The year was 2018. The Orioles, on their way to a 115-loss season, were tabbed to play the Yankees on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball” Aug. 26.

Cedric Mullins was there. Even if he doesn’t remember it.

He has no recollection of that game. He shook his head after being reassured that, yes, he was in fact in that dugout. It’s hard to blame someone, though, for not remembering a forgettable night in a season full of them.

Mullins remembers his debut, which came just two weeks prior to that Sunday night game. He recalls his early days in the majors, when he tried to stay out of the veterans’ way, observing as everyone kept their heads down and went about their business. It was like walking on eggshells, he said, trying not to make things worse than they already were.

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But, boy, have the times changed. The Orioles are now the top team in the American League East, and they will return to prime time to face the Yankees on ESPN on Sunday, the first time on that national stage at Camden Yards since that 2018 game.

The 2023 Orioles are a ragtag combination of former top prospects and trade acquisitions with a few minor signings mixed in.

But they’ve found a way to win. A lot.

“No one expected us to be here,” Gunnar Henderson said. “We know we can be here, and we prove it each and every day.”

By that season’s standards, Aug. 26, 2018, wasn’t an awful night. They sent out a starting lineup with Jonathan Villar on second, Craig Gentry in center, Trey Mancini as the DH, Adam Jones in right, Chris Davis at first, Tim Beckham at shortstop, Renato Nunez at third, Jace Peterson in left and Caleb Joseph as the catcher.

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The Orioles fell behind 4-0 but found a little offense in the fifth and sixth innings to drop the game by only two runs. Peterson and Mancini — the only two of those players still in the majors — were responsible for two of the three RBIs.

It was the Orioles’ 94th loss.

Now, five years later, this team has the ability to win 94 games.

Mullins is an important leader. He’s joined by Austin Hays, who spent 2018 in the minors as he clawed his way through injuries and poor performances. He’s not only found his way back to the majors, but he’s also an All-Star and one of the top hitters in the American League. Aaron Hicks, who was manning center field for the Yankees during that last Sunday night game, is now an important part of the Orioles lineup.

Together, they’ve worked to create a more welcoming environment than Mullins experienced in 2018.

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“It’s OK to make mistakes as long as you learn from them and dedicate to not making them twice,” Mullins said of their new mantra. “Guys are playing with more aggressiveness, more passion.”

That’s helped their young talent transition seamlessly. Henderson and Adley Rutschman, both first-round draft picks, are key parts of the team. Top prospects Jordan Westburg and Colton Cowser, who joined them in the majors in June, provide a spark and instant chemistry.

Four members of their rotation — Tyler Wells, Kyle Bradish, Grayson Rodriguez and Dean Kremer, who will start Sunday — have less than two years of service time. They have been loaded with innings but haven’t shown signs of being unable to handle the pressure. Add to that Félix Bautista, who spent eight years in the minors, and Yennier Cano, a part of the Jorge López deal.

The Orioles are becoming household names. And now they’ll get the recognition as they play on the national stage.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun for people on the West Coast and everyone to see our guys play and be the only game going on,” manager Brandon Hyde said. “Happy for our guys.”

danielle.allentuck@thebaltimorebanner.com

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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