Nationally televised game gives Orioles a chance to ‘show exactly what we’ve built here’ – Baltimore Sun

The last time a national audience saw the Orioles play a game on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” Baltimore lost to the New York Yankees, 5-3, at Camden Yards. It was August 26, 2018.

Much has changed since then.

By that point in the season, the sale that marked the beginning of Baltimore’s rebuild had already happened. Still, none of the nine players in the starting lineup that night remain with the Orioles now, with Trey Mancini the most recent departure. In the month remaining in the season after that loss in front of a nationally televised crowd, Baltimore would head into the first of three 100-loss seasons out of the spotlight.

But when the Orioles arrive Sunday in the Little League Classic in Williamsport, Pa., the eyes of the country will be on them again as part of ESPN’s broadcast.

Players don’t focus on which channel their games appear on. But around the clubhouse, there’s a sense that the bigger crowd is an opportunity — a chance to show how far they’ve come in the four seasons since they last appeared on “Sunday Night Baseball.”

And it’s a chance to prove that Baltimore deserves a spotlight once again.

“This is a great platform, and I think it’s going to show what we’ve been doing all year and what people still don’t want to believe, you know what I mean?” right-hander Spenser Watkins said. “In a nationally televised game, we can show off exactly what we’ve built here.”

What they’ve built is an unexpected playoff contender, sitting 2 1/2 games out of the final American League wild-card spot after Saturday’s loss to the Boston Red Sox. With 62 wins, Baltimore has already surpassed the win total in each of the last three full seasons.

That showdown in Williamsport was originally scheduled for 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic put the attempt on hold. Now, the Orioles will head to Bowman Field as a team to watch.

“Before the season, I’m sure when people saw who was playing, they said, ‘Oh, OK, just Boston and the Orioles,'” said left-hander John Means, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery but one of There are few Orioles left who have experienced a “Sunday Night Baseball” game. “Now it’s like, this is a tough game. … I hope people tune in to watch this team play, because it’s so special. Every time I come back, it seems like something new and amazing happens with them.”

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The Orioles haven’t made the playoffs since 2016. They reached the basement of the American League East in 2017, when a late skid set the stage for the fire sale of 2018. Now, even with a record four games over .500, competition in the AL East leaves Baltimore fighting for a wild-card spot instead of a pennant.

Games against division rivals, like Sunday’s against Boston, will go a long way in determining whether the Orioles return to the postseason after a five-season hiatus. It could also show ESPN’s viewership that Baltimore is a force to be reckoned with again, though outfielder Tyler Nevin admitted that “we like to be under the radar and people don’t take us that seriously.” .

“But I think the word is out of it,” Nevin said. “At the beginning of the year, it was like, ‘Hey, look what we’re doing.’ Now it’s like, ‘Yeah, we’re hoping to do this.'”

When fans tune in for Baltimore’s first “Sunday Night Baseball” game in four years, they’ll see a different team than what has been introduced. Watkins said the biggest difference is how athletic and cohesive this iteration of the club is, playing with energy and a firm grasp of the fundamentals.

Left-hander Nick Vespi said the team’s willingness to fight late in games will be the highlight. Means said those who tune in will see “what’s great about baseball,” with a team that provides genuine enjoyment on the field every day, just like they did during Little League.

Whatever fans take away from seeing the Orioles play a nationally televised game again, there’s another lesson to be learned. Baltimore is no longer a sinkhole and the baseball world could take notice.

“We’re not knocking on the door anymore,” Nevin said. “They were here. And you have to take us seriously.”

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