Nationally televised game gives Orioles a chance to ‘show what we’re made of here’ – Baltimore Sun

The last time a national audience saw the Orioles play on ESPN’s “Sunday Night Baseball,” Baltimore lost to the New York Yankees 5-3 at Camden Yards. That was August 26, 2018.

A lot has changed since then.

By that point in the season, the sell-off that signaled the beginning of Baltimore’s rebuild had already changed. Still, none of the nine players in that night’s starting lineup are now with the Orioles, with Trey Mancini’s departure the most recent. After that defeat in front of a nationally televised crowd for the remainder of the season, Baltimore would thrive out of the spotlight to the first of three 100-loss seasons.

But when the Orioles arrive in Williamsport, Pennsylvania on Sunday for the Little League Classic, the eyes of the country will be on them again as part of ESPN’s broadcast.

Players are not focused on which channels their games appear on. But around the clubhouse, there’s a sense that the big audience is an opportunity — a chance to show how far they’ve come in four seasons before they last appear on “Sunday Night Baseball.”

And it’s a chance to prove that Baltimore deserves the spotlight once again.

“It’s a great platform, and I think it’s going to showcase what we’ve been doing all year and what people still don’t want to believe, you know what I mean?” said right-hander Spencer Watkins. “In a nationally televised game, we can show what we’ve built here.”

Sitting 2 1/2 games out of the final American League wild-card spot after Saturday’s loss against the Boston Red Sox, they are an unlikely playoff contender. With 62 wins, Baltimore has already surpassed the win total in each of the last three full seasons.

The matchup in Williamsport was originally scheduled for 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic halted the effort. Now, the Orioles will take to Bowman Field as a team to watch.

“Before the season, I’m sure when people saw who was playing, they were like, ‘Oh, well, just Boston and the Orioles,'” said left-hander John Means, who is recovering from Tommy John surgery. Few of the Orioles have yet to experience a “Sunday Night Baseball” game. “Now as it is, it’s a tough game. … I hope people tune in to see this team play, because it’s really special. Every time I go back, it feels like they have something new and amazing.

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The Orioles have not made the playoffs since 2016. They hit the American League East basement in 2017 when a late skid set the stage for a 2018 fire sale. Now, even with a record standing four games above .500, the competition in the AL East has Baltimore fighting for a wild-card spot instead of the pennant.

Games against division rivals, such as Sunday’s against Boston, will go a long way in determining whether the Orioles return to the postseason after a five-season hiatus. It could also show ESPN viewers that Baltimore is a force to be reckoned with again, although infielder Tyler Nevin admitted “we like to stay under the radar and people don’t take us seriously.”

“But I think it’s beyond words,” Nevin said. “At the beginning of the year, it was kind of like, ‘Hey, look what we’re doing.’ Now it’s like, ‘Yeah, we want to do it.’

When fans tune into Baltimore’s first “Sunday Night Baseball” game in four years, they’ll see a different team than the last one featured. Watkins said the biggest difference is how athletic and cohesive this iteration of the club is, playing with energy and a firm grasp on fundamentals.

Left-hander Nick Vespi said the team’s willingness to battle late in games will be the biggest difference. Means said those tuning in will see “what’s great about baseball,” a team that brings real joy to the field every day — just like they did during Little League.

Whatever fans take away from seeing the Orioles play a nationally televised game again, there is another lesson. Baltimore is no longer a slouch and the baseball world can take notice.

“We’re not knocking on doors anymore,” Nevin said. “We’re here. And you have to take us seriously.”

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