NEW YORK -- The dramatic improvement of the Baltimore Orioles can be expressed in many ways. But one of the most telling ways is the respect that they now receive from the opposition.
The Orioles lost an American League Division Series to the New York Yankees Friday night, bowing, 3-1, in the fifth and final game. But the evidence of this series and this season suggests that the Orioles are just inches away from being every bit as good as the Yankees. And the Yankees have long been the gold standard for measuring the success of baseball franchises.
The two teams played 23 times this year, including the postseason. The final score was Yankees 12, Orioles 11. It was that close, in every way. So when Yankees manager Joe Girardi was asked how it felt to finally defeat the Orioles in this close, highly competitive, dramatic series, he responded:
"You know, they are a very good club, and they are a very resilient club. You have a bunch of young kids over there that just play the game the right way, and play hard. And you think about it, we played 23 games, and there were four runs that separated us.
"It's an accomplishment for both clubs because they never went away. People thought they were going to go away, they never went away. And I am very proud of our club for staying in."
It was a terrific ALDS, a terrific series for any postseason. While the Yankees were the favorites and they emerged as the winners, a broad slice of the baseball world got to see the worth of the Baltimore club.
The Orioles fashioned a breakthrough season, won a Wild Card berth, won a Wild Card playoff over the defending AL champion Rangers, and then, with the Yankees, created a first-rate postseason series, first pitch to last out.
It is always difficult to put a successful season in perspective after the sting of a postseason defeat, but Orioles manager Buck Showalter did a nice job of that Friday night.
"It is not 'goodbye' to this group, it is 'see ya later,'" Showalter said. "They have a very well-deserved rest.
"But they are special group. You know, you don't know how many times you are going to pass this way, and, you know, they got a grip on they know they are not bulletproof and we talked way back in Spring Training in our first meeting, and they bought into each other. And they were good teammates and people that our city and organization can be proud of.
"And we'll see them again. It's been about as much fun as I have had in the big leagues watching how they play the game every day, the standard they held themselves to and the way they raised the bar in Baltimore with each other. It was about them. They cared about pleasing their teammates and playing to a certain standard."
The thing about this being a case of "see ya later" rather than "goodbye" is central to the Orioles narrative. Far from being a team that gets utterly dismissed each spring, the O's will now have to be granted a serious measure of respect, as genuine contenders, even in the difficult terrain of the AL East.
This is a young team, a developing team, and you saw the quality of its young pitchers in this series. The Orioles held the Yankees, baseball's second-highest scoring team this season, to just 16 runs over five games, and a .211 team batting average.
Showalter did a top-shelf job of establishing accountability, direction and focus with this group, and executive vice president of baseball operations Dan Duquette made some extremely astute roster moves.
Neither one of these gentlemen can be expected to go into a slump. And the young talent on the Baltimore club can be expected to continue to develop. The Orioles didn't get where they wanted to go this year, but they are indisputably a team on the rise. This ALDS may have been a painful loss for them, but for this dramatically improved Baltimore club, it should not be anything like a one-shot opportunity.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.