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Sorrow in Baltimore as team that swept us off our feet is swept by K.C.

Cycling between hope and dread, Orioles fans on Wednesday could only watch mostly from afar as their team confronted two possible futures:

Would it recover the magic that got them into the postseason in the first place, or be swept in four games by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series?

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On an appropriately dreary and drenched day in Baltimore, it was the latter.

"It's hard," said Joey Pietropaoli, 29, a fan at the Padonia Ale House in Timonium for the game. He looked stunned as J.J. Hardy grounded out to end the postseason for the Orioles.

Still, like other fans, amid the sorrow, the Jacksonville resident and medical student found a ray of gratitude.

"This doesn't make the season a failure," he said. "I don't want to lose sight of what these guys did all year."

In Kansas City, the players who captivated Orioles Nation looked just as stricken.

"The fans, they get it," center fielder Adam Jones said after the 2-1 loss. "They've seen good baseball. They've seen some bad baseball. They get it and they get the style of our team. We live and die with the effort we give and how we play.

"Let's just get back to the drawing board and get back into this position, because there's nothing better than being the last two teams playing baseball."

Manager Buck Showalter similarly drew the city into one big Birdland embrace. "My emotion is for the players and the organization and the fans, because I keep thinking about something I or we could have done differently," he said.

"We reminded the country what a great baseball city, and city in general, Baltimore is," Showalter said.

Driving in the Baltimore area during game time, you could see all the TVs through the windows — of barber shops, of homes, of bars and seemingly anywhere with electricity — all tuned to TBS. On Fleet Street, a bar had painted in orange on its front, "We need a miracle."

At the Lighthouse Tavern on Clinton Street in Canton, a small crowd at first pitch grew with each inning. At a time when hope is fading, there is comfort in company.

Work at the city's police and fire retirement system delayed Roni Stull from making it there until the game was well underway, but husband Jay had been holding down the fort.

"I was born and raised right around the corner, and I still live right around the corner," said Roni Stull, 50. "When I was growing up, this was one of the bars my father went to."

It was Gil's then, until it became the Sports Cafe and, several years ago, the Lighthouse.

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Feeling "anxious" all day, Jay Stull, 55, who has his own geographical information systems company and works from home, decided to go to one of his "regular" places. "It's been like a roller coaster," he said of his emotions over the postseason. "It's like a dog on a 3-foot chain and your food is four feet away."

For rallies, for consolation, for getting through another inning, Wade Pupek lined up tiny plastic glasses for fireball shots. He was wearing an Orioles jersey, number 9, bearing the name "Oriole Buddy," for the guy who, if you have an extra ticket, will always "drop everything and go with you."

"Kind of like an escort," he said with a laugh.

Earlier in the game, he and some patrons talked about an upcoming bull and oyster roast on Saturday, but weren't ready to commit because, well, Game 7.

But eventually, it was final: There would be no seventh game — nor a sixth or fifth for that matter.

"We lost, but it was a great season," Pupek said. "We're not crying in our beers."

After the last out, Jay Stull said, his wife turned to him and said: "I need to go home."

"I think she's in a fetal position, sobbing," he said, returning to the Lighthouse. "She loves her O's. But she's optimistic about next season."

Already, though, this one has entered Baltimore baseball lore. This will forever be the season when a scrappy, hungry team battled back after sequentially losing some of their biggest stars: catcher Matt Wieters, third baseman Manny Machado, slugging first baseman Chris Davis.

"Win or lose, absolutely a special season," said Steve Duncan, originally of Towson and now head college baseball coach at Washington University in St. Louis. "It's one for the ages."

He was among a sprinkling of Orioles fans representing at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City. "In 1997, I was at the ALCS, so it's been quite a while," he said. "This team has accomplished a ton and this isn't the end for us. I'm still excited for where we're going to be next year."

"Unbelievable what we've done," agreed Emily Hanover of Pikesville, who went to every playoff game this year, home and away, including Wednesday's final loss.

"Buck Showalter is manager of the year. Not Ned Yost, no matter what anyone says," she said of the Royals' skipper.

For Jake Mintz of Chevy Chase, who also made the trip to Kansas City, the season adds to an already storied family history with the Orioles.

"I was born the day Cal Ripken tied Lou Gehrig," Mintz said of Sept. 5, 1995. "My mom was in labor with me, and she's from Baltimore, and my grandma is a huge O's fan. It's 5:30, and she looks at her watch and goes, 'I'm sorry, I've got to go. … I've got tickets to the game.

"'I already have grandchildren. I'm going to have more grandchildren. I'm never going to see this again,'" Mintz said. "So she left, watched Cal get 2,130. and I was born on that day and I've been an O's fan ever since."

Although this postseason didn't end in the ultimate — a trip to the World Series that the Royals will now make — Mintz won't complain.

"It's better to be nervous than bored in October," he said of those many autumns when the Orioles were long done playing. "That's the bottom line. … This is all cake after all those years of watching the Yankees and Red Sox play."

Back in Baltimore, the mood tracked with the Orioles fortunes, meaning high when there was still a chance of a victory, and plummeting from there, with occasional blips of hope.

"Let's just start with a victory, and take them one at a time from there," said Ben Bradley, 32, before the game began. He and his fiancee, Nicholette Panas, 27, were at the ale house, hopeful to add something quite wonderful to their chest of Orioles memories.

"I chanted 'Ed-die!' no matter who was up," he said.

In what has been true ALCS fashion for the Orioles, the game would start badly, with the Royals somehow scoring two runs quickly as a result of an infield hit, a dropped ball and all around bad luck for the guys in orange.

"I really want to believe ... but Kansas City can do no wrong in this series," said Rich Wiser, 53.

The mood in the room brightened at times. There would be a roar when third baseman Ryan Flaherty hit a solo homer for what turned out to be the Orioles' only run, or when Jones got a base hit, or when Nelson Cruz came to the plate with a couple of men on.

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But the Royals always managed to snuff out any sign of hope — such as when Alex Gordon robbed the O's of a hit, crashing loudly into the outfield wall.

"Well done," Wiser conceded.

In the end, no amount of turning caps around or other formerly successful superstitions would pay off.

Ray Smith, celebrating his 58th birthday with friends, looked as if someone else had blown out his candles and robbed him of his wish.

"A win would be a great present," the retired postal worker had said earlier.

"I've supported this team all year long," Smith said. "This is a terrible ending. Terrible."

But his birthday celebration continued nonetheless, as his table hailed the waitress over.

"We'll be here until 2 o'clock," Smith hollered. "We're going to be closing the place."

Sun reporters Peter Schmuck and Eduardo A. Encina in Kansas City contributed to this article.

Twitter.com/jean_marbella

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