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Robison: Give the Orioles a little respect (Aug. 29)

Matthew Robison | Thursday, August 30, 2012

When I cracked open ESPN The Magazine’s MLB preview issue in March, I cringed. I didn’t want to see what I was about to read, but I had to do it anyway. I immediately flipped to the AL East section to see how my hometown team, the Baltimore Orioles, was projected to finish.

Of course I saw what I had expected when I read, “Worst Case Scenario: fifth place.” In a division with two titans in the Red Sox and the Yankees, and two other solid franchises in the Blue Jays and the Rays, it’s understandable.

But slightly more surprising was what I read under “Best Case Scenario.” The writers were bleak about the Orioles’ chances: “Fifth place. Seriously.”

They went on to talk about how the Orioles’ lineup was a collection of players too young for the Big Leagues and washed-up veterans who never lived up to their expectations.

So the fact that the Orioles are currently in second place in the division and in contention for a wild card spot should be a fantastic story. Rather, ESPN and all the major networks have just swept the Orioles under the rug and decided to spend time covering whether or not Bobby Valentine will be fired after just one season in Boston.

They like to talk about how stellar the Rays’ rotation is. It is – it’s phenomenal. They like to talk about the behemoth Yankee lineup. Trust me, I hate watching Baltimore’s pitchers facing Jeter, Teixeira and A-Rod.

But I think the O’s deserve some credit. The amount they have done with so little this year has been unreal. As of Wednesday afternoon, Baltimore was 14 games over .500 and sat three-and-a-half games away from catching the Yankees for the division lead. Their run differential is abysmal, but they find a way to win tight games.
Tuesday night, I listened to a White Sox announcer on Comcast SportsNet talk about how the Orioles’ success this year has been due to “luck.” Maybe if Baltimore had gotten out to a hot start and was leading the division at the end of April, one could say that. But 128 games into the season?
Come on. In that same game, Orioles starter Chris Tillman made the White Sox batters look silly, allowing only one hit in seven innings of solid work. The bullpen then came in and shut it down immediately, allowing only one more hit. Was there any mention of how well the Orioles have played this season with a ragtag group of near-stars (see: Adam Jones, Nick Markakis) and aging sluggers (see: Jim Thome)? No, just a sorry explanation claiming Chicago played poorly in Baltimore and the Orioles won the lottery with the Nate McLouth trade and the Lew Ford pickup.

Now, I haven’t quite jumped on the ever-growing bandwagon in Baltimore. My previous Sports Authority column in April discussed how my interest in baseball would inevitably wean as the Orioles sunk to their perennial position in the basement of the AL East, which usually happens before Memorial Day. On this date last season, they were 15 games below .500 and way out of the race. So it’s simply what I’ve come to expect.

In that same column, I made some terrible predictions the Red Sox would slow rise back to contention and Albert Pujols would be leading a triple crown category by the end of July. I was sadly mistaken, but I’m not upset about it. As a fan, this season’s has actually kept my attention.

So if I sound like I’m ranting about how the Orioles don’t get the respect they deserve, I apologize. I’m actually not upset about the situation at all. I love watching underdogs. I like the movie “Rudy.” I thought it was cool when the goofy-looking guys got all the girls at the end of “Revenge of the Nerds.” I loved watching the Rays make a run to the World Series in 2008. Underdog stories make sports great.

So now I will sit back and keep my mouth shut. I will allow the Orioles to float under the radar even more. And hopefully, I will get to see them make one of the most improbable postseason runs of all time.

Contact Matthew Robison at mrobison@nd.edu
The views expressed in this Sports Authority are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.