Participating in postseason baseball last year, a first-time occurrence for many in the Orioles' orange, made Tuesday's game hurt that much more with the finality of Sunday's game looming.
"Being eliminated from the playoffs is a huge disappointment because that was what we had our minds set on and that was our goal this season," left fielder Nate McLouth said. "To realize that's not going to happen is really disappointing, especially the way the last two games have gone. We feel like we could have or maybe should have won. Kind of strange things happened that didn't allow that to happen, but to be officially eliminated is disappointing."
"We play all the way from Feb. 15th, or whenever we started, to get to the playoffs," added shortstop J.J. Hardy. "It's hard to think that after how many games we've played since then, we're not going. So yeah, it's tough."
What went wrong for the Orioles -- the king of close games a year ago -- who dropped to 17-31 in one-run games with Tuesday's loss? They never got clicking on all cylinders and made a run, with the team's longest win streak being a five-game stretch that featured the All-Star break in between. Baltimore's once high-octane offense went missing in the final month, and it's gone 21 consecutive contests scoring five or fewer runs, the longest stretch of futility since September 1992.
The bullpen wasn't nearly as mighty as last year, and the Orioles have played below .500 in the second half, missing the little bit of luck that seemed to have a heavy hand in a good chunk of the wins in 2012.
The O's, who need just one win to clinch a winning season, are dealing with a whole new kind of disappointment after last year. And they welcome that challenge in the future.
"It's expectations," manager Buck Showalter said of his club raising the bar. "Yeah, players knew about it, they liked it. It wasn't, 'Oh geez, what are the Orioles going to try to fool us with?' Trying to paint of picture of something that's not very paintable. Every team has somebody developing, with a couple exceptions. We got guys we hope take the next leap in their careers, so do they. But I think we got a lot of teams in our division who know who they are and know who they are not. I think that bodes for good baseball in the future."
Showalter, who turned around the organization's culture upon his hire at the end of 2010, challenged his players on the first day of Spring Training to still be in the race on Sept. 1 by any means necessary, and they delivered. But getting his club through that final month, and competing in the Fall Classic, presents a different kind of challenge moving forward.
"We're still not done," center fielder Adam Jones said on Monday. "And going into next year, there's going to be even more expectations. This team, I don't see us going back ... because of the people we have, first on the field. And the people we have in the front office. They are going to make sure we are going to put a competitive team on the field. And that's what you want."