For true Orioles fans, Sunday night was validation

During the dark days of Baltimore baseball, the true fans never gave up. Despite the 14 losing seasons. Despite the maddening trades. Despite the deriding jokes from friends in New York or Boston.

So when the Orioles on Sunday finally locked up a spot in the American League Championship Series for the first time in nearly a generation, fans were elated. After sweeping the Detroit Tigers in the AL Division Series, the Orioles need to win four games in the upcoming best-of-seven series to earn their first World Series appearance in 31 years.


They chanted the White Stripes' "Seven Nation Army" riff that has become the anthem of Baltimore sports. They danced in their living rooms. They thanked God for that July day in 1980 when Dominga Cruz gave birth to a little boy named Nelson.

Lisa Salvatore, 32, of Hamilton practically hyperventilated after Zach Britton's sinker caused a Tigers' double-play ball that secured the final outs of a 2-1 victory.


"Ahhhhh!" she screamed after watching the game at Bond Street Social in Fells Point. "This is amazing. I've been a fan since I was born. I've been waiting for this day for so long."

A mile or so away, the fans inside Sliders Bar & Grille erupted. Napkins flew into the air, high-fives and hugs were exchanged, and dancing ensued as "Orioles Magic" blared through the bar's sound system.

Garrett Baldwin jumped up and led several "Let's Go O's" chants. The 31-year-old from Towson was the butt of many jokes from friends after his look of despair was broadcast on TV during Thursday's game before the Orioles' runaway eighth inning.

"I don't care," he said. "I'll be America's punching bag if the Orioles win."

To many longtime fans, the win was much more than just a baseball game. It was a validation of all those nights they spent listening to the game with their grandparents or playing catch with dad. It was a validation of their city.

"I wasn't even alive the last time the Orioles were in the World Series," said Ryan Wagner, the public address announcer at Orioles Park at Camden Yards, who led cheers at Bond Street Social. "It's a such a blue-collar town. We live and die with our teams. You can walk into any bar any night and know exactly how the Orioles are doing. You walk around and see all the orange out now. For a city that gets bad rap nationally, I hate having to defend my city. As far as baseball right now, no defense is needed."

The Orioles' victory came off the bat of Nelson Cruz, who smashed a two-run homer in the sixth inning, his 15th career postseason home run, surpassing Babe Ruth for ninth in the record book.

While beer poured in Baltimore bars, Cruz, in his first year with the Orioles, enjoyed the champagne celebration in the Comerica Park clubhouse in Detroit.


"I think God blessed me with the opportunity to be part of this great organization and these great guys," Cruz said.

The Orioles swept the best-of-five series against the Tigers, defeating three straight former Cy Young Award-winning pitchers. The Orioles will host the Kansas City Royals — who swept the Los Angeles Angels in the other AL Division Series — on Friday in the first game of the ALCS .

"I think we're all on a little cloud right now, and we're enjoying it. We'll worry about that tomorrow," All-Star center fielder Adam Jones said.

Fans in the galvanized city were sure that if they keep rooting as hard as they have been, the Orioles will reach Baltimore's first World Series since 1983.

City Councilman Brandon Scott, a Mervo graduate born one year after the team's last world championship, said he doesn't think he'll sleep this week. "I can barely breathe I'm so excited," he said. "I'm sure I won't sleep until Game 1. I spent many years in Camden Yards almost by myself watching bad teams, but this team is erasing those memories with every game."

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said she's ready to deify Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who earned his first postseason series win. "'In Buck we trust' has new meaning," she said. "Masterful!"


At Sliders, across the street from Camden Yards, Mark Sheubrooks, whose daughter Rachel owns the bar, said the Orioles' postseason success this year makes up for all the years the team struggled.

"This is what you wait for," said the 55-year-old Baltimore man. "This is why you hang on."

Nearby, Amber Burnett drove 13.5 hours Friday to be in Baltimore for the weekend's games. The 22-year-old works in Sanford, Fla., and she has already told her boss she'll be missing some work if the Orioles make it to the World Series.

For Burnett, the wait — and the long years of torment from her friends who root for other AL East teams — has made this year even sweeter.

"You have no idea how many friends' faces I'm rubbing it in," she said. "Especially the Yankees and Red Sox fans."

Die-hard fans who made the trek to Comerica Park for Sunday's game said the Orioles' magical season brings back memories of childhood.


Season-ticket holder Erin Fitzsimmons, 57, of Ocean City said her ears are still ringing from the final innings of Game 2 at Oriole Park. She can't wait to see the Orioles play for a World Series berth at Camden Yards.

"I'm ready,'' she said. "I'm a season-ticket holder. This is like what I remember growing up."

Fitzsimmons, like several other Orioles fans at Comerica Park on Sunday, said the reason their team is special is because it reflects the blue-collar ethic of Baltimore.

"It means they're a great bunch of men that are doing their jobs the way they should and playing real baseball," she said. "Does it mean they are going to sweep anything else? No. It means they'll have to work very hard to get where they want to go, but this bunch of people seem to understand that and I think it will take them there."

Baltimore Sun reporter Peter Schmuck contributed to this article.