AL East champion Orioles take next step and might as well keep on going now 

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BALTIMORE — There were reminders throughout the night of just how far the Orioles had come to win the American League East and secure the No. 1 seed with their 100th victory of 2023. 

Thursday’s starter and winning pitcher, Dean Kremer was one of five players acquired in the Manny Machado trade that officially began the teardown and rebuild in July of 2018 as the Orioles staggered to a franchise-worst 47-115 season. Asked to reflect on the five years leading up to this moment, Kremer quipped an apology to fans for the three years following that deal as the Orioles would lose 108 or more games two more times. The 27-year-old right-hander had his own challenges, which included a 7.55 ERA and demotion to the minors just two years ago. 

The first-inning home run that was the game’s only score for most of the night came off the bat of Anthony Santander, the former Rule 5 pick who couldn’t stay on the field in his first few years with the Orioles and was an undisciplined hitter with a career .290 on-base percentage entering 2022. That he’s clubbed 60 homers and walked a respectable 110 times over the last two seasons is a credit to his growth mindset and the organization’s ability to develop talent even at the major league level. You have to feel great for the likes of Santander, Austin Hays, and Cedric Mullins, the “veterans” in their late 20s who endured this entire rebuild.

Somewhat of a forgotten man who was one of Baltimore’s two best starters over the first half of the season, Tyler Wells was summoned to close out the 2-0 victory. It was the first time the right-hander had recorded a save since he was a Rule 5 rookie in September of 2021. That’s quite the leap going from closing meaningless games for a 110-loss outfit to pitching for a division title, so we’ll see how Wells fits into the postseason bullpen. 

History was also represented Thursday as Orioles legend and Hall of Famer Cal Ripken sat behind home plate and received an ovation after being shown on the video board between innings. The best and most beloved player in the 32-season history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards and a 1983 World Series champion, not even Ripken enjoyed a 100-win regular season in his 21-year career. Baltimore had last reached that threshold in 1980, the year before he debuted.

And yes, the Orioles wore No. 5 on their sleeves. Just two days after Brooks Robinson died at age 86, this team brought such joy to a grieving fan base. It’s difficult to think about this franchise without Robinson’s presence — he signed with the Orioles in the second year of their existence after all — but his spirit will surely persist longer than any of us will. Mr. Oriole offering his encouragement and approval to this ascending club last September meant the world with Brandon Hyde and rookie Gunnar Henderson acknowledging that late Tuesday.  

After the Orioles celebrated on the field and Hyde toasted his players in the clubhouse, the manager eventually made his way to the auxiliary clubhouse. It was the same location of his introductory press conference five years earlier and countless postgame media sessions in which he ran out of things to say about ugly losses for bad teams that weren’t supposed to win. Who would have predicted five years ago that this former Chicago Cubs bench coach would not only still be managing the Orioles, but he’d be leading a 100-win club to the postseason? 

Such rebuilds rarely play out in this way, but general manager Mike Elias had no designs of “upgrading” from Hyde whenever the Orioles would finally turn the corner.

“He said the exact same thing: ‘I’m not hiring you to replace you when we get more talented,’” Hyde said. “He held true to that. Like I’ve said before, he was way more patient those first few years than I was because it was hard. I took losses hard, and I knew we weren’t as talented as other teams. But I just felt bad for the guys in the clubhouse and was pulling for them, and it just eats you up.

“Mike showed great patience and understood the plan was in place. He drafted extremely well and got more talent in this organization like he said he was going to. You’re seeing it now. Two years ago, if you sat in this chair with 110 losses, I wouldn’t have thought we were going to win 100 games and win the AL East two years later. For me, it’s a remarkable story, and it just shows you how good he is as a leader and also an evaluator.” 

As players, coaches, and staffers partied in the clubhouse, Elias was all smiles, soaking in the moment with his long-term vision bringing the Orioles to this point. For the decades that followed Baltimore’s last World Series title in 1983, fans and media had bemoaned the organization’s inability to build a sustainable winner as the farm system and player development were rarely up to par. 

Elias has finally changed that. And while questions will persist about ownership’s willingness to spend the money to retain their young stars, the Orioles finally announcing a new 30-year lease to remain at Camden Yards only enhanced a night of celebration. 

Less than two weeks after the Orioles officially clinched a playoff spot, Hyde congratulated his players for taking the next step, but this celebration was more subdued than the first one. Players were undoubtedly excited about a division title and the AL’s top seed, but they didn’t look or sound satisfied.


They have bigger goals. 

Can these Orioles bring the World Series back to Baltimore for the first time in 40 years?

This young club has come so far in such a short time after a 31-game improvement in 2022 and another 17-win increase this season. 

There’s no sense in stopping now.   

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