Dan Rodricks

Dan Rodricks: The surprising Baltimore Orioles and the great pick-me-up of 2022 | COMMENTARY

Terrin Vavra, right, is greeted at home plate by Gunnar Henderson (2) and Anthony Santander after driving them in on a three-run home run during the 8th inning of the first game of a doubleheader against the Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles won 5-4.

On the way to the last Orioles games of the 2022 season Wednesday afternoon, a day of work or school for most, a woman at the bus stop said she had just come from a job interview at the nearby nursing home. She needed a new position, she said, because her last — taking care of a heavy, elderly woman at home — had been too hard on her back. “I can’t wait to get home to take a Tylenol,” the woman said.

And therein was heard the pleading of post-pandemic America: Anybody got a Tylenol?


Health care workers, first responders, teachers, restaurant workers, social workers, trash collectors, people in tech support, cleaning crews, construction workers, bus drivers, owners of small businesses and all rational, democracy-loving people of progressive-to-moderate politics — we all need pain relief.

The whole country needs it.


Baltimoreans, particularly, could use a pick-me-up.

Some look for relief in baseball, and that can backfire. But the young Orioles of 2022 came through.

Indeed, those of us waiting at the corner of optimism and pessimism have reasons to hope.

I know: hope is a dangerous thing; my advice to Baltimoreans has always been to keep expectations low about everything. That way, nobody gets hurt.

But these 2022 Orioles, winning 83 games after winning only 52 last season — I think it’s OK to raise your expectations a notch.

There was a last chance to see these guys on Wednesday. The rain stopped, the clouds broke. I shifted around some work, popped a Motrin for my aching knees and took the bus downtown.

The Baltimore panorama appeared through the large window to my right — leafy streets of the north side, Loyola University, the mansions of Guilford, the Johns Hopkins campus and busy Charles Village at lunch hour. Then the bus went down Maryland Avenue, past a favorite restaurant that closed during the pandemic, graffiti here and there, and then so much you’d think the bus had time-traveled past the Berlin Wall.

The driver took a detour to avoid a city ambulance and fire engine blocking the street. Good thing: Around the corner, I saw a guy sitting on a chair on the sidewalk while another guy cut his hair while 10 people watched. I saw a tall guy with a straw basket for a backpack, a skinny man walking a muscular dog, and a woman with pink hair.


The bus moved past the University of Baltimore, through Mount Vernon and the prettiest streets of the city, past the Enoch Pratt Free Library, and past the Baltimore Arena, finally getting renovated.

I got off at Pratt Street. There was hardly anyone around — no street vendors and only one guy trying to scalp a ticket to the sparsely attended Orioles-Blue Jays doubleheader.

There’s nothing like October baseball, even if it’s just the last game of the regular season and your team missed the playoffs.

But I had not been to an October game since 2014, when the Orioles won the American League’s Eastern Division championship. A baby born that year could be a third-grader by now. My third-graders are long past high school; each have mortgages, and they have never seen much of the Orioles in October.

Next season will mark 40 since Baltimore reached the World Series; that was forever ago. This season marked 30 years since the first at Oriole Park, and while the commemorations were nice, having your team in the biggest show of all again is what Orioles fans crave.

There are reasons to hope.


In the third inning, Toronto’s left fielder, Ramiel Tapia, ripped a hard grounder toward third base. If the ball had hit the Orioles’ long-haired rookie Gunnar Henderson, it might have taken out his spleen. But Henderson snatched the ball, cradled it for a moment, and threw it to Ryan Mountcastle at first for the out.

In the fourth inning, I watched the impressive rookie catcher, Adley Rutschman, behind home plate, taking 95 mph pitches from the 6-foot-4 Michael Bauman. Rutschman, with his 24-year-old knees, crouches and squats like it’s nothing, and the sight makes my old joints ache. Suddenly, the Jay at first base, Otto Lopez, attempted to steal second. One of baseball’s most stirring moments is the catcher’s perfect throw to the shortstop to tag the runner and end an inning, and that’s exactly what happened, with a dart from Rutschman. My knees suddenly felt better.

But the game was going Toronto’s way. In the 6th inning, the Blue Jays’ catcher, Gabriel Moreno, hit a three-run home run, his first, and that put Toronto ahead, 4-0. The Orioles answered with two runs.

So it was 4-2 when another Orioles rookie, Terrin “Joey” Vavra, came to bat in the 8th inning and hit a three-run home run onto the flag court. It was Vavra’s first, a beautiful thing to put the Orioles ahead, affirming the credo of the late great Earl Weaver: “The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals and three-run homers.”

On this day, in the first game, the formula worked for the Orioles.

The home team lost the second game, but it didn’t matter. The Orioles had already made their point. The analgesics had taken hold during the summer; it was the 10-game winning streak in July that probably did the trick. To borrow from F. Scott Fitzgerald, once of Baltimore: And so we beat on, birds against the wind, borne ceaselessly into the future.