As news spread throughout Camden Yards during Tuesday’s rain delay that closer Zach Britton would soon depart the Baltimore Orioles for the New York Yankees, fans — what little of them there were in the stands on a soggy night to watch the worst team in baseball — bid adieu to the Orioles’ second-most enticing trade option.
Manny Machado had already been dealt to the Los Angeles Dodgers.
Now it was Britton’s turn, who learned of the impending deal during the delay. Manager Buck Showalter opted to not pitch Britton one final time in the ninth inning with a trade imminent and turned to Brad Brach instead.
Let the rebuild conmmence in Baltimore. The final 60 games of the season are seemingly a formality now for a club reloading its minor league system with prospects while watching key pieces of its American League championship contender from 2014 — a time not that distant — slip away.
Still, Baltimore went on to win Tuesday’s game, 7-6, over the Boston Red Sox, a divisional rival. The 13,342 at the stadium — a good portion of them Red Sox fans — witnessed the Orioles’ 29th win this season. Progress, albeit at a snail’s pace.
Baltimore is bad. And as key pieces are auctioned off to the highest bidder for as many prospects in return as the Orioles can negotiate, they’re preparing for the not-so-distant future, when prospects become big leaguers and promise becomes wins. Maybe even a return to the top of the American League East, a division that has so often stomped them down.
“It’s been a very trying year, to say the least, for everybody in here,” outfielder Trey Mancini said.
Not one fan sat in section 388 Tuesday, the edge of Camden Yards’ grandstand. There weren’t many elsewhere in the stadium, either. When J.D. Martinez’s homer kept rising toward Eutaw Street beyond the right field fence, a quarter of the crowd at Camden Yards stood, their voices rising with the ball. That quarter wore Red Sox gear. The Orioles fans, though, got to see a rare win.
Going into Wednesday night’s series finale against Boston, Baltimore was 29-73. The Orioles have the most losses in baseball and the worst winning percentage. The last team to win fewer than 50 games was the 2003 Detroit Tigers. Baltimore could challenge that, and so could the 31-win Kansas City Royals.
The 1954 and 1988 Orioles both finished with 54 wins, the fewest the Baltimore club has recorded in a season. This year, Baltimore is on track to win 46 games.
The Orioles entered Wednesday 411/2 games behind first-place Boston in the AL East.
Baltimore was also 18 games back of the fourth-place Toronto Blue Jays. The Orioles could be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs by August, and they could still end 60 games back of first place in the division, the first time a team has done that since the 1962 New York Mets.
“We just haven’t been winning games,” Mancini said. “Simple as that.”
If there’s a silver lining for Orioles fans, it could be this. Those 2003 Tigers, the first team since those 1962 Mets to not reach 50 wins, reached the World Series just three years later.
The Orioles received eight prospects in return for Machado and Britton, four of whom are pitchers. All of those players are in Double-A or above.
“We don’t take anything for granted,” one Red Sox fan said before first pitch Tuesday. He loves Camden Yards, he said, so he often travels south for these matchups. He remembers 2014, when Baltimore topped the AL East and Boston finished dead last. Things change quickly.
Before all this is over, though, there may be more movement. Adam Jones, Baltimore’s long-time outfielder, could be the next piece included in a trade.
“He wants to win,” Showalter said. “This has been tough on him. He may not wear it on his sleeve. It’s been tough on him.”
Baltimore has a lot going for it between the stadium, the history and an influx of young talent to the minors. Right now, the play on the field isn’t one of those things. You’re going to take your lumps, and the Orioles have — plenty.
But it’s a game, and those players are paid to play it. And sometimes even the lowly Orioles get to beat the best team in baseball.
“Even if you’re 0-161, that last game you’re going to come out and try to win,” Mancini said. “We get to play a game for a living, and we’re going to do that to the best of our abilities no matter what our record is.”
• Andy Kostka can be reached at email@example.com.
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