It was the bottom of the eighth in an empty Memorial Stadium. Most of the 40,000 fans that came to see the Orioles that day had already left. The place looked like an Independent League game, with perhaps a quarter of the original crowd scattered throughout the stadium, watching their Baltimore club lose like it had all season.
But this time, actually, was different.
The Baby Birds had their backs against the wall and a rough road ahead of them if they were to come back. Down by five against the Yankees, most teams would have given up, but they didn’t.
Rising to the challenge, the Orioles rallied. With one out and the bases loaded, Brooks Robinson stepped up the plate. With the small crowd behind him, he knew he had to do something special.
And he did.
On the first pitch of the at-bat, he rocketed the ball right back at the Yankees pitcher and into center field, scoring two runners and cutting the lead to three.
Later that inning, Willie Kirkland drove in two to pull the Orioles close for the first time all day. Jerry Adiars then singled another run in, tying the ball game at 7-7.
Up came Charlie Lau (for only the second time that day). After beginning the inning with a pinch-hit single, he clobbered a fastball into left-center, doubling and scoring Aidars, giving Baltimore a lead they would never surrender.
With every fan in the stands on their feet, the Orioles took the field in the top of the ninth. Roger Maris homered for the Yankees, but it didn’t matter, as Stu Miller closed the door and ended the game 9-8.
No one expected the Orioles to win that day against the all-powerful Yankees, but they did. They showed respect for the game by never giving up, even when the chances of winning seemed slim; the Birds still gave it 100 percent the whole way.
Most players would have lost all hope, but they didn’t. Though at the time they didn’t know, it was a pivotal moment in Orioles history. I like to think it was the start of the "Oriole Way."
The Oriole Way was a template that was used to draft, develop, and train players in Double-A and Triple-A ball in preparation for the professional ranks.
The concept was to teach a system and have a "plug-and-play" mentality with all of the organization's players, and it worked. For a short period of time, it truly was the standard in baseball.
They found a way to win when others couldn’t, which was really what the Oriole way was all about. They played great defense, pitched well, and never gave up. The three attributes to any winning organization. Even with their skills diminishing, and their hours as immortals dwindling, they found a way to win.
That’s what Oriole baseball is all about, never giving up, playing till the final out.
The one thing that Baltimore has lacked these past 11 years is consistency. Every year, we seem to have a new manager and vice president. Who knows, if Angelos feels like we're not rebuilding fast enough, we may have a new one tomorrow.
If it's true that history repeats itself, then maybe, just maybe, the Oriole Way can get up and running once again.