BALTIMORE – The Buck Showalter Revenge Tour 2012 will continue here Sunday night, in front of a stadium filled with people who have waited 15 years for such an evening. Buck, of course, is not the main attraction. His Baltimore Orioles, the fourth team he has managed as if with Midas' mitts, are back in the postseason, ready to dispose of the New York Yankees much like they have every other impediment.
The first was their own history, littered with failure, which the Orioles forgot. The next was their own fallibility, what with a far less-talented roster than their opponents, which the Orioles never bothered to acknowledge. And then was their wild-card play-in game, against the Texas Rangers, which the Orioles took care of in resounding fashion Friday night, the first leg of Showalter's payback voyage.
He doesn't look at it that way, of course, because Buck Showalter is above all a pragmatist, and anything that deviates from goal, deed and duty is little more than noise. Never mind that his entire baseball life has followed the good-but-not-good-enough template that's the seedling to vengeance or that the years of mistreatment, doubts and unwarranted kicks to the curb may well deserve a referendum.
"I've been past that," Showalter said. "I have. Everything is for a reason. I've been past it."
This much is certain: He does not seek vengeance even if privately he might relish it. Beating the Rangers, the team that fired him after he took them to the cusp of their current state? Well, it would be cold if it hadn't happened twice before, with the Arizona Diamondbacks and the Yankees first. Showalter is like Bain Capital, only he never got to partake of the spoils.
And so this right now, this magical Orioles team of misfits and castoffs and has-beens and never-weres – this is the team for which Buck Showalter was made and that Orioles general manager Dan Duquette made in his image. One of kindred spirits, many of whom were cast aside, too.
"Inside, we all feel like that in here," said Nate McLouth, dumped by the Braves last year, then the Pirates this year, only to resurrect his career down the stretch with Baltimore. It's him and Lew Ford and Miguel Gonzalez and Steve Johnson and Joe Saunders and half the Orioles' roster, this compendium of D-list ballplayers who find a little something extra in Baltimore.
One of baseball's great questions, of course, is whether a manager should be viewed through the prism of causation or correlation. It would seem one instance screams for correlation, two shows a little something different, three edges toward the opposite and four is either two decades of blind stupid luck by Showalter or the sort of cause-and-effect that leads to tangible change in culture, accountability, knowledge and so many of the things on which he prides himself.
"I kind of noticed this right when I got here," McLouth said. "He's the kind of guy who even when he's not looking at you, he's watching you. He knows what's going on. All the time. Everywhere."
And yet the Orioles swear Showalter's reputation of being "a hard-nosed, really intolerant-to-messing-around kind of manager," starter Joe Saunders said, "isn't true. I come here and he's a down-to-earth, laid-back, personable guy. With a pingpong table in the clubhouse."
In the background, Omar Quintanilla, another scrap-heap pickup, bopped the ball over the net. The pingpong table has become something of a social hub for the clubhouse, a place to talk, laugh, compete and rid yourself of the very pressures playing for Buck Showalter can foster.
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His legendary knowledge has not waned as he turned 56 this year. Showalter still tosses off little nuggets of wisdom in meetings and dugouts, chestnuts that the interested player swallows whole and the fool ignores. Because few are as good at in-game chess as Showalter, and for all the Orioles lack in high-paid, high-caliber talent, they've got Buck on the bench, and that is an awfully powerful trump card.
What he did Friday in the play-in game was clinical. "To have the numbers I had in that ballpark, and for him to stick with me … " Saunders said, and he didn't need to finish the sentence: It was insane. Saunders is a finesse left-hander with a career ERA of something like 600 at Rangers Ballpark, and Showalter sent him out there to face a flyball-loving team in a flyball park. It should've been a disaster. Then Showalter went out with two outs in the sixth inning and yanked Saunders with only one run on the scoreboard.
Showalter knew exactly what he was doing when he started warming reliever Steve Johnson two batters into the game. Saunders saw it. He responded. It was a veteran tactic, the sort only a manager going since 1992 could pull.
"That man was coaching when I was in my dad's nuts," Orioles center fielder Adam Jones said, forsaking eloquence for a hard truth: At a time when managerial careers are lucky to get second chances, Showalter has survived, the Twinkie among baseball's wasteland, still good after all these years.
"I don't get too deep about that," he said. "Things happen. Everybody has different challenges, and every situation presents different needs that you try to serve. It's not near as deep and analytical."
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Maybe somewhere deep inside, somewhere he doesn't even want to access, it's visceral. Revenge isn't often an accessible emotion. It gets in the way of the task, which is the Orioles beating the Yankees, not Buck Showalter beating them.
"You know at some point during the season that the road to trying to win a championship more than likely is going to pass through there," he said. " … I don't think anybody is surprised that we're standing here looking at them. I understand the surprise might be a little bit who's looking at them."
It is, yes. Even the most pie-in-the-sky sorts figured rescuing the Orioles was too big a job for Buck Showalter, that his goal of winning a single postseason series – he has yet to do that – wouldn't happen here.
"Well, let's change that for him," Jones said. "Let's get him that elusive ring."
He'd take it, and then he'd tell you it wasn't his, and he might be right. Causation, correlation – it doesn't really matter on the next leg of the Buck Showalter Revenge Tour 2012.
The Orioles just want to make sure it keeps rocking.
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