I’ve seen some amazing things covering Orioles baseball for 33 years and what I witnessed Thursday night at the Yard was as good as it gets. It had special occasion written on it the minute the Orioles announced this would be the night they’d honor Cal Jr. with the unveiling of his bronze statue on the anniversary of the night he broke the record that would never be broken. The pre-game ceremony covered the breadth of Orioles baseball from the days of Brooks and Palmer to Buck and his current O’s who watched the unveiling of Cal with respect and pride.
The ceremony and the replica sculpture alone would have been enough to give the sellout crowd their monies worth but on this night 46,298 hit the Oriole Baseball lottery. After getting kicked around for 14 years it was like Buck’s Birds and this baseball community made a pact that it was a new day. The baseball’s been good all summer, the fan support uneven. It’s understandable you don’t fix 14 years in a couple of summer months.
On Sept. 6, 2012 in game 137 the Orioles baseball world was as good as it has ever been. The crowd was electric from the first Jason Hammel pitch and when Matt Wieters dropped a 3-run homer inside the left field foul pole the place exploded as the Orioles took a 4-nothing first inning lead. There were no “Let’s go Yankees” chants on this night there were some “Yankees suck”. This was an Under Armour moment The Yard was Orange and damn right, Baltimore fans were protecting their house!
The perfect night spun out of control (literally, 4 walks in the inning) in the Yankee 8th when they erased a 6-1 Oriole lead with a 5-run inning. How many times had we seen this in Baltimore, the Yankees seemingly down and out snatch a victory from the jaws of defeat with a huge rally in late or extra innings? Fans got that tragic feeling when Derek Jeter strolled to the plate in the 8th. The game was tied at 6, runners on the corners, 2 out. I’d seen this movie Jeter fouls 2 or 3 off, then inside outs a base hit to right and the Yankees win, say it again with feeling John Sterling The Yankees Win!!!!
Not so fast my pin-striped friends! To the rescue Darren O’Day who tied Jeter up with a terrific pitch, a weak pop-up out and the game stays tied at 6. Not for long, calling it the biggest hit of his life Adam Jones lead off the Oriole 8th with a Tito Landrum (Google it) moment. David Robertson threw it, Jones hit it and a fan in the left field seats had a precious souvenir.
It touched off one of the great moments in Orioles history. As Jones rounded the bases to a deafening roar, I saw a young girl maybe 6 or 7 boosted onto her Dad’s shoulders the look on her face said it all, this was a night she’d never forget. The Orioles would hit 3 homers in the inning and 6 in the game. The win sent the Yankees and baseball a message these Orioles ain’t going away!
This night was more than just a thrilling win over the Yankees for a share of first place. It was about as Buck would put it, “living in the moment.”
For one special night we were able to forget 14 years of losing, empty seats and out of town fans taking over our Yard. This night was about Baltimore pride. It reminded me of the night Memorial Stadium was sold out for Fantastic Fans night in 1988. A full house to salute a team that started the year 0-21, sure, they were bad Birds but they were OUR Birds Hon!
I saw the same kind of pride at the Ravens inaugural game in 1996. After losing the Colts in the middle of the night and getting kicked to the curb by the NFL for 12 years the game was back in town where it belonged.
Thursday night’s sell out crowd was proud of Cal and what Orioles baseball was, and proud of what Buck’s Birds are doing to restore it. For one night it was a perfect storm and for 46,298 they’ll never forget it.