David Lennon is an award-winning columnist and author who has been a staff writer at Newsday since 1991. Show More
"So many things have changed over there," Showalter said before Monday night's game. "I don't dwell on it a whole lot."
Glancing up from the visitors' dugout, as the Yankees continued taking batting practice, Showalter paused for a few moments. A second or two later, he added, "I'm happy where I am."
If this were any other April from the past decade or so, that would sound like a strange thing for an Orioles manager to say. Happy? In Baltimore? Camden Yards is nice and all, but even the charm of a faux-retro ballpark has its limits.
Since the team's last division title in 1997, the Orioles have strung 14 consecutive losing seasons, and it's not as if the Yankees, Rays and Red Sox decided to relocate for 2012.
Which is fine with Showalter, who showed up in the Bronx sitting on 999 wins and with an Orioles team that maybe, just maybe, could make some noise this season in the AL East. Showalter's crew already has earned some early attention by surging to a 14-8 start and a share of the division lead before Monday night's 2-1 loss to the Yankees at the Stadium.
Now comes the hard part for the Orioles: proving they're in it for the long haul. Their April opponents had a combined winning percentage of .450 (59-72) and in the first meeting with the Yankees, they were swept in a three-game series at Camden Yards. Next up: the Red Sox at Fenway Park, followed by the Rangers, Rays and a rematch with the Yankees.
It's the type of stretch that can help derail a season before the All-Star break, but Showalter wouldn't play along when asked if these games with the Yankees carried any extra weight for a young team trying to shed the franchise's decade of futility.
"That's part of it," Showalter said. "But I think sometimes we make that so consequential. It's more about the Orioles. For us, it's about us doing what we got to do. Our guys are growing up. We like to see guys get a return for their efforts, so we hope one day it's of great consequence for somebody to beat us."
The Orioles seem to be assembling the right pieces. Entering Monday, their 3.06 ERA was second only to Texas in the American League, no easy feat for a team that calls tiny Camden Yards home. After Jason Hammel held the Yankees to two runs in six innings, that lowered their starters' ERA to 3.63.
"It's like when agents say, it's not about the money -- it's about the money," Showalter said. "It's about the pitching.''
Showalter's relief corps was 5-0 with eight saves and a 1.33 ERA in the 16 games leading up to Monday night. Looking at those numbers, it's easier to believe that Baltimore could be legit.
Showalter's work with the Yankees was halted prematurely, first by a labor stoppage that cut short the 1994 season, then by the Mariners in the 1995 Division Series and finally in a rift with George Steinbrenner. But his fingerprints were all over the dynasty that followed, and now Showalter is trying to restore glory to the franchise that was cast aside by Joe Torre's Yankees.
"They have a great organization, and a lot more championships," Matt Wieters said. "But this year is all about each game. Any team can beat any team and that's the mind-set we're taking into it. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday. We'll check the standings at the end of the year. We'll worry about our legacy when we're done and retired."