ARLINGTON, Texas -- So into baseball's final octet hurtle the B-B-B-Baltimore Orioles, but don't you worry, you other seven. There's no way they'll go any further than this.
This can't last, just like it couldn't in April, when forecasters pegged them somewhere between 58-104 and 70-92, and others had them threatening the club record of 107 losses, while casual fans might have wondered if the long-hidden franchise had disbanded. Surely they'll taper off now, just like they should have after reaching 15-9 by May 1, and 42-36 by July 1, and a mirage of a 73-59 by September 1, and 93-69 as of Friday morning. They just haven't gotten around to it yet.
They'll scatter into winter, just like they were going to do when they came to the American League wild card game with a starter with a Rangers Ballpark record of 0-6 and a Rangers Ballpark ERA nibbling at 10. They didn't go home yet, if you must get all accurate about it. They beat the Rangers 5-1 Friday night. But they will go home. Sometime. Right? Oh, for sure.
So then it's a good thing they got in that locker-room celebration that surpassed jovial and exceeded rowdy and transcended raucous and found its way all the way to apocalyptic. It felt like the end of time in there, with all the corks strewn around the floor and the bottles and cans lying dead in bins and the stench of wild card champagne in the air and the floor coated in liquid and players making running starts to slide in their socks and the speakers playing Flo Rida's "Good Feeling" and LMFAO's "Party Rock Anthem." It's nice, as manager Buck Showalter said, that this motley group had that experience, seeing how they learned they made the playoffs on iPads on an airplane.
Finally, like at most parties, somebody wound up left alone, for some untold reason holding a belt. "Where'd everybody go?" pitcher Tommy Hunter said, before barreling out of the chamber with, "I guess I gotta leave. Sucks! I don't like leaving!"
Yeah, this will be just about the last, won't it? Just about the last of this wild improbability, of this enviable life experience for this young team, of the phrases you hear walking around the spray, such as "a mishmash bunch of guys," and "we lack the star power," and "don't have a big payroll" and "an awesome manager, maximizing the talent he has" and, as starter Joe Saunders put it, "a bunch of no-name dudes, a bunch of young guys that have a lot of fun, a lot of faith in each other."
Soon we won't hear sentiments such as this from pitcher Darren O'Day: "You know, last night when I was in bed, trying to sleep, not sleeping, I was thinking about how much fun I've had this year. The one thing I thought about was if we lost tonight, we will not be able to have fun anymore."
The Orioles will go, won't they? They'll just bring along their marvelous bullpen and their 16-2 extra-innings record and their 29-9 one-run-games record, and they'll call it a good run, surely. They can leave behind the goggles, the ones some of them donned to ward off any potential stinging from all the stuff flying through the air in there. All gloriously crazy things must end. "It's just unfortunate in our society we want to hang the golden hero around somebody," Showalter said. "With our team it's just a bunch of guys that raised the bar and wouldn't give in and still haven't. Now they get a chance to roll the dice, and there's a lot of good card players in there."
You know how it tends to end up with card players.
Showalter already got past one team (Texas) that fired him and spoke with consummate decency about it, claiming to "understand the shelf life of coaches and managers in sports and the way our sports society works," and praising his successor, and now he gets a shot at another erstwhile employer (New York). He has "a lot of guys that had their noses bloodied together here," as he put it, so, "They developed a fraternity." While many tried to ignore them all summer, even as they kept turning up high in the standings, as if by some puckish serial typo, they reversed 69-93 into 93-69, so of course anything more would be too much to ask.
Besides, that's not a fraternity in there. That's Rio de Janeiro. With this merry bunch, the starter comes in 0-6 in the park on the road and reckons afterward, "I'm due! I'm due. Right?" Having arrived only in August from Arizona, Saunders said, "They welcome you in here with open arms, and I didn't want to let them down."
Of course, all of us realists know that kind of camaraderie can carry you only so far, so it's a good thing those of us who have followed baseball for so much of our lives can say conclusively, absolutely, unwaveringly, that there's no way this team is going any further than this. Because of course from April on, we all have been so right all along.