As the bliss slowly ebbed out of Camden Yards on Saturday, the victim of another grinding effort by the unsinkable Kansas City Royals, a new reality set in for Orioles fans.
Their team, so good for so many months, suddenly faces terribly long odds in this American League Championship Series. In fact, the Orioles might have played their last game in Baltimore this year. They'll have to win two of three in Kansas City just to make another date with the home crowd.
As the announced sellout crowd of 46,912 filed out after a 6-4 loss, dreams of the World Series — so vibrant just 24 hours earlier — seemed far, far removed.
Chesley Henderson felt her hopes, incubating for 17 years, when the team made its last ALCS appearance, slipping away.
"We're sad," the Pasadena resident said. "We need the right team to show up. Any team can beat any given team on any given day. It just matters what team shows up. And we need our team to show up."
Others refused to give in to despair. "Still hopeful," said Ron Harvey, a retired Baltimore County government employee from White Marsh. "It's only two games, and in a seven-game series, momentum can change. I think it will."
In a subdued clubhouse after the loss, the Orioles promised to push forward as they have all season, with their focus solely on Monday's Game 3.
"Try and win tomorrow or the next day," said catcher Caleb Joseph, who broke out of an 0-for-33 slump with two hits. "We can't look forward much past tomorrow. We've got guys who've been doing it the entire season."
Designated hitter Nelson Cruz, a veteran of three postseason runs with the Texas Rangers, said he has little doubt the Orioles are the team to stage a historic comeback. "I believe in what we have and I trust my teammates," he said. "I believe we'll be able to come back."
Here are the simple facts: In all of baseball history, only 13 teams have come back from a 2-0 deficit to win a seven-game series. Only three did it after losing the first two games at home. The New York Yankees were the last to pull it off, in the 1996 World Series.
Of the 11 teams that have lost the first two at home in a seven-game league championship series, none have come back to advance to the World Series.
The Orioles have run up against a Royals team absurdly comfortable with the long, tense games that define postseason baseball. As these two upstarts battled for more than four hours for a second straight day, the Royals put at least one man on base in eight of nine innings. They'd done it in all 10 innings the day before.
How do you get rid of a team like that?
If the Orioles felt any extra anxiety after losing in 10 innings the night before, it didn't show.
"God forbid we might get down two," manager Buck Showalter said in mock concern before the game. "The world doesn't end. That's one of the strengths of our club, is we don't — just like Kansas City — you don't say, 'Woe is me, the sky is falling.' … You turn the page emotionally and mentally and realize you put your best foot forward and, that night, it didn't work out."
The Orioles have been resilient all year, in part because they refuse to dwell on any one game, good or bad. They'll have to call on that quality like never before.
There are a few small reasons for optimism as the Orioles head to Kansas City. Though the crowds at Kauffman Stadium have been crazed in recent weeks, the Royals were only 42-39 at home this season, worst among all playoff teams. The Orioles were actually better on the road (46-35) than the Royals were in Kansas City.
They'll also oppose a familiar face in Game 3, former Orioles ace Jeremy Guthrie. He's started against his old club twice this season, going 0-1 with 3.60 ERA.
After that, the Orioles likely will face Jason Vargas, who hasn't pitched against them this season but has a 1.94 ERA in eight career starts against the club.
Regardless of who pitches for Kansas City, the Orioles will be fighting the weight of probability and history.
"It's just another challenge in our face," said center fielder Adam Jones, who broke out of his postseason doldrums Saturday with a two-run homer. "That's how we have to look at it."
Reliever Andrew Miller, who has been as effective as any Oriole in the playoffs, just wants to get back to Camden Yards with the season alive.
"If we win the series in Kansas City, we have a chance to come back home in front of these fans and redeem ourselves," Miller said. "If we can get home, I like our chances."
Baltimore Sun reporter Don Markus contributed to this report.