KANSAS CITY, Mo. - The Orioles have been to a World Series. It was 31 years ago, sure, but they were there. Even won it, beating the Phillies in five games.
Buck Showalter, despite managing the Yankees on the brink of their dynasty, can't say that. He's only watched the Fall Classic on TV. And after Tuesday night's 2-1 loss to the Royals in Game 3 at Kauffman Stadium, Showalter is one defeat away from being home again, sitting on the couch, remote in hand.
Inside, that has to be eating Showalter alive. Sixteen years as a major-league manager, divided between four teams, and this is as far as Showalter has advanced. His 100-win Diamondbacks got tripped up by the Mets in the '99 Division Series. And now these 96-win Orioles, the AL East champs by a large margin, look doomed as well.
The hardest part? Showalter feels utterly powerless to stop it. The Royals have simply outclassed the Orioles in all phases of the game, not allowing Showalter to exploit the margins, where the top managers do their best work.
"They're earning everything," Showalter said afterward.
That has to sting because Buck knows he deserves better. Hasn't he paid his dues? While Kansas City has looked like a team of destiny, Showalter's fate as one of the most successful managers never to guide his club to a World Series was shaping up to be the other story line. Showalter ranks 38th on the all-time list with 1,259 wins, but still has yet to get the seven in October necessary to play for the title.
Only two managers, Gene Mauch (1,902 wins) and Jimmy Dykes (1,406) have more victories than Showalter without reaching the World Series. But Showalter's .502 winning percentage is far better than Mauch (.483) or Dykes (.477).
Despite all that, Showalter certainly acted loose during the rain-extended two-day break before Game 3. No team has rebounded from losing the first two games at home in the LCS to earn a trip to the World Series, so Showalter was faced with the inevitable question of why he thought this October would be different.
"I've got 96 reasons to be confident in our guys," Showalter said, leaning on the Orioles' regular-season strength.
But that faith took another serious blow Tuesday night, when Showalter was forced to watch the Royals grind out their seventh straight victory of this postseason. There were no buttons to push, no secret strategies to employ. Showalter was undone by textbook baseball -- Billy Butler's sacrifice fly for the go-ahead run in the sixth, followed by another shutdown performance by the KC bullpen.
"If we can get a few things to work our way," Showalter said, "we feel like we can get it spinning the other way."
But the postgame Showalter sounded exasperated -- different from the pregame version, which cracked jokes to cut the tension. In the past, he's had trouble suppressing the frustration. But that wasn't the case before Game 3, when Showalter worked the microphone with the presence of a black windbreaker-clad Jerry Seinfeld.
The comedy routine was a classic Showalter move -- deflecting the attention away from himself while nearly changing the conversation all together -- but he finally did allow the topic to get back to the pressure his Orioles were facing down 2-0.
"You try to stay in the moment and not want something too much," Showalter said. "Sometimes you can want something too much and get in your own way."
Could anyone in an Orioles' uniform possibly want this more than Showalter? At 58, he's got plenty of years left managing -- if he wants it -- but there is no guarantee he'll have more of these chances in the future.
For all his control-freak tendencies, there's only so much he can do himself. Showalter can't manipulate a game like a news conference. Maybe that's why he sees what the Royals have become -- and is smart enough to know there's no stopping them now.
"You can't say somebody is getting hot at the right time," Showalter said. "We play too many games. You are who you are. And because we play so many games there are no Cinderellas in baseball."
The Royals are the closest thing baseball has to one at the moment. And as long as their fairy tale continues, it will be another disappointing end for Showalter.