Orioles' run harkens memories of postseasons past
Club greats Palmer, Dempsey, Anderson see comparisons in this year's contender
BALTIMORE -- For the first time since 1997, the Orioles are one of the last four teams still standing, with the image of Baltimore back in the American League Championship Series -- which starts Friday against the Royals, 8 p.m. ET on TBS -- understandably bringing up memories of the O's storied baseball past.
"I don't think we ever took it for granted, but it's interesting because now I live downtown [in Baltimore]," said Hall of Fame pitcher and team broadcaster Jim Palmer, a three-time World Series champion. "And you really kind of understand the impact of what baseball has on the city. I don't mean just this year, but the last few years. ... On a daily basis, driving to the ballpark seeing the crowds on the corner, seeing on Sunday morning how early they come, the excitement is just more rampant. I know it's the fact that there were down times, 14 years or so. To me, it's a whole new generation of people, especially young people, who have never seen the Orioles have success like this."
"It brings back a lot of great memories," added former Orioles catcher Rick Dempsey, a two-time World Series champion and MVP in 1983. "I see a lot of correlations between the teams we had and whats going on with the Orioles right now. Especially with the defense we played as a team, pretty much like the Orioles are doing now on defense. We were very strong turning the double play. Our outfield didn't match up with the outfield we have out there today, but they did all the things that you do: Catch the ball, hit the cutoff man and make great relays. [This current team] brings back a lot of good memories about how far that took us in the playoffs."
Dempsey, part of Mid-Atlantic Sports Network's pregame and postgame shows, pointed out the importance of O's second baseman Jonathan Schoop's relay throw to home plate in Game 2 -- nabbing the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera. Conversely, Detroit second baseman Ian Kinsler's relay wasn't as accurate and allowed shortstop J.J. Hardy to score on a pivotal play that gave the O's a 7-6 win. It's the kind of attention to detail that the Orioles have become known for again, thanks in no small part to manager Buck Showalter, who has helped instill an organization approach to return to the "The Oriole Way" of fundamentals.
"There are reasons why we're improving. They are not fluke-ish," said former outfielder Brady Anderson, who has been with the organization in official capacity for four full seasons and is currently the vice president of baseball operations. "The talent that's displayed on the field is improving, and across the board there are all these different factions in teams and they get split up. And I just think the front office, the players the coaching staff, the Minor Leagues and Minor League coordinators, they are all in it [together] now. And the more and more that happens I think it's one of the most rewarding things for the organization. Obviously you see it, and it shows."
Anderson can recall every moment of the four playoff series he was involved in like they were yesterday, with Game 1 of 1997's ALCS against Cleveland being one moment that stands out. Anderson robbed Manny Ramirez of a homer and went deep immediately after that, with the O's using a fantastic pitching performance from Scott Erickson to win, 3-0.
"In the postseason, the individual moments become significant when we win the game," Anderson said. "And we did, 3-0. ... Legends are made in the postseason, and you have that chance of winning the World Series, every team that gets in."
That includes this year's Orioles. Palmer, Dempsey and Anderson think they have enough firepower to be the last team standing. Baltimore is coming off a three-game sweep over the Tigers and will face a Royals team that also hasn't lost a postseason game, winning the AL Wild Card over Oakland and sweeping the Angels.
"To me, the Royals had some fabulous teams in the late '70s. ... The teams didn't hit a whole lot of home runs. I always thought when I played them in Royal Stadium it was a whole different team," Palmer said. "Now, they don't have turf, but they have a big ballpark and the Royals play well there. They have a good bullpen; from the seventh inning on, you better have a lead. The same things the Orioles were able to do in the Division Series [in getting to the bullpen] is going to be a little more difficult."
"I don't see anybody matching up with the Baltimore Orioles right now," Dempsey said. "The strength and how you compare this team to everyone that has been in the playoffs -- the one team that compared was the Tigers. I was really worried about that series, whether the Cy Young winners [in Max Scherzer, Justin Verlander and David Price] would step up.
"Kansas City is close. They've gotten better. You got to be careful of this team. They use their speed more effectively than anything else. We have to find a way to stop the running game. But the Orioles can outpower Kansas City. If they can score runs in the first six innings and not allow them the factor of the back of their bullpen. The secret is to stop the running game. Don't let it be a factor and really score early."
The Orioles will host the Royals for Games 1, 2 and 6 and 7, if needed, and Camden Yards will be loud. While several new players, including Nelson Cruz, marveled at the decibel O's fans have reached in October, Palmer, Anderson and Dempsey are well aware of how much this city loves its team.
"I love Oriole fans," said Anderson, who played 14 years with Baltimore. "I got my first dose in 1988 during the season in which I was traded [from Boston]. They lost 21 games to start, I wasn't involved in that, but we lost 100 games that year. My first at-bat, I got a standing ovation for a sacrifice bunt, there were 30,000 fans. Baltimore fans are terrific. They are loyal. Their involvement makes this a great baseball city, makes players want to play here, players who come from other teams."
Added Palmer: "This city is behind them. Do I think they have what it takes to go all the way? Absolutely."