ARLINGTON, Texas — All along the railing, they stood and watched despite the pit in their stomach. Elbows propped up, heads hunched over, the Orioles took in the scene: At Globe Life Field, the Texas Rangers spilled out onto the turf to celebrate a three-game sweep in the American League Division Series.

One by one, players peeled away to retreat into the clubhouse and into the offseason. But catcher Adley Rutschman stayed, eyes fixed, for as long as any of them. He took in the joy that wasn’t his. And even after he, too, withdrew from the dugout railing, the scene played in his mind — and will continue to all winter.

“It’s where you want to be,” Rutschman said later, in a quiet corner of the clubhouse. “It sucks. You make yourself watch a little bit. You gotta tell yourself you’re going to be there next year.”

For a young Orioles team that won 101 games and captured the club’s first American League East title since 2014, the abrupt ending after three lackluster games against Texas offered them a harsh lesson on the volatile nature of postseason baseball.

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Baltimore proved itself over 162 games. In three, the season ended.

So as many of them stood and watched, they took note of the emotions present on this side of the celebration — the wrong side. They watched so they’d remember, and by remembering they hope to never experience it again.

“This hurts, and it’s OK to hurt. It’s OK to have this kind of fuel your fire in the offseason,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “If they did soak it in a little bit, they’re going to be better for it down the road.”

It was difficult in the moment to zoom out and look at the totality of the 2023 campaign, but there’s little doubt Baltimore took a massive step in the right direction. The Orioles weren’t expected to win the division, a fact that Hyde and his players repeated over and over throughout the season.

Left-hander DL Hall reiterated that stance in the clubhouse Tuesday night, taking aim at the oddsmakers early: “They’ll probably count us out again next year, but we don’t care.”

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They played with a chip on their shoulders. They played with the freedom of a team that doesn’t know any better. But then the postseason came and reality set in, so they stood and watched the Rangers celebrate in the fashion the Orioles want to moving forward.

“I think the reason that we do that is because it gives us a sense of why we come to the ballpark every single day,” right-hander Tyler Wells said. “We come here to win. We did that all year long. Right now just wasn’t the right time, but like I said, there’s going to be plenty more opportunities for us, especially with the talent we have on this club.”

This appears to be only the beginning of a window of opportunity in Baltimore.

With a pipeline of talent waiting in the wings and the core contributors of the major league success all expected to return next season, the Orioles are entering the offseason with optimism — and a fire that can only be kindled through postseason heartache.

“Just taking it as fuel for the offseason, because that’s what the ultimate goal is, to win the series and playoffs and make a World Series run and hopefully win it,” infielder Gunnar Henderson said. “It’s not the way you want it to end, but a lot of good can come out from it, being able to take it and use it for the right motivation.”

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Sitting at his locker only minutes after watching the season come to an end, Hall’s thoughts had already moved forward. He watched the Rangers’ celebration. And with it, a spark had caught.

“We’ll be back,” Hall said with the certainty of a player who won’t forget this feeling all winter. “That’s all I can say. I know we’ll be back, and I think this was just kind of a snippet of what’s to come.”

andy.kostka@thebaltimorebanner.com

Andy Kostka is an Orioles beat writer for The Baltimore Banner. He previously covered the Orioles for The Baltimore Sun. Kostka graduated from the University of Maryland and grew up in Rockville. 

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