BALTIMORE -- For six seasons, Orioles relievers have engaged in a special ritual.
It's not unusual for bullpen crews to play games to pass the time, especially during the early innings. However, the Orioles' ritual, which was invented by long-gone reliever Luis Ayala in 2012, is more of a celebratory one, and one that helps them get more involved in the games.
"Luis was one of a kind, man. He was hilarious," Orioles reliever Darren O'Day said. "He liked to have fun during the games. ... One day, he just, in his rapid-fire English/Spanish, said, 'We're going to clap how many runs we scored. He started it then, and it's just kind of carried on throughout the years."
O'Day is the only reliever remaining from the 2012 season, and as the senior member of the staff, the sidearmer teaches the routine to the younger pitchers.
Left-hander Richard Bleier, who joined the team earlier this season, is a close observer of the ceremony.
"Say we hit a three-run homer, you get three balls, throw them up, and then when they hit the ground, everyone claps three times," Bleier said. "Say the score's 3-0, we hit a solo homer, you get one ball, you score one run, you throw it up, you clap four times for four runs. You just keep adding on. The guy who throws the ball up, has to throw them up and kick them to the wall."
Even though he wasn't a rookie, Bleier was a newcomer to the team and participated in the tossing and kicking.
"Usually the rookies, the new guys, will have to throw the ball up and everything like that," Bleier said. "It's always fun because it usually always gets messed up for how simple it seems."
Bleier has become one of the most dependable relievers on the team, but that reliability hasn't extended to the tossing, clapping and kicking.
"I did not do it well at all," he said. "I actually had a little bit of a problem kicking it to the wall after I threw it up, which resulted in a ball on the playing surface at one point.
"It didn't work out for me, so other people did it, but [Miguel] Castro does a great job with it. [It's] just to keep us in the game. Obviously, we know the score because we're constantly having to know how many claps and stuff like that. It's something we all do together that keeps us involved.
The 22-year-old Castro, who first joined the Orioles in May, has quickly adapted to his role both on the field and in the bullpen ritual.
"Castro's a funny dude. He really is," O'Day said. "He's not scared to be himself. He's decided he's going to throw the ball. I don't even know how high he goes. It's a lot higher than anybody's ever thrown it before, and he's got a big smile on his face when he does. It's funny. He does a good job."
Through Orioles translator Ramon Alarcon, Castro explained how he's thrived in the role.
"I learned by watching. It's fun," Castro said. "Every time we score a run, we do it. We have a good time with it, and we just try to get loose a little bit. It's definitely a fun time. It's definitely something I enjoy. It helps [me] relate [to] the other guys."
Just last week, the right-hander had to explain the rules to fellow Dominican reliever Richard Rodriguez, who made his major league debut Sept. 1.
"I did that with Richard. I took him under my wing a little bit and showed him the ropes," Castro said. "It's definitely something we share and get everybody on board with it."
If the Orioles are losing by a large margin late in a game, and a seemingly meaningless run scores, they still participate. But, if there's a dramatic, game-winning hit, the bullpen empties because the relievers want to celebrate with their teammates.
Most players adapt easily to the bullpen ritual. Some don't.
"We've had a few guys along the way that couldn't handle the throwing the ball up in the air and clapping at the same time," O'Day said. "We've had other guys that really flourished in the role and added their own little touch to it. It's kind of funny seeing how different guys react to it."
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