The Orioles’ chances of earning a wild-card spot dropped to 1.6 percent on FanGraphs after they lost five of seven to the Toronto Blue Jays and the Boston Red Sox last week, but Brandon Hyde’s squad has defied the odds all season, so don’t count them out just yet.
Ahead of their two-game series against the Washington Nationals, who are in the early stages of their own rebuild, here’s a quick guide to the Orioles, the most surprising — and arguably most charming — team in baseball.
Adley Rutschman and his hugs
The Orioles were eight games below .500 when they called up catcher Adley Rutschman — the first pick in the 2019 draft and baseball’s top prospect — on May 21. Since then, they’re 57-43.
Rutschman has emerged as a rookie of the year candidate, thanks in large part to his defense. He’s hitting .251 with 10 home runs and 32 RBI and has 4.0 Wins Above Replacement, according to FanGraphs, which ranks second only to Seattle Mariners phenom Julio Rodríguez among American League rookies.
During last month’s Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., the 24-year-old Rutschman revealed that his favorite athlete was former San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, who won three World Series and was known for giving out some pretty great hugs. Rutschman has developed the same reputation in Baltimore, where fans have embraced him as the cornerstone of the team’s long-awaited turnaround.
The home run chain
It’s the hottest accessory of the summer. Since late April, Orioles hitters have celebrated home runs by donning a chain with thick gold links and an orange O’s logo attached.
So where did the chain come from? It belonged to a fan known as “Fired Up Guy,” who gave it to Logan Sanders, the son of Orioles first base coach Anthony Sanders, during an early-season win over Boston. Logan brought the chain into the clubhouse, where it was an instant hit with the players.
“I’m into it,” Hyde told reporters. “I’d love to see it a bunch more.”
The Orioles, who take the chain on road trips, rank 15th in the majors in home runs. They would have hit a lot more if they hadn’t moved the left field wall at Camden Yards back 30 feet during the offseason, much to the chagrin of Aaron Judge. Baseball’s home run leader called the redesign “a travesty” in May.
Despite being only three games out of a playoff spot, the Orioles dealt first baseman Trey Mancini to the Houston Astros and all-star closer Jorge López to the Minnesota Twins at the trade deadline. The moves were unpopular in the clubhouse and among many fans, but Baltimore continued to win, at least until last week.
While the Orioles certainly miss Mancini’s bat — they’ve averaged three runs and have been shut out twice over their past eight games — Félix Bautista has been dominant since assuming the ninth-inning role from López. The 6-foot-5 right-hander, known as “The Mountain,” boasts a 1.62 ERA and has converted 12 of 13 save chances. He also has one of the better closer entrances in baseball.
In homage to “The Wire,” the hit HBO series set in Baltimore, the distinctive whistling of “The Farmer in the Dell” by Omar, the character portrayed by the late Michael K. Williams, plays over the Camden Yards speakers. The stadium lights flash and the crowd goes wild as Bautista makes his way to the mound.
No matter that the 27-year-old Dominican has never seen “The Wire” and therefore doesn’t fully understand the reference.
If you’ve watched an Orioles game on TV and caught a glimpse of the Baltimore bullpen, you may have wondered, “Are they growing tomatoes out there?” Yes, yes they are.
The tomato plant made its Camden Yards debut this season, but it’s a nod to a tradition from Memorial Stadium, where longtime Orioles groundskeeper Pasquale Anthony Santarone, a.k.a. the Sodfather, began growing tomatoes in foul territory down the left field line in 1970.
“People think groundskeepers are just ditchdiggers,” Santarone, who continued planting tomatoes at the Orioles’ former home until he retired in 1991, once told The Post. “I like to think of the job as an art form — a gardening art form.”
For many years, Santarone and Orioles Manager Earl Weaver had a tomato-growing competition. Santarone said Weaver was always a “tenacious little bleep,” but the groundskeeper usually came out on top.
‘Call of Duty’ binoculars
When an Oriole gets a hit, he turns toward the Baltimore dugout and mimes putting a pair of binoculars over his eyes. The tradition began in spring training, when Rougned Odor, Jorge Mateo and several other Orioles players spent some of their downtime playing an installment of the “Call of Duty” video game series. The binoculars are a reference to the precision airstrikes employed in the game.
The gesture is akin to the “Baby Shark” hand motions that Nationals players did during their run to a World Series title in 2019 and countless other celebrations that teams introduce to keep things interesting over the course of a long season.
“When you have those little things that create more energy in the team, the whole team comes together,” Odor told the Baltimore Sun.
No sequence of events has better characterized the chaos of Baltimore’s improbable season than the Orioles’ walk-off win against the Chicago White Sox on Aug. 25. Trailing 3-2 with two outs in the ninth inning, White Sox left fielder Adam Engel dropped a foul pop-up for what should have been the final out of the game.
Facing an 0-2 count, Orioles rookie Kyle Stowers then took closer Liam Hendriks deep for the first home run of his career, which tied the score. Baltimore went on to win in 11 innings.
Infield prospect Gunnar Henderson, who, like Rutschman and Stowers, was part of General Manager Mike Elias’s first draft class, was called up a week later and homered in his major league debut.
No player for any team had hit a game-tying HR on an 0-2 pitch with 2 outs in the 9th in over 4 years.— Jayson Stark (@jaysonst) August 26, 2022
Then Kyle Stowers, who had zero big-league HR, hit this one, off Liam Hendriks - who had allowed 1 career HR on an 0-2 pitch.
(Last to do this: Michael Brantley - on 5/1/18!) https://t.co/DWiY5wrXcQ
‘Liftoff from here’
Elias, the architect of the Orioles’ teardown and rebuild, said he plans to “significantly escalate the payroll” this offseason. There’s nowhere to go but up for a franchise that spent less than anyone this year.
“While I’m super excited about 2022 and what’s ahead of us and our chances, we’re going to continue with the plan of building for this bright, long future in the American League East,” Elias said at the trade deadline. “I think we’re right there. I think it’s liftoff from here for this team.”
In addition to the young players who made their big league debuts this season, Baltimore has a deep farm system, highlighted by right-hander Grayson Rodriguez. The Orioles used the first pick in this year’s draft to select high school infielder Jackson Holliday, the son of longtime major leaguer Matt Holliday.
The future is finally bright in Baltimore, even if the lights soon go out on the Orioles’ 2022 season.