TORONTO — Over the past three or four weeks, Robinson Chirinos has spoken more than usual. The 38-year-old catcher is one of three Orioles players to appear in a major league post-season game. He knows what it means to feel pressured, to feel the impact of each decision on a diamond, and he wants to make sure a list full of beginners understands that too.
Last week, in particular, he presented his view to a group of players at a meeting.
“When you hate losing, you know what it feels like to win games and get to post-season, you’ll never be the same,” said Cherinos. “You will do everything in your power to get to the post-season and play in the world championship.”
Baltimore is still out looking at where the last wild card is. By completing a late comeback against the Toronto Blue Jays on Sunday, the Orioles (76-69) kept themselves within walking distance, four games behind the Seattle Mariners with 17 games.
Each game looms large, with pivotal moments in what feels like playoffs before October officially arrives. Take Sunday, for example, when Catcher Adley Rutschman climbed to the board with loaded bases and no ends in the ninth inning. He’s played in the All-American Games and won the College World Series with Oregon State, but against Jordan Romano’s closest at the Rogers Center, Rutschman faced what could be the biggest moment of his career to date.
It came with a green light, turn on one. After that, he said he tried to ignore the circumstances, and relaxed as much as he could. But as left-handed D.L. Hall said before the game, high school tournaments and shows don’t quite compare to a major league race.
“Nothing here can prepare you up here,” Hall said.
This is until you test it.
No matter how much the remainder of the season in Baltimore develops — defaulting or fulfilling their wildest dreams — a meaningful gaming experience in September sets the organization poised for future success. In Sunday’s comeback win, five rookies played key roles, including closest Felix Bautista against all-star caliber hitters.
Next season, as the Orioles aim to ramp up pressure on MLS eastern clubs, the core group of players will already have succumbed to post-season pressure.
“Just from experience alone, I don’t think you can give value to it, getting these guys into big games so early in their careers,” Jake Reed said. “They will be groomed in the future for more success. … It’s huge. I think it’s scary for the other teams in the league that this team has this kind of core group of youngsters.”
Aside from Chirinos, the only other players with post-season experience are first Jesús Aguilar and second baseman Rougned Odor. Among the three of them, they have played in 42 playoffs — including seven in the World Championships, when Chirinos played for the Houston Astros in 2019.
This knowledge base is helpful. Gunnar Henderson, who played a pivotal role in Baltimore despite being the youngest player in baseball, said he relies on these veterans for advice. Chirinos served as Rutschman’s mentor. The staff gravitates toward right-handed Jordan Lyles, who, although not presenting in the postseason, played for the Milwaukee Brewers during the 2018 season, which ended in the National League Championship Series.
It’s a similar approach to how Austin Hayes felt when he was promoted in 2017, with Baltimore in the mix for a spot on the cool. While trying to find a foothold, he credits Manny Machado and Adam Jones as two characters who guided him through the challenges of his first MLB season that coincided with a playoff push.
However, in 2017, the Oriole collapsed. Hayes remembers how hard it was to put up with it, as he faced a team falling out of competition in the playoffs. This season could still end differently.
“Just the idea of playing meaningful games that are important at the end of the year, you’re basically fighting for your life every single day. I mean, that’s what you want as a baseball player,” Hayes said. You want to play in games that will take you to the next level. So it definitely works for us now that we can get past that, just play an important game every day. I’m just trying to get to the next step.”
That next step could arrive as quickly as possible next season. After the trade deadline, when the Orioles parted ways with number one baseman Trey Mancini and closer to Jorge Lopez, Executive Vice President and General Manager Mike Elias said “It’s a take off from here.”
They’ll hit the launch pad with an edge, having seen the ups and downs of the post-season chase, no matter how the season turns out.
“I have no idea how long I’ll be in one place. I’ve learned that over the past two years,” Reid said. “But I know that wherever I am in five years this team is going to be a problem.”
The Orioles return to Camden Yards for a three-game streak against the Detroit Tigers before facing the Gantlett to end the season. After the Tigers, the AL’s leading Houston Astros arrived for four games. Baltimore will then finish the regular season with three series against the enemies of the AL East: The Boston Red Sox, New York Yankees, and Toronto.
At its end, the post-season picture will be clear. To get to October, the Orioles will need to pass some of the best baseball teams.
For the first time this season, coach Brandon Hyde started four rookies in the same squad on Saturday: Rochman, Henderson, Teren Vavra and Kyle Storrs. All four of these produced against the Blue Jays. Stowers’ hit single on Sunday the Ninth helped spark a comeback. Rochman drove four runs, Henderson drove in three, and Favra drove in one.
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