He's Buck Showalter, and the manager of the Orioles goes into the weekend just four games out of the second American League Wild Card in the loss column, and a grand total of six games behind the Red Sox in that same loss column. The season was supposed to have left him behind and left his team behind a while ago. The whole world thought the O's were ready to trade Zach Britton to a contender, as if he were this year's Andrew Miller or Aroldis Chapman. Britton is still around. So are the Orioles, who went into a four-game series at home against the Tigers having won five in a row. Their manager doesn't quit and they don't either.
I asked Showalter on Thursday afternoon if he ever considered standing in front of his team and telling them just that: that he wasn't quitting and neither were they, there was too much season left, and still too much of a chance for them to get one of the two AL Wild Card spots, one of the most interesting races we have left, or even make a run in the AL East.
"Let me explain something to you," Showalter said. "If you have to make that kind of speech, you've got the wrong team."
The Orioles were supposed to be gone. This was supposed to be a Red Sox-Yankees summer in the AL East, and if anybody came from the outside, it was supposed to be Tampa Bay. For so much of this season, you thought you had a better chance of getting hit by lightning in Baltimore than seeing one of Showalter's starters get past the fifth inning. The guy who was supposed to be his ace, Chris Tillman, currently has a sporty ERA of 8.10, but only sporting if you're pitching in your bar's softball league.
But instead of selling off the rest of the season, the Orioles made a deal for Jeremy Hellickson. On Wednesday night against the Royals, who have the second Wild Card in the league right now, Hellickson pitched seven shutout innings and gave up just three hits, and if you've been watching the struggles of the Orioles' starters for months, it was as if the young Jim Palmer had come back to Baltimore.
So when you ask Showalter why his team is playing better, why it has postseason prospects again with two months left to play, he says, "Our starting pitching has been better. That's it. We've always had a play-every-day type of team. Now we're getting pitching to go with it. Everybody tries to make this game so ----ing complicated. But it's really not."
The Astros have been a lot better this season. The Yankees have been better and the Red Sox have been better than the Orioles, so have the Indians and the Royals. But the O's have a chance. They were 42-49 about 10 seconds ago. Then they started to play. They still have Manny Machado. They still have Adam Jones. The Orioles still have Chris Davis. And they have one of the young stars of the game in their second baseman, Jonathan Schoop. You want to know the best stat about Schoop? Here it is: He has more RBIs so far this season than Aaron Judge. And Schoop has 25 home runs to go with them. And he is hitting .306, which at the present time happens to be seven points higher than Judge.
"Here's the thing," Showalter said. "You're always just a week away."
He has been at this too long, in too many places, to get ahead of himself. He sees what the quality of the opposition is like. Showalter had to watch every day and night for months as his starters absolutely could not give him five innings. But when the Orioles had to decide at the Trade Deadline whether they still had a season or not, they decided that maybe they did. They didn't deal Britton, who would have been under a new team's control for the rest of this season and next season as well. The O's made their deal for Hellickson, one that got lost underneath all the noise for Sonny Gray and Yu Darvish.
This is what Orioles vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette said after he made his deal with the Phillies for Hellickson:
"Jeremy Hellickson is a solid, dependable veteran Major League starter who knows how to win in the American League."
Of course, Hellickson has made just one start for the Orioles. But he looked solid and dependable enough and got himself a win on Wednesday night. So far so good. Still doesn't have the manager of the team getting ahead of himself, or showing any interest whatsoever in talking about the standings, which he says he's completely ignoring.
"We need to continue to get our stuff straightened out," Showalter said. "If we don't, the stuff that everybody else is doing doesn't matter to us."
There is no better manager in baseball, whether or not Showalter ever wins a World Series. The culture change in Baltimore on his watch has been one of the best stories of the past several years, in a storied baseball place. Everybody knows Showalter left the Yankees before they started all their winning in the 1990s and he left the Diamondbacks before they won their one World Series. Everybody knows that people are still yelling about him losing to the Blue Jays in the AL Wild Card Game last season without ever getting Britton into the game. All that. Here he is again, a tough out still hanging around.
Showalter doesn't quit. His team doesn't quit. Take a look at the AL Wild Card standings. Take a look at the records in front of the Orioles in the AL East. There aren't going to be more deals. Showalter probably has no chance to make real noise if Tillman doesn't stop pitching like a scrub. But you count out one of his teams at your own peril.
"There's something else you have to remember," Showalter said. "September is an eternity. The hardest thing to do in our game is to close out a good season in September."
Showalter's team tries to find itself come September. Jones is hitting just .269 so far. Machado is hitting .250. Davis is hitting .224. It isn't just that the Orioles need better pitching. They need for their other stars besides Schoop to hit better than they have. But is it crazy to think that they won't the rest of the way?
"Stop me if you've heard this one before," Buck Showalter said. "It's a long season."