ARLINGTON, Texas — As the final embers of the 2023 Orioles season cooled late Tuesday night, a season’s worth of emotions came out as players and coaches absorbed the finality of their failure to capitalize on a promising regular season.

Players were devastated. They sunk in their chairs in the clubhouse after the game, peeling away the labels on their beer bottles. They spoke in soft tones, trying to make sense of where it all went wrong.

They may have gotten swept in the American League Division Series, but they still won 101 games and the American League East, two years after losing 110 games and finishing last in the league. They sent four to the All-Star Game — Austin Hays, Adley Rutschman, Yennier Cano and Félix Bautista — a sign that they had arrived. They have the talent, and have been recognized by the league for it.

Ultimately the pain and shock of a 7-1 loss and the first sweep after avoiding that fate for 91 series could not cloud over the clearest takeaway: This year was a step — albeit a baby one, as veteran Cedric Mullins noted — in the right direction. They considered the season, on the whole, a success, they said.

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“How can I not?” manager Brandon Hyde said.

“They defied all the odds. Nobody gave us a chance. These guys played their butts off for six months. We just didn’t play well for these last three, unfortunately. And it’s definitely a successful season and these guys are going to be really good going forward.”

Only five players had prior playoff experience. This young team lived up to the moment all season, until, with the spotlight on, it didn’t.

Failure delivers an important lesson, though, in what to expect. The core group will remain largely the same next year, and they expect to use this as a learning tool for next season. Ryan Mountcastle noted that they need more “electricity.” Gunnar Henderson, the frontrunner for AL Rookie of the Year, said they need to just be themselves, not to try to do too much.

“Just get the experience of allowing myself to play ball, going out there and see what it’s like for the first time, because I had playoffs in the minor leagues but it was nothing compared to this,” Henderson said. “Glad I was able to get the experience in my first full season.”

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The takeaways from this season are there. Henderson, after a slow start, became exactly who this organization — this city — hoped he would become. It took him time to adjust to major league pitching. He had a .192 batting average on May 21 with four home runs. But he then hit .274 with 24 home runs from that point forward. He was 6-for-12 in the postseason, including having half of the team’s hits on Tuesday night.

Baltimore Orioles pitcher Kyle Gibson rolls his eyes after giving up a run during Game 3 of the American League Division Series against the Texas Rangers at Globe Life Field in Arlington, Texas, on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023. (Ulysses Muñoz/The Baltimore Banner)

Behind him in the lineup almost every night during the regular season was Ryan O’Hearn. He may have ended the season 1-for-28, but, despite not making the team out of camp, was still one of their most valuable hitters.

Kyle Bradish emerged as a the team’s next ace, becoming the first Orioles’ starter since Mike Mussina to finish with an ERA under 3.00. He started Game 1 of the ALDS and was the only Baltimore starter to make it past the second inning.

Rookie Grayson Rodriguez, although less successful in the playoffs, proved that he can handle postseason hitters after a rough first stint. In the minors he could out-stuff opponents. It took a trip back down to Norfolk to learn how to really pitch a major league game. He had a 2.58 ERA in his 13 regular season starts after being recalled on July 17.

DL Hall and Tyler Wells, two starters turned relievers, played key parts in the Orioles run down the stretch. They both needed time to reset this season — Hall in Sarasota, Wells in Bowie and Norfolk — but each made successful returns. Whether they will be in a rotation or a bullpen role next year is to be seen, but they proved they can excel in either role.

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Cano, too, took a major leap. He wasn’t on any roster projections after giving up 23 earned runs in his first 18 major league innings in 2022. By the end of 2023, he was one of the Orioles’ most trusted relievers, pitching to a 2.11 ERA.

In 2022, the Orioles finished with a winning record. This year they won the division and made the playoffs for the first time since 2016.

If the progression continues, who knows what next year will bring.

“The core group of this team is still learning a lot in the big leagues, from week-to-week, month-to-month,” Hays said. “I only expect us to get better.”

danielle.allentuck@thebaltimorebanner.com

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This story has been updated with the correct spelling of Mike Mussina’s surname.

Danielle Allentuck covers the Orioles for The Baltimore Banner. She previously reported on the Rockies for the Denver Gazette and general sports assignments for The New York Times as part of its fellowship program. A Maryland native, Danielle grew up in Montgomery County and graduated from Ithaca College.

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