When the playoff microscope gets rolled out next week and experts begin to dissect the Orioles — assuming they hold on to at least an American League wild-card spot — one of the primary criticisms is going to be the club's overall lack of postseason experience.
No current Orioles player has won a World Series. Only four players on the current 40-man roster, not including those on the 60-day disabled list, have played in one — designated hitter Jim Thome in 1995 and 1997 with the Cleveland Indians, outfielder Endy Chavez with the 2011 Texas Rangers and pitchers Tommy Hunter and Darren O'Day with the 2010 Rangers.
So are the Orioles at a major disadvantage with so many players who have not endured the postseason spotlight, or will blissful ignorance play in their favor?
"It works both ways. I think as you get further into it, [experience] plays more," said Orioles manager Buck Showalter, who lost in the first round of the playoffs with the New York Yankees (1995) and Arizona Diamondbacks (1999). "The problem is there are not many times through the year that you play with finality. Lose this game you go home, win this game you get to continue. That doesn't happen much in baseball, so that's a different environment than they are used to."
As the Orioles' surprising season progressed and the playoffs became a more realistic scenario, club executive vice president Dan Duquette began looking to add players with postseason experience. He traded for Thome and veteran right-handed pitcher Joe Saunders, signed lefty Randy Wolf (now on the 60-day DL) and promoted 30-something outfielders Lew Ford and Nate McLouth from the minors.
"We targeted players for late-season additions that had playoff experience," Duquette said. "It's important you have some playoff experience on your team, so the guys that have been through the playoffs can show the other guys the way."
Thome, a likely Hall of Famer, was the most significant acquisition. He has had 217 at-bats and played in 67 games in the postseason in his 22 years as a big leaguer. Consider that the rest of the Orioles' active 40-man roster, including pitchers, has appeared in 71 playoff games and the position players have logged 131 total postseason at-bats.
"Playoff experience is hard to replace," Thome said. "My history of it is just enjoy every moment, it goes really quick. Take the time and sit back and breathe and really understand that you may not ever get this opportunity again. So enjoy every moment."
Thome's first postseason was in 1995 with the Cleveland Indians, a mix of hungry young stars such as Thome and Manny Ramirez and established veterans such as Hall of Famers Eddie Murray and Dave Winfield.
"We had guys who had a calming presence. I think that's the big thing," Thome said. "Let's face it, when you have a manager like Buck, he is that calming presence, which rubs off on all of our guys whether you're a veteran or a young guy or a rookie. That's a big thing. You kind of feed off your general, your guy and we've done that with Buck."
Still, no matter how much Showalter prepares his team for the postseason, initially it will be an overwhelming experience. That's just the nature of high-profile sports these days.
"It is a whirlwind, it was definitely a lot. People try to tell you, 'Hey, prepare for it.' The media is gonna be unbelievable," said Hunter, who at age 24 started a game in each round of the playoffs, including the World Series, for the 2010 Rangers. "I'll be honest, that was the tough part. Going out and playing the game, that was the fun part of the day. The terrible part of the day, I hate to say it, was the media. That's to be expected now, and I understand it."
Everything is magnified in the postseason, Hunter said, and young players need to make sure they don't lose focus or they can become a legendary goat in a matter of moments.
"Especially on the road, you have to make sure you take it one pitch at a time," Hunter said. "I had a couple instances when you fall behind and one hit turned into two runs quick, because you start thinking about stuff."
No one in the Orioles' clubhouse knows the lasting effect of the postseason glare more than Chavez, who became a cult hero in New York City in 2006 when he made an amazing, leaping snare of a Scott Rolen would-be home run in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the National League Championship Series that the Mets eventually lost to the St. Louis Cardinals, 3-1.
Not only did Chavez make the circus catch, but he had the awareness to immediately throw the ball back to the infield to double up Jim Edmonds at first base to keep the score tied at 1-1. Forever known as "The Catch," in Mets history, Chavez took two curtain calls that day at Shea Stadium, and the play has been immortalized with a plaque at the Mets' new home, Citi Field.
"The thing that happened in that game can happen to anybody at anytime. Honestly, when I made that catch I didn't think it was going to be a big deal here in the United States," said Chavez, a native of Venezuela. "But now when people see me, they just want to talk about the catch. I am not famous; the catch is famous."
Scott McGregor pitched in 356 regular season games with the Orioles, winning 138 of them. He also made six postseason starts, including losing Game 7 of the 1979 World Series after allowing two runs in eight innings, and a complete game shutout in Game 5 of the 1983 World Series to clinch the franchise's last championship. For some, those are the only games that mattered in McGregor's career.