If you don't think the Orioles' final 11 games of 2017 mean anything, think again.
The Orioles' current 2-10 stretch at a key moment is bad for the season at hand. But the ramifications of not finishing the season in a respectable fashion could be what sends the home team into a tizzy for the foreseeable future.
On Sept. 5, the Orioles made an impressive comeback against the New York Yankees at Camden Yards. Down 6-1 after two innings, the Orioles pecked away with solo home runs from Manny Machado and Jonathan Schoop in the third and fifth innings, respectively, to get the game back within reach at 6-3. Then Mark Trumbo hit a two-run shot in the sixth to make it a 6-5 game.
In the bottom of the ninth, the sparse but enthusiastic crowd that remained from the original 14,377 went into delirium as Machado hit a two-out homer to give the Orioles a 7-6 victory and put them three games over .500 and move them within a half game of the Minnesota Twins for the second wild-card spot.
Now, after losing 10 of 12, the Orioles find themselves 2.5 games in front of the last-place Toronto Blue Jays.
Under former manager Earl Weaver, the Orioles were known as a team with tremendous late kick -- running away from the pack in mid-September. Well, at least during Weaver's first incarnation as O's manager from 1968-1982.
While it didn't keep Weaver from entering the Hall of Fame, his last season in an O's uniform ended disastrously. After a win Aug. 5, the 1986 Orioles were starting to show their patented late-season kick by going 9-3 heading into play Aug. 6 -- 2.5 games behind the first-place Boston Red Sox.
On that date, the Orioles spotted the Texas Rangers six runs going into the bottom of the fourth. The O's hit not one, but two grand slams in the bottom of the fourth -- one by Larry Sheets and another by Jim Dwyer -- to take a 9-6 lead. The euphoria on 33rd street was in full-bloom. The O's added two more runs in their half of the sixth to roll into the eighth inning with an 11-6 lead.
And then the tandem of Rich Bordi and Nate Snell gave up six runs in the eighth and one in the ninth, as the Rangers won, 13-11, before a stunned crowd of just less than 20,000.
That loss reverberated throughout the remaining 56 games of Weaver's managing career, as the O's turned a 59-47 record into a last place, 73-89 finish by going 14-42 to end the season. What's more, that sad finish set in motion Weaver's retirement and caused a tailspin for the franchise that led to Cal Ripken Sr.'s hiring as manager for 1987. The Orioles finished next-to-last in 1987 and an 0-21 start in 1988 resulted in a second last-place finish in three seasons.
Fast forward after the two redemptive seasons of 1996 and 1997 to the start of what we refer to as the "bad years of Orioles baseball" -- the 14-year stretch of sub-.500 finishes that ended in 2012.
In two of those seasons under veteran skipper Mike Hargrove, the Orioles entered August in respectable fashion. In 2002, the O's were 63-63 when the team collapsed before going 4-32 to finish in last with a 67-95 mark.
In 2003, Hargrove's last year of his contract after the club opted to bring him back, the results through the first 116 games were almost exactly as they had been in 2002. The O's stood at 57-59. Although not as bad at 2002, the O's went 14-42-1 the rest of the way and finished fourth. Hargrove was dismissed, and the Orioles didn't sniff .500 again until their surprising run to the playoffs in 2012.
So, yes, what happens in these final 11 games does indeed mean something.
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