Despite disappointment, fans relish season

After cheering on the Orioles at Yankee Stadium, Michael Cochran made it back to his Canton home about 3 a.m. Saturday — just in time to steal a few hours of sleep before waking up at 7 to run a half-marathon in the Baltimore Running Festival.

Cochran said he would have worn his Brian Roberts jersey for the race, but rowdy Yankees' fan spilled beer on him after the Orioles' 3-1 loss to the New York team in Game 5 of the American League Division Series.

"I signed up for the race and made all of these plans, because normally [the Orioles] are done by October," said Cochran, 26. He cleared his schedule to make it to all five games of the playoff series.

"It was inspirational to see the whole city rally behind the Orioles and remember we are an orange city, not just a purple city."

The end of the Orioles' unlikely season — which brought the team's first winning record and first playoff appearance in 15 years — continued to set in Saturday across Baltimore as fans praised the thrilling finish and lamented the team's missed opportunities.

Rick McKethan of Northwood said the team had the talent to go farther.

"They gave the game away; they gave the series away," McKethan said. "Overall, they did a superstar job, but as a team, they didn't hit well."

To Christine Roth, the Orioles brought "the magic back."

"They turned Baltimore back into a baseball town," said Roth, who grew up in Fulton. She lives in Philadelphia but was visiting her family here Saturday. "It's no more 'Fenway South' or 'Yankee South.' They definitely set the bar high for next year. What team doesn't want that feeling after 15 years?"

The Orioles were met by more than 400 fans when they returned to Camden Yards aboard three buses at 12:51 a.m. Saturday. The crowd chanted "Let's go, O's" and yelled "Thank you."

As players got off the bus, several with young children in their arms, they looked tired and drained. But second baseman Robert Andino and relief pitcher Jim Johnson shook hands and gave fans high-fives. Nate McLouth, whose long drive was ruled foul and touched off a controversy, gave fans a smile from ear to ear.

About an hour before the team arrived, fans lined both sides of the driveway leading into the players parking lot outside the stadium.

Among them were Brian and Lisa Burke of Lutherville. When the power went out in their home at 4:50 p.m. Friday, the couple didn't think twice about powering up a generator just so they could watch Game 5. Even after the Orioles lost, they didn't hesitate to put seven children under the age of 12 into a van and head to the stadium to welcome the team home.

Lisa Burke recalls catching games at old Memorial Stadium and said, "I'd get such a warm feeling when I saw the way the fans would go out to the airport to welcome the team home, and I've always wanted to be a part of that."

One of the children the Burkes brought to Camden Yards, Samantha Gatch, 12, of Ellicott City, said she wanted to tell players, "Thank you. You've done a great job and you represented the city really well."

In the clubhouse Saturday afternoon, Orioles players and staff said they were wowed by the welcome.

Reliever Troy Patton, who allowed a home run to Curtis Granderson in Game 5, said seeing the fans' emotions nearly brought tears to his eyes. The gathering "was a huge bonus and very uplifting, especially after giving up a home run."

"It gave me goose bumps," he said. "We were moping around ... and to see that that many people actually cared that we even made it a season like we did, it was really moving."

Manager Buck Showalter called the fan reception "fabulous."

"It could have been 10; it could have been a thousand. It was extremely sincere. I know it really touched our players' hearts," he said. "Those are the things you'll reach back for in tough times next year."

Kevin Martens of Salisbury, like many Orioles fans, is looking to next year. And he said the Yankees had better be prepared to lose.

"I am just happy [the Orioles] made it to the playoffs," he said Saturday at the Inner Harbor. "It looks like a bright future for a young team."

Baltimore Sun reporter Eduardo A. Encina contributed to this article.