Welcome to Opening Day, surely the best day of the season for Orioles fans. Sure, you could sit around and wait until early October to see how this tragic comedy plays out. But you don't have to. The Toy Department has obtained an exclusive advanced copy of the 2009 Orioles season. Spoiler alert: If you don't want to know all the twists and turns that await the Orioles, stop reading now. Seriously, go read Schmuck or something.
A start no one expected, and an ending that couldn't be avoided -- the first month of the Orioles season seemed to have it all.
Opening with a homestand that featured a pair of division front-runners -- the Yankees and the Rays -- many fans were bracing for a repeat of the 1988 team that lost 21 games out of the gate. But Jeremy Guthrie and the Orioles had something else in mind.
The Orioles, in fact, won the opener 9-8, courtesy of Cesar Izturis' walk-off home run. It'd be the only homer he'd hit all season, but more importantly, it gave the Orioles momentum that led to them sweeping both the Yankees and the Rays and spreading a buzz throughout the baseball world.
Unfortunately, in that final win over Tampa, on April 12, the Orioles suffered their first injury of the season – which turned out to be a bad omen for the rest of the month. On April 12, during the seventh-inning stretch, the Oriole Bird climbed atop the dugout to dance to "Thank God I'm a Country Boy," but failed to notice a souvenir miniature bat on the dugout roof. He took a tumble and was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a clipped wing. Almost immediately, message boards and sports talk radio lines lit up to debate the merits of John Denver's folksy anthem. The song was suspended for the remainder of the month.
The next day in Texas, the Orioles debuted their new road uniforms – which finally let opposing teams know precisely from which city this orange-clad group originates – but lost in spectacular fashion. In fact, despite winning the first six games of the season, the Orioles would lose 12 of the month's final 16 games. The only starters who'd pick up wins after that first homestand were Koji Uehara and Alfredo Simon.
T-shirts started popping up across Baltimore with the slogan, "Koji and Alfredo, then pray for a tornado."
What follows are excerpts from postgame news conferences:
May 3 -- Orioles 6, Blue Jays 2: "Well, this is our first two-game win streak since our first homestand of the season. You have to start somewhere. I've been saying that over and over the past three weeks, but I think we've finally decided -- this is where we'll start." -- Manager Dave Trembley
May 8 -- Yankees 8, Orioles 3: "Look, I don't know why our guy plunked Teixeira in the arm. The ball seemed to get away from him. Both times. Besides, our fans didn't seem to mind." -- Trembley
May 12 -- Orioles 5, Rays 1: "Hi, Dave. Nestor Aparacio here, owner of WNST-AM radio station and a totally awesome web site. I got a quick question for..." -- WNST's Aparacio
May 15 -- Royals 9, Orioles 2: "Look Zrebiec, you don't have to tell me how good Wieters is hitting. I get the reports every day. I don't make those decisions. I'm just glad Norfolk is winning games and they have a reliable bat in the lineup. Must be nice." -- Trembley
May 21 -- Orioles 3, Yankees 0: "Geez, I was as surprised as anyone to see Tex take another one in the shoulder. Must be the moisture in the air." -- Trembley
May 25 -- Blue Jays 4, Orioles 1: "Dave, just wondering your thoughts on Willis McGahee?" -- Anita Marks, Sports Radio 105.7
May 31 -- Orioles 8, Tigers 5: "Look, we just won five of seven on this homestand. My pitching staff is held together by duct tape. I'm still trying to memorize some of these guys' names. Am I surprised we just passed the Blue Jays in the standings? No, I'm freakin' amazed." -- Trembley
The following is a transcript of a journal kept by Koji Uehara. It has been faithfully translated from Japanese. Any mistakes are the fault of the translator, who admittedly speaks very little Japanese (blame newspaper budget cutbacks!).
June 1: Wow, Seattle. When I was younger, I could only dream about playing in the famed House That Ichiro Built. Talked to the Big Guy before game, which turned out to be big, big mistake. The flashes from the cameras – cursed Japanese media -- gave me a headache and blurred my vision. Sensei Trembley had to scratch me from tonight's game.
June 9: I wish the Japanese tabloids would stop reporting about me and Madonna. We had dinner once. That is not a crime.
June 13: Baltimore has been such a pleasant and auspicious arena for baseball games. Tonight, though, was an immense disaster. Who's idea was it to pass out 10,000 crab mallets to fans before the game? I hang one slider to Chipper Jones and the next thing I know, tiny hammers are being thrown my way from every direction. I felt like a character in that popular video game from back home, Super Matsui Bros.
June 16: The Enormous Apple!!! Here in New York to play the Metropolitans baseball team. And wow, what a nice stadium. Amazing that a country that can't keep its citizens employed would build such a ballpark and charge its fans so much money for a seat. What a country!
June 21: Crab Mallet Night in Baltimore was nothing. Tonight in Philadelphia, I struck out 15 of the Phillies, pitched all nine innings and gave up just two hits. To show their appreciation, the city of Philadelphia threw batteries at me. Note to self: Must ask translator Niko why "brotherly love" has different meaning in America.
June 23: I will never ever ever ever talk to Madonna again. I can't even begin to explain. Weird-O. Need to talk to Sensei MacPhail about restraining order.
June 29: Red Socks of Boston are back in town. Must be vacation season in Baltimore? Because I don't know where our fanatics are. The stadium is full of Red Socks fanatics. They talk funny.
Orioles' Midseason Report Card, by Peter Schmuck
Brian Roberts: Orioles lone All-Star... clubhouse leader... good OBP... anyone seen the ice cream cart?
Nick Markakis: On pace for 35 HRs... best defensive RF in AL... I tore a hole in one of my Hawaiian shirts, down to 41
Jeremy Guthrie: Passed by Koji as Os most reliable starter... zero bullpen help... Can't believe Roch posted the lineup before me one day last week...
Felix Pie: Top American-born newcomer... needs to work on his swing... must get on base more... Did I mention I'll be WBAL tonight from 6-8?
Melvin Mora: If you're not near your radio, you can listen online at wbal.com...
Chris Ray: If you're not near your computer, call me on my cell and we can just chat, ya know, Orioles, Ravens, movies, ice cream flavors or whatever you want...
Koji Uehara: overheard in Warehouse this month -- "Who would've thought Japanese players could play so well?" ...glad they caught on... saw Roch talking to that crazy shaking lemonade guy... must not let him scoop me on concessions stories... headed to talk to ice cream vendor now...
Adam Jones: Bedard is back on DL in Seattle and this kid is looking like a future All-Star... in last month, he's hot enough to melt ice cream in winter.... mmm.... ice cream...
What follows are actual headlines that accompanied actual news reports that may or may not have actually appeared:
Baltimore Sun, August 1: O's Owner speaks: We're almost there
Boston Globe, August 2: As Sox leave Baltimore, Schilling begs to return
Orioles Hangout, August 4: Should Trembley go?
New York Post, August 10: Tex: Damned Yanks Not What I Signed Up For
MASN.tv, August 11: Wieters getting called up this week, source says
Baltimore Sun, August 14: Wieters 2-3 with HR in Debut
Orioles.com, August 19: Koji wins team-best 13th game
Chicago Tribune, August 21: Before O's Game, Guillen Denounces Everything You Care About
WNST.net, August 23: New Free-the-Birds Protest Planned For Next Week; 10,000 expected
Baltimore Sun, August 27: Radio Stunt Fails; Fans Continue to Protest By Simply Not Showing Up
Orioles.com, August 28: MacPhail entertaining 'handful' of trade offers
MASN.tv, August 29: Baines inducted into Os HOF
baltimoresun.com, August 31: O's Silent Again As Trade Deadline Passes
An ending everyone expected, and a turnout no one could've predicted -- the 2009 season came to a close in the most dramatic of fashions for the Baltimore Orioles.
Though fans had groused and complained all season long, a near-capacity crowd showed up at Camden Yards on Oct. 4 for a chilly afternoon game against the Blue Jays. The Orioles set a new record for the franchise's worst attendance since moving to Camden Yards, but the fans showed up in large numbers on the final day of the season. The reason -- they wanted to see whether the Orioles would lose No. 100.
A lousy season in the standings had been underscored by a series of positive steps: the emergence of Koji as a staff ace, Wieters finishing the season as the team's everyday catcher, minor-league pitchers living up to their billing in Bowie and Norfolk, and a nucleus of Markakis, Jones, Roberts and Wieters providing promise for the future.
Still, the team struggled. Though wins were tough to come by in May and June, by August and September they were almost non-existent. The late collapse was so spectacular that fans actually started trickling out to the ballpark by mid-September to see if they might catch a rare O's win.
The team entered the final game of the season with a 62-99 record. A loss would've marked the club's third 100-loss season and the first since 1988. In an odd twist, the Orioles had lost 20 straight games entering the finale against Toronto -- just one short of the franchise record.
The fans spent much of the afternoon on their feet, cheering each time Jeremy Guthrie had a two-strike count and going bonkers whenever the Orioles had a man in scoring position. Despite the support, the Orioles trailed 2-0 in the bottom of the ninth inning.
Roberts led off the inning with a single and scored on Markakis' double to the right-field corner. Batting in the five-hole, Wieters turned on a 3-1 fastball, blasting it well over the wall for a walk-off, 2-run homer. That was the ball game. It insured the Orioles would lose just 99 in '09.
Fans cheered wildly. They filed out of the stadium abuzz. As they filled barstools and ordered post-game refreshments, not one of them talked about seeing a long season mercifully come to a close. No, to them, the afternoon represented something else.
They were all convinced they had just witnessed the beginning of a new era of Orioles baseball.