Dick Hall can put his mind at rest. The Orioles are division champions.
"I've been counting down, like everyone else," said Hall, 83, a reliever on Baltimore's World Series champs of 1966 and 1970. Back then, he would compute pitchers' earned run averages in his head in the bullpen.
"But this was a lot easier," said Hall, a retired accountant. "And more fun."
When the Orioles clinched the American League East title Tuesday night, the victory struck a chord with alumni who've gone this route before.
"The Orioles have a mojo about them, a mojo of 'we'll win by any means necessary,'" said Eric Davis, 52, an outfielder on the 1997 team that was the last to win its division. "I like their grit, their determination. It's not always about having the most talent on paper; it's about having players who relish getting their jobs done in tight situations."
Nor have the Orioles been hijacked by season-ending injuries to third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters, or Chris Davis' 25-game suspension.
"You want to be full strength for the playoffs, but there's no clear-cut dominating team the Orioles should fear," Davis said. "They've got as good a chance as anyone to win it all."
The 1997 Orioles (98-64) led their division from wire to wire, as surprising a show of strength as the play of this year's club, said Pat Gillick, 77, then the general manager.
"People underestimated us 17 years ago," said Gillick, who is currently serving as the interim president of the Philadelphia Phillies. "And while people always thought these Orioles would be in the hunt, no one expected this. They're overachievers, but they overachieve in a very professional manner. They are pretty classy about the way they go about their business, and they're very entertaining to watch."
Tracking the Orioles, he said, is "like watching a TV serial. Everyone wants to tune in and see what happens in the next segment. It's like 'Days of Our Lives' — will they win on a passed ball, a wild pitch or a Nelson Cruz home run?"
For Mike Boddicker, 57, the Orioles' penchant to weather setbacks is reminiscent of speed bumps that failed to slow the franchise's 1983 champions.
"That year, our whole pitching staff kind of went down, from Mike Flanagan to Tippy Martinez," said Boddicker, then a rookie right-hander who was called up in May and won 16 games in the regular season and two playoff starts.
"It's easy for a team to crumble when its superstars go down. How many times can you go to the well and hope somebody steps up?" he said. "These Orioles could have fallen apart. Tip the hat to Buck [Showalter] that they haven't."
Resilient — that word best describes the AL East champs, said slugger Boog Powell, 73, who likens them to the Orioles he played for nearly half a century ago, a team that won two World Series and four AL pennants between 1966 and 1971.
"Back then, different guys carried us and, when one or two got hurt, there was no emergency," Powell said. "And now? They get some guy in a trade, Buck sends him up in the bottom of the ninth, and he cuts a rocket and wins the game. It's like the game is scripted, like Buck has all of these marionettes on strings, and they do whatever he wants them to do."
"The clubhouse mentaliity is one where you feel like you're going to win — and any players you add pick up that intangible by osmosis," said McGregor, a left-hander who won 18 games for the 1983 champs. "That's a parallel I see between this team and those I played for here from 1976 to 1987."
Take Steve Stone, he said, a journeyman pitcher acquired by the Orioles who had a career year in 1980, winning 25 games and a Cy Young Award.
"Guys like [Stone] show up, and the winning thing kicks in," McGregor said. "This year it's much the same."
It's a mantra preached often by Showalter, said McGregor, who now works as the club's pitching rehabilitation coordinator:
"Buck won't admit as much, but he can certainly lay his head down at night and high-five himself."