O's optimistic despite loss in season finale

O's optimistic despite loss in season finale

BALTIMORE-- It ended as it started, disappointing bookends to a season that started with so much promise this spring.

But despite the Orioles' end to 2010 -- Sunday's 4-2 loss to Detroit -- the defeat did little to quell the growing optimism for the future, a hopeful sentiment rooted in watching the O's resurgent final two months.

"[Manager Buck Showalter's] main message to us was, 'Go and relax, and get away from it a little bit -- but be ready for next year,'" said starter Brad Bergesen, who shouldered the loss despite seven solid innings of three-run baseball.

"I think that's the attitude with all these guys. We're going to go, take some time off and relax, get that mental and physical rest, but we're going to come back next year and we want to pick up where we left off."

With a crowd of 23,914 on hand at Camden Yards, impressive given that the Baltimore Ravens played in an afternoon NFL contest, the O's fell short of a four-game sweep and what would have been the first five-game win streak of the season. Sunday's loss ends Showalter's two-month takeover as Orioles skipper at 34-23, with winning records in August and September/October.

"I've been very fortunate to have some players who helped, who played real well while I was here," said Showalter, who totaled more wins than ex-skipper Dave Trembley (15) and interim manager Juan Samuel (17), combined.

"I really challenged myself real hard not to come in here with any preconceived [notions]," said Showalter, who was officially introduced during an Aug. 2 press conference. "I think the players appreciate that. They responded to the fresh start, and it's only going to be worthwhile if it carries over into not only next year, but beyond. We want to try to put something together that stands the test of time."

On Sunday, there were glimpses of the good things to come in the Orioles' future. Luke Scott, honored as the team's MVP by the local media prior to Saturday's game, drove in the first run of the afternoon. Scott's one-out single off Tigers starter Phil Coke scored Nick Markakis, who singled earlier, for a first-inning run. The O's added another run off Coke -- who opened the game as part of a collective bullpen start -- in the second, courtesy of Markakis' RBI.

"I thought Nicky was going to make it tough on me [and go] 5-for-5," Showalter said of the hard-nosed right fielder, who hit safely in his first three at-bats. "We were really pulling for him. I also knew if I tried to take Nick out of the game and we weren't assured of winning it, he would have had a conniption."

Detroit evened things up courtesy of Brandon Inge, who clubbed his 13th homer of the season -- a two-run shot off Bergesen in the fifth. Looking to secure the O's first home four-game sweep of Detroit since 1992, Bergesen retired the first nine batters he faced and didn't allow a hit until Jhonny Peralta singled with one out in the fifth.

The Tigers took the lead in the sixth on Johnny Damon's RBI single, and Bergesen exited after throwing seven innings, bringing the Orioles starters' ERA to 1.29 in their final go-around.

"He'll win his share like that," Showlater said of Bergesen, who ended a rocky sophomore campaign -- including two separate stints in Triple-A -- with a 2.85 ERA in his final 12 starts.

"Some of the trials, and growth spurts he's had back and forth, to get to the point where he has his ERA under five, I think is pretty impressive," Showalter added.

Bergesen's 89-pitch outing also ends an impressive run for the Orioles' arms, with the starters making 36 quality starts in the team's final 57 games. In the 105 games prior to Showalter's arrival, the starters posted an American League-worst 5.18 ERA, compared to a 3.57 under their new skipper.

"It has meant a lot to us," Bergesen said of the way the rotation ended the season. "For the last couple of years, there have been a lot of young guys, including myself, that have come up, and there's been so much hype and hope for us. To finally show some flashes from that, it's a good feeling."

With a young pitching staff that seemly got better in the final few weeks and improved offensive production, Baltimore finally has reason to hope for the future.

"It's been one for the memory banks, but not for the best memory bank, I guess," said second baseman Brian Roberts of his injury-plagued season. But he might as well have been discussing the Orioles' year as a whole, as they got off to a 2-16 start and never fully recovered, remaining in the AL East cellar the rest of the season.

"But there's been some good things -- and just because things don't go exactly the way you want them to, it doesn't mean that it's all been a negative, a wash," Roberts added. "Because certainly since [manager Buck Showalter has] gotten here, we've done some great things."

Brittany Ghiroli is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, Britt's Bird Watch, and follow her on Twitter @britt_ghiroli. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.