Last year, right-hander Jeremy Guthrie hoped to find a regular spot in the Orioles' rotation and prove he could be a consistent major leaguer after not living up to bonus-baby expectations in Cleveland.
He did that.
This season, he was handed the role of Orioles ace after Erik Bedard was traded to the Seattle Mariners, and he responded by giving his team a chance to win nearly every time he pitched.
Next year, though, could be Guthrie's biggest challenge.
He has taken the next step on the mound, but he might have to put his best foot forward in the clubhouse, too.
"I've thought about that. It's weird because you'd like to be the guy to say something or be something," said Guthrie (10-11, 3.57 ERA). "But at the same time, I've played in the major leagues for 2 1/2 years."
If Guthrie were going to emerge as a clubhouse leader, 2009 - when he is potentially the only incumbent in the rotation - would seem to be the time.
"After three good years in the big leagues, you start believing. The main thing is you have to believe in yourself," Orioles veteran reliever and de facto staff leader Jamie Walker said. "Next year is a big year for Jeremy, being his third full season. Just because he doesn't have the age doesn't mean he can't be that guy."
Guthrie has contemplated seizing a leadership role. Then again, Guthrie considers just about everything.
A Stanford-educated sociology major, he is one of the most cerebral pitchers in the league. Or, as Walker puts it, "Guthrie is a real smart cat."
And so Guthrie has analyzed his situation. He'll be 30 in April, which makes him one of the club's oldest pitchers. But because he went to college and spent two years fulfilling a Mormon mission, he didn't begin his pro career until he was 24.
"I don't want to overstep my boundaries. Because we have guys still here, especially like a Walker and those guys, with plenty more time than me," Guthrie said. "I don't want to do anything that is looked at as, 'Oh, this guy thinks he is going to be like the leader.' "
He was conscious of that this season. So, for the most part, he kept his thoughts and opinions to himself. But he said he was in the shower this month contemplating the year when he wondered whether he had done enough to help the Orioles off the mound.
"I was thinking about what maybe I could have done better as a teammate," Guthrie said. "Not necessarily as a leader, but as a teammate, as a counterpart or a friend to the pitchers. What could I have done as guys struggled? ... Something subtle, maybe more pats on the back, maybe more listening when someone wanted to speak."
It's a role he's not sure he's comfortable with.
"I think there are some people that are very natural leaders and it just comes out," he said. "I don't necessarily see myself as a natural leader. I think it would be something I would need to work on."
Orioles pitching coach Rick Kranitz would love to see him try.
"It doesn't matter how old you are or how much time you have," Kranitz said. "If he realizes or sees what a young pitcher is going through, then absolutely I would look forward to him being that guy."
Catcher Guillermo Quiroz remembers watching a young, quiet and determined Roy Halladay become the unquestioned captain of Toronto's staff when they were together in the Blue Jays' organization. Guthrie, he says, has the same potential.
"He can do it, and he has the attitude for it. He's a quiet guy, doesn't talk much. And he has the stuff to do it," Quiroz said. "With Doc [Halladay], his ability takes over on the field, and that's why he is what he is. And I think Jeremy will be able to do that, just because of the stuff he has."
Guthrie's personality is misleading. He seems quiet and unassuming, but he has an acerbic wit, an understated confidence and a world of opinions.
"He is very outspoken, I will say that," Walker said. "He's not afraid to speak his mind, which is really good."
He also has earned respect for his work ethic, determination and loyalty. That ratcheted up this week when it was announced he would pitch Sunday's season finale despite missing a month because of illness and shoulder fatigue.
There's no discernible reason for Guthrie to start again in this lost season, but he wouldn't let himself be shut down. He acknowledges that part of the reason he lobbied to pitch is because he felt he "left the team short-handed" during his absence.
It's the second consecutive season in which he has battled back from late-season injury to pitch at the end of September. And others have noticed.
"When you sign up here, you sign up for all 162 [games], and when things are going bad, you're still there for all 162," Orioles manager Dave Trembley said. "And that's what Guthrie is, and I think that's what we're looking for.
"To me, leadership is what you do, not what you say."