BALTIMORE — Walking through the Inner Harbor area the last three days provided a perfect example of how a baseball team can transform a city.
Restaurants and bars are busy, their customers spilling out to tables set up on the sidewalk. Families pass through hotel lobbies wearing Orioles jerseys and several major intersections near Camden Yards now feature bootleg souvenir stands that weren’t there a few days ago.
An orange-and-black “Take October” T-shirt can be yours for $25. Or you can venture inside the park and get the official “Postseason B-More Baseball” shirt for $39.99.
What you couldn’t get on Saturday was a ticket to the game, which was sold out hours before the Orioles beat the Red Sox, 5-2.
There’s a happy vibe in a city that can certainly use one.
“Nobody gave us a chance to start this year. Nobody,” manager Brandon Hyde told his players on Thursday night after the Orioles clinched the division title. “That’s 100 wins right there. We just won the AL East.”
They’ll host a playoff game later this week for the first time since the 2014 ALCS. This is Baltimore’s first 101-win season since they won 102 games in 1979 and it came only two seasons after losing 110 games in 2021.
Get used to Orange Octobers. Nearly all of Baltimore’s top players are under team control through at least 2026, with their biggest stars — righthander Kyle Bradish, infielder Gunnar Henderson and catcher Adley Rutschman — not eligible for free agency until 2028 or ‘29.
Even Baltimore’s Triple A team won the International League.
Red Sox manager Alex Cora sounded wistful as he described the Orioles.
“When you look at those guys, they all have plate discipline,” he said. “They do a good job in the minor leagues if you pay attention to what they do. Look where they have their hands, all of those young kids. There is something they’re doing in player development that is working here at the big league level. They’re tight with their hands and they’re short to the ball.”
General manager Mike Elias and assistant general manager Sig Mejdal came to the Orioles from Houston and brought with them the same player development philosophies that worked so well for the Astros.
Hyde was with the Cubs from 2012-18, starting out in player development under Theo Epstein and Jed Hoyer. Hyde eventually joined the major league coaching staff under Joe Maddon and was part of their curse-breaking World Series team in 2016.
“Brandon lived the experience in Chicago. He was the perfect guy to go through all those years of development,” Cora said. “He took his punches and now he takes punches to us because they’re good at what they do.”
The Orioles seemed to take endless punches, losing 68 percent of their games from 2018-21. That allowed them to select Rutschman with the first pick of the 2019 draft and Henderson 42nd. Kjerstad was the second pick of the 2020 draft and Holliday first in 2022.
That path doesn’t exist anymore. A draft lottery was part of the latest collective bargaining agreement. In addition, revenue sharing recipients cannot receive a lottery pick more than two years in a row.
The Orioles completed their rebuild just as the new rules came in. What they have done this season exceeded any of their expectations.
“I can’t say as we were losing 110 games a few years ago that we’d be able to win 100 games so soon,” Hyde said.
The Orioles have a streak of 91 series without being swept, a testament to their consistency under Hyde.
There is some adversity as the Orioles prepare for the playoffs. Elias announced on Saturday that closer Félix Bautista would undergo Tommy John surgery and isn’t expected to return until 2025.
Bautista had 33 saves and a 1.48 earned run average in 56 games this season and is likely to receive Cy Young Award votes. The Orioles were hoping he could return next week, but a month-long period of rehabilitation didn’t work as well as hoped.
“We just ran out of time for this to be a feasible and successful option for the postseason,” Elias said. “It stopped making sense … bad timing for him and the team.”
The Orioles have options, primarily hard-throwing righthander Yennier Cano, who was an All-Star. Lefthander Cionel Pérez has eight saves and righthander Tyler Wells picked one up against the Red Sox on Thursday.
The Orioles signed Bautista to a two-year contract, buying out one year of arbitration.
“He can concentrate on his rehab and getting on the field. He won’t have any business to attend to during that time,” Elias said.
Bautista will stay with the Orioles for the postseason. He’ll have plenty of company.