It was one year ago today Baltimore Orioles fans and local media outlets were starting to recognize that there was something special about last year's team.
The day before, on May 6, 2012 the Orioles outlasted the Boston Red Sox in a grueling 17-inning, six-hour epic that just might have been the defining moment and signature victory of the team's remarkable season. Behind a pair of solo home runs by shortstop J.J. Hardy in the first and third innings, and a three-run shot from second baseman Robert Andino in the fourth, the Orioles staked a 5-0 lead which they soon relinquished, allowing the Sox to tie the score at 5-5 after five innings.
Each team pushed a run across in the eighth and the score remained 6-6 through eight more innings.
With the Orioles depleted of available relievers, designated hitter Chris Davis came on to pitch in the bottom of the 16th and recorded two quick outs before Red Sox outfielder Marlon Byrd reached base on an error. Boston shortstop Mike Aviles followed with what looked like a game-ending double, but center fielder Adam Jones retrieved the ball off the wall and threw a perfect relay to shortstop Hardy who fired a strike to catcher Matt Wieters who held on to the ball after a violent collision at the plate to record the third out. Jones hit a three-run homer in the top of the 17th off Boston's Darnell McDonald, who like Davis, began the game as DH but was also called upon to pitch. Davis returned to mound for the Orioles in the bottom of the 17th. After the first two batters reached base on a single and a walk, Davis struck out Red Sox slugger Adrian Gonzalez and induced McDonald to hit into a game-ending double play. The dramatic finish landed the Orioles on the front page of the next day's Baltimore Sun under the headline; "Why not?"
On the same day this year, the Orioles 19-13 record is pretty close to the 20-12 mark the team posted after the same number of games last year, which begs the question; Why not again?
On May 7th last year the Orioles were tied with the Red Sox for first place in the American League's eastern division. May 7th this year finds the Orioles tied with the New York Yankees, two games behind the Red Sox.
The Orioles 17-inning marathon with the Red Sox on May 6th last year was the fourth of what would be 16 straight wins in games that went extra-innings. So far the Orioles are 2-2 in extra-inning games this season but the team has extended its franchise record to 107 consecutive wins when leading after seven innings, a testament to the team's stellar relief corps.
At this time last year, Jason Hamel led Orioles starters with a 4-1 record and a 2.09 ERA in 38 and 2/3 innings pitched. This year Hamel is 5-1, albeit with a 4.10 ERA in 41 innings pitched, but has shown a veteran's mettle even in his rockier outings.
At this time last year Orioles' closer Jim Johnson had converted eight of eight save opportunities and had not given up a run in 10.2 innings pitched. This year Johnson has converted all 11 of his save opportunities with a 1.13 ERA in 16 innings pitched.
At this time last year Chris Davis was leading the team with a .326 batting average with five home runs and 14 RBI. This year Davis is hitting .327 with nine home runs and 30 RBI. This time last year Adam Jones was hitting .299 with seven home runs, 14 RBI and 32 hits. Before Tuesday night's scheduled game with the Kansas City Royals, Jones was hitting .331 with five home runs, 22 RBI and 44 hits. This time last year Manny Machado was a teenage minor-league shortstop still three months shy of making his major league debut. This year Machado looks like the combination of Brooks Robinson and Cal Ripken Jr. reincarnated and the face of the franchise for years to come. This time last year Matt Wieters was the best defensive catcher in the American League and he still is.
This time last year Nate McLouth was hitting .211 as a part-time player in Pittsburgh. Right now McLouth seems to be the Orioles starting left-fielder and lead-off hitter posting a .313 average with nine stolen bases.
Sure the team's got some holes to fill at second base and DH. Veteran right hander Freddy Garcia looked like the answer to fill the fifth spot in the starting rotation in his first outing with the team on Sunday. It's early, only five weeks into the season but if everyone was asking "Why not?" at this time of the year last year, then why not again?