coasts..

Oakland built a winner in the competitive AL West despite financial restraints — their $55.37 million payroll was the second lowest in baseball — overcoming big-money rosters of the Rangers and Angels to win the division.

But Showalter overcame injury and adversity, shuffling through 52 different players, including just one pitcher — rookie left-hander Wei-Yin Chen — who made more than 20 starts in his starting rotation. Through 16 straight extra-inning wins and a 29-9 record in one-run games, he maneuvered his bullpen to perfection. The Orioles went into the second-to-last game of the season with a chance to win an AL East division title.

FoxSports.com senior writer Ken Rosenthal, for one, said he couldn't pick between the two.

"In both cases, virtually no one thought [their success] was possible," Rosenthal said. "So what's better? What's the harder job? In some ways it's Buck's because of the pitching. That would be the one thing. If he wins, that should be in my view, the reason he does win because they patched that rotation. In Oakland's case, yes they had young starters, but extremely talented starters."

Voting for the AL Manager of the Year is done by 28 AL market members of the Baseball Writers Association of America — and the results will be broadcast Tuesday at 6 p.m. on MLB Network.

While BBWAA members aren't supposed to release their votes publicly, one voter selected Showalter for two reasons.

"There was tremendous amount of back and forth between Melvin and Showalter," the voter said. "Obviously both guys were very worthy of it. Both guys did a great job, but to me you kind of get into who did more with less and who did more with the context of their situation.

"I think that Buck did more with less in terms of putting the team together and the incredible number of players they ran through and getting contributions from guys like [Nate] McLouth and Lew Ford and those guys and secondly, he did it in the American League East. I know the AL West had a great year and there were three good teams there, but it's still the American League East."

Orioles first baseman Mark Reynolds played for both manager of the year favorites — he played his first 2 1/2 big league seasons under Melvin in Arizona — said that Showalter put his players in situations where the could excel.

"He puts guys where they can succeed," said Reynolds, who blossomed defensively when he was moved from third to first. "He put me at first. He put Jake [Arrietta] and [Brian] Matusz and [Tommy] Hunter in the bullpen. Him and Dan brought [rookie] Manny [Machado] up at the right time. He managed Chris Davis in outfield and DH and kept him fresh. He does a lot of things that fans hardly notice."

Reynolds also points to that meeting when the Orioles had lost six in a row as an example of how Showalter pushed the right buttons off the field.

"We came in and most managers would — you'd have a session you really couldn't repeat — but he just told us to keep working hard and keep our heads up and things would work out in the end," Reynolds said. "He didn't panic at any point and that didn't make us panic. He always kept it on an even keel for us."

The only two playoff seasons in Reynolds career came this season under Showalter and during his rookie year of 2007 under Melvin, so he's seen both manage with success.

"[Melvin] and Buck actually have a lot of similarities," Reynolds said. "I think that's why they're in the position they're in. The biggest thing I've noticed about both of them is that they take all the blame. If guys mess up, it's on them. They never shift blame to the team. They always take it on themselves. That's why their job is so hard. They take it on themselves. I think they're two the best in the game."

As for Showalter himself, he considers the award a great honor, but he also shuns the individual accomplishment. If he wins, he would be the third Orioles manager to receive the honor since it began in 1983 and the first since Davey Johnson won it in 1997.

"It's such an organizational award," he said. "It's basically the team that exceeded the expectations the most I guess. That can be true with Oakland or Chicago too."

"A lot of it clicked, I'll be the first to say that," Showalter said of the Orioles success. "But it clicked because of the homework that was done by so many people. I sincerely mean what I say when I say what an organizational award this would be. It doesn't change the way I feel about it. I saw the morale that we had this spring, and it was just a matter of getting a return for that."

eencina@baltsun.com

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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