The rebuilding phase began in Baltimore as the Orioles began mixing rookies and youngsters with their veterans and finished 74-88 under first-year manager Mike Hargrove. Cal Ripken was limited to just 83 games in the first injury-plagued season of his amazing career while Albert Belle hit a team-leading 23 homers playing with what eventually would be a career ending hip injury. Veteran pitcher Jose Mercedes led the staff with 14 wins while the club lost stalwart Scott Erickson to elbow surgery.
This was a landmark season in Baltimore, as Cal Ripken announced that it would be his last in the Major Leagues. What was another rebuilding season for the Orioles transformed into a farewell tour for the most durable player in the history of the game. Ripken received numerous gifts and accolades as he stopped by visiting Major League parks for the final time. The season ended at home and the Orioles and Major League baseball agreed to switch the season finale to Saturday, and Ripken played his final game on Oct. 6, 2001. He finished the year hitting .239 with 14 homers and 68 RBI. He capped his career by hitting a home run in the All-Star Game and winning the MVP award.
A young Orioles club took the field and was one of the league's surprises through the first 126 games, winning 63 and seemingly en route to a winning season. A 4-32 finish put a damper on the year, but there were some bright spots. Rodrigo Lopez was named Team MVP and the Sporting News American League Rookie Pitcher of the Year while Jay Gibbons hit 28 home runs. It was the fifth consecutive fourth place finish for the Orioles, who finished the year on a 12-game losing streak.
The Orioles were within two games of the .500 mark on August 10 but sputtered to a 14-32 finish over the final seven weeks of the season to finish in 4th place with a 71-91 record. Melvin Mora made the All-Star team and was among the league's batting leaders before missing most of the second half with wrist and MCL injuries. Jay Gibbons hit 23 homers and drove in 100 runs and was named Most Valuable Oriole.
The Orioles introduced first-year manager Lee Mazzilli and free-agent signees Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez as well as old friends Rafael Palmeiro and Sidney Ponson. The O's set several offensive records and finished 78-84, their best record since 1999. Rookie Daniel Cabrera emerged on the scene by winning 12 games in his first Major League exposure. Tejada set a club record for RBIs in a season and Brian Roberts set a club record for doubles, as the Orioles finished with a .281 average.
The 2005 season saw the Orioles leap into first place in the division early, leading their American League East brethren from mid-April well into June before a cold spell -- and a hot Boston Red Sox -- caught up to the Birds for good. Paced by April Player of the Month Brian Roberts (.314, 18 HR, 27 Steals), Baltimore stayed in the race most of the summer. A plethora of injuries and locker room turmoil surrounding Rafael Palmeiro derailed a once-promising year, and cost manager Lee Mazzilli his job on Aug. 4. His replacement, Sam Perlozzo, went 23-32 after taking over, his club finishing the year in fourth place at 74-88.
The Orioles continued their homegrown youth movement in 2006, with high-wattage prospects Nick Markakis and Adam Loewen joining the fray. Chris Ray adjusted well to closing, picking up where BJ Ryan left off by converting 33 of his 38 save opportunities. Erik Bedard grew into a staff ace but missed inclusion in his first All-Star Game. Miguel Tejada had another outstanding season -- setting a club record for hits (214) and driving in 100 runs for the sixth time in seven years -- but it wasn't enough to keep the Orioles from posting their ninth straight losing record and their worst win-total since 2002.
Baltimore won just 11 of its final 39 games in 2007, a stretch that left the Orioles as one of three teams in the Major Leagues (along with Tampa Bay and Pittsburgh) to have 10 straight seasons with a losing record. Manager Sam Perlozzo was dismissed in early June, and the team played well under replacement Dave Trembley early before fading late. Miguel Tejada broke a bone in his wrist at midseason, causing his consecutive games streak -- the fifth-longest in Major League history -- to end. Second baseman Brian Roberts returned to form, and Erik Bedard led the American League in strikeouts (221). Nick Markakis played in 161 games and led the team with 112 RBIs.
The Orioles started out hot and faded down the stretch, losing 11 of their last 12 and 28 of their last 34 games en route to their 11th straight losing season. The season was marked by the absence of former standouts Miguel Tejada and Erik Bedard, who were traded before the year to enact a new rebuilding movement. Jeremy Guthrie established himself as the team's staff ace, and Aubrey Huff had a huge resurgence to win the AL's Silver Slugger for designated hitters. Right fielder Nick Markakis had another prime season in the middle of the batting order and Adam Jones successfully took over in center field, giving the Orioles two building blocks to watch going forward.
The Orioles finished 2009 with a 64-98 record, fifth place in American League East Division. The Orioles saw a breakout season from Adam Jones and the introduction to the Major Leagues for catcher Matt Wieters, who was billed by many analysts as the best prospect in baseball. Wieters slowly became more comfortable at the plate as the season progressed and ended the year on an impressive surge. Nick Markakis and Brian Roberts reprised their roles as the team's two most dangerous hitters, and Nolan Reimold established himself as a keeper. Perhaps nobody inspires more optimism than twin prospects Chris Tillman and Brian Matusz, who both made it to the Majors before their 23rd birthday and held their own in their late-season auditions.
While the O's first half of the season was marred by injury, inconsistency and underperformance, the tide turned on Aug. 2 when Buck Showalter stepped in as the new manager. Buoyed by the second-half additions of a healthy Brian Roberts, Felix Pie, Koji Uehara, Jim Johnson and Michael Gonzalez, the Orioles posted their first winning August in 13 seasons. Simply put, Baltimore saved its best baseball for the final two months of the season, finishing with the AL East's best record in August and September.