Orioles win with team-first mentality
Showalter has players working together as group, not worried about stats
The Baltimore Orioles were down 9-1 in the fourth inning in a game last week, and here's the interesting part about that.
"Did you see our dugout?" center fielder Adam Jones asked later.
"We were still into it," he said. "We were encouraging one another. We were on the top step. We never said, 'OK, we'll get 'em tomorrow.' That's just not who we are."
The Orioles ended up losing that game to the Astros by the score of 11-7. But in the eighth inning, they got close enough to think they were going to come all the way back and win.
There's a lesson in there somewhere. Can you believe how far this franchise has come in a year?
"It used to be, 'Oh, the Orioles are in town. Grab a bat,'" Jones said. "They'd light us up. If a team wasn't hot, we'd get 'em hot."
Now Jones has coaches on other teams coming up and saying things like, "You guys do it right. You compete. You go hard every single game."
"That's all we do," Jones said.
These O's have to be Buck Showalter's finest hour as a Major League manager. In 2010, he took over a team that had missed the playoffs for 13 straight years and began working his magic.
Showalter's attention to detail is legendary. So is his ability to make players believe in themselves. For instance, first baseman Chris Davis.
Davis had fallen out of favor with the Rangers and was traded to the Orioles two years ago. Showalter told Davis he believed in him in a way the Rangers hadn't. Showalter told Davis they were going to do great things together.
Davis hit 33 home runs last season and leads the American League with 20 in 2013. He's most likely four weeks away from playing in his first All-Star Game.
Showalter would be the first to tell you he inherited a great core of veterans -- Jones, catcher Matt Wieters, right fielder Nick Markakis and closer Jim Johnson. Shortstop J.J. Hardy was acquired in 2011, and along with Jones, he has solidified Baltimore defensively.
In a lot of ways, Hardy is the prototype of what the O's try to be. Cal Ripken Jr. has been effusive in his praise of Hardy's play at shortstop, and like Jones, is a bottom-line guy.
"He's just so steady," Showalter said of his shortstop. "He doesn't tolerate things that aren't conducive to winning, especially from himself."
Former Orioles general manager Andy MacPhail did a tremendous job putting the franchise in position to win with a series of smart Draft picks and trades. And when Dan Duquette took over the baseball operations in December 2011, he did an extraordinary job piecing together a competitive rotation. Duquette then continued to add pieces throughout last summer as needs arose.
There are plenty of reasons not to believe in Baltimore in 2013. The O's starting pitching has the 12th-best ERA in the AL. Their bullpen hasn't been as tight as it was last season.
Offensively, the Orioles are about as good as any team on the planet. But unless they find solutions for the rotation, they may not be good enough to win.
On the other hand, why not? They're part of the most competitive division in baseball, with four teams separated by two games. Every team has a flaw or two, and in a competitive race, maybe attitude counts for plenty.
"That helps," Jones said. "We win as a team and we lose as a team. We can have a guy go 4-for-4, and if he loses, he's just as ticked off as he'd be if he went 0-for-4. If we win, it's, 'Who cares, we won, that's all that matters.'
"Obviously, individual stats are how you make your money through arbitration and all that, blah, blah, blah. But we want to win. We win and lose as a team, and everyone has adapted that philosophy. We bring it every single day."
When Showalter is asked about that stuff, he smiles.
"It's them, not me," he said.
Oh, please. He's a huge part of what has happened in Baltimore. But let's not interrupt a good story.
"Let me tell you what kind of people we have on this club," Showalter said. "Did you know we voted our Triple-A manager [Ron Johnson] a playoff share? Same for the pitching coach [Mike Griffin]. That tells you our guys get it."
The Orioles used 52 players on their way to a playoff berth last season, and late-night phone calls from Showalter to Ron Johnson became routine. Eighteen pitchers got at least one victory.
One thing the O's probably won't do is make a short-term move. Those kinds of decisions helped get the franchise in trouble in the first place, and so if they believe they're one veteran starting pitcher away from a playoff berth, they seem unlikely to sacrifice a wfo that could help them for the next decade.
One of their top kids, Kevin Gausman, is already in the big leagues, and another, Dylan Bundy, is recovering from arm soreness. If the Orioles win, it's going to be because the guys they have -- Jason Hammel, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, etc., -- get it done.
Don't bet against them.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.