TORONTO — Orioles manager Brandon Hyde has frequently pointed to the long-term benefits of playing high-level competition for his inexperienced roster. As his third season in charge approaches its endpoint, perhaps the most significant experience is taking place.
With the Orioles in Toronto as the Blue Jays fight to enter the playoffs as one of the American League’s two wild-card teams, it provides many of Baltimore’s players their first chance of being in a playoff atmosphere. The Rogers Centre’s capacity was recently increased to 30,000, but in Friday night’s 6-4 Blue Jays victory that helped them keep pace in the playoff race, the crowd was constantly engaged, providing positive encouragement to the home team and, in some ways to Hyde’s delight, directing negative energy toward the Orioles.
“This is what it’s about for me,” Hyde said. “Our guys really haven’t had a whole lot of experiences in this type of environment, where it’s loud in here, the fans are into it, we’re getting booed a little bit. For me, this is this is what makes Major League Baseball fun, playing the games that matter in hostile environments on the road, playing against teams that [have] must-wins type of games. For me, this is what competitors live for, so it’s a lot of fun.
“I’m happy our guys are able to experience it.”
If the Blue Jays win at least one of the series’ final two games, all four of the Orioles’ AL East foes will have 90 or more victories, while Baltimore (52-108) at that point will have the second-most losses in franchise history. Only the 2018 team (47-115) will have lost more games, with the 2019 club (54-108) not fair behind. In the latter season, the Orioles’ final road trip also included a stop in Toronto, but the Blue Jays’ budding rebuild was not yet producing major league wins.
The 2019 season closed with a visit to a Boston Red Sox team that posted a winning record but missed the playoffs. It’s possible the Orioles might contribute to Boston suffering the same fate this year, with Baltimore closing its home slate with a series victory over the Red Sox. Still, Boston enters the season’s closing weekend only a game behind the New York Yankees for the top wild-card spot and leading Toronto by a game, with the AL West’s Seattle Mariners also in the mix.
That means even sweeping the Orioles possibly won’t be enough for the Blue Jays, but Baltimore has shown itself of late to be testy, even to playoff contenders. Although they are 5-6 in their past 11 games, only one of those losses came by more than three runs, a shift from many of their defeats over the past few seasons.
They showed fight Friday. Despite facing a six-run deficit with six outs to go, they batted around in the eighth and got the potential go-ahead run on base. They lacked the big hit that would have put them ahead, which Hyde has bemoaned after other close games this season. But that doesn’t mean they took nothing away from the contest and all that surrounded it.
“It’s a really positive environment for us to play in,” outfielder Austin Hays said. “The goal is for us in the next couple of years to be on the other side of this and be in the situation that those guys over there are in right now. We’re just trying to continue to play hard and play the game the right way and treat every game like it matters and just keep battling like we tried to battle our way back into that game tonight. We had a chance. We’re just trying to continue to play hard, and the environment definitely helps with that.”