Carroll County Times

Orioles looking to carry success from 2012 into 2013

BALTIMORE - The 2012 Baltimore Orioles were undoubtedly the best Orioles team of the past 14 seasons. Baltimore made the playoffs for the first time since 1997, reenergized a fan base which had quieted over the years, and took the New York Yankees to five games in the American League Division Series.

The Orioles set several unprecedented marks including a 29-9 record in one-run games, winning 16 straight extra-inning games and improving their record by 24 games from 2011.

"Having a taste of the postseason was the best thing ever I believe. Everything about it," Baltimore center fielder Adam Jones said recently at Orioles FanFest. "Being in there and being in that gauntlet was by far the most fulfilling, humbling experience I've ever had."

The Orioles used 52 players last season, often times seeing minor league players immediately come up and contribute. First baseman Chris Davis said having many different players help out was the mantra of the team.

"The list goes on and on of the guys that stepped up big for us," Davis said. "That was the big thing for us was we felt like we had a good group of guys that could really pull together and be successful."

Davis mentioned role players such as Steve Tolleson, Steve Pearce and Nate McLouth as guys who stepped up for the team. McLouth, who signed a minor-league contract midseason and played a key role down the stretch, re-signed with the team for one year this offseason.

McLouth batted leadoff after Nick Markakis broke a bone in his left thumb and played solid defense in left field. He said after the success of last season, he never thought about signing elsewhere.

"It just came down to this is where I wanted to be," McLouth said. "And I wanted to jump on that opportunity before they started looking at someone else."

The Orioles also called up top position prospect Manny Machado in early August. The rookie third baseman played like a veteran, providing exceptional defense.

In 2013, Machado is more than likely to play his first full major league season. Orioles executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette has said that he is excited to see what he can over the course of a full season.

Baltimore is returning the same core players for 2013, including Jones, Davis, Markakis, J.J. Hardy, and Matt Wieters, while losing just Mark Reynolds and possibly Joe Saunders if he does not resign. Duquette has said several times he feels the team is set and ready to compete in 2013.

Wieters said the injuries they endured, including Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Jason Hammel, Brian Roberts, and more, showed the toughness of the team.

"Not everything's going to go right for you," Wieters said. "We probably played the toughest games out of any team in baseball last year. I feel like that's mental toughness."

Davis said he finally had time to reflect on last season during the offseason and it was fun to think of the history the team made, including his rare pitching performance in the 17-inning game in Boston in which he recorded the victory.

"It was pretty cool," Davis said. "Not only to be a part of history, but a part of a team that had so many extra inning wins, and to have one of those wins, it was unbelievable."

The fans' optimism is higher than it's been in years, as shown by the record-breaking attendance at FanFest, where autograph vouchers sold out just 40 minutes after going on sale.

There has been an increase in season ticket sales and more Orioles gear is seen in public.

Many Baltimore players appreciate that, but the general feeling is that they need to, and can, repeat their breakout performances from a year ago.

"We're going to do the same thing we did," Jones said. "We're going to compete every day."

Wieters added that the team loves the high expectations they now have, and he believes they will meet them.

"We've got a lot of the same guys back and the best thing I'm excited about is the chemistry we got going last year," Wieters said. "We feel like we can keep that going into 2013. We're using last year as a starting point."