Although the Ravens won big in Tampa, the past week was a rough time for Baltimore's sports fans. As I'm sure you know, the Orioles were swept by the Kansas City Royals in the American League Championship Series.
On paper, it made no sense. The Orioles had won seven more games than Kansas City during the regular season, capturing their division in a romp while the Royals had to settle for a wild-card ticket to the playoffs after finishing second in their division – behind a Detroit team that the Orioles swept in a first-round playoff series.
Going in, there was a lot of evidence suggesting Baltimore would prevail in the best-of-seven series, but while every game was close, the Royals clearly outplayed the Orioles to advance to the World Series.
If it all felt vaguely familiar, it should. The Royals are on a roll, borrowing liberally from the improbable script the Ravens followed on their Super Bowl journey in 2012.
The Ravens also didn't have the best regular-season record among the teams in the playoffs that year. They did win their division, but with a 10-6 record, had to settle for the No. 4 seed in the AFC field. Few experts thought they would last long, as they had lost four of their last five regular-season games. Throughout the postseason, they were underdogs, repeatedly facing teams with better records and superior credentials.
None of that mattered. Like the Royals in recent weeks, the Ravens got hot, defied conventional thinking and went farther than anyone expected. The signature moment was the "Mile High Miracle," Joe Flacco's 70-yard, last-minute touchdown pass to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime in Denver and ultimately led to a divisional-round upset over the top-seeded Broncos. The Ravens then defeated New England in the conference title game and San Francisco in the Super Bowl.
The Royals also experienced an epic moment that galvanized their run – an eighth-inning comeback from a 7-3 deficit in their wild-card win over Oakland. They have since won seven straight games, sweeping away both the Los Angeles Angels and the Orioles, the American League's two best teams during the season.
Is the Royals' timing fortunate? No question. They meandered along for much of the 2014 season and were under .500 as recently as July 22. They're lucky the playoffs didn't take place then. But like the Ravens in 2012, they did just enough to get into the postseason and then picked the perfect time to start realizing their full potential.
The fact that their timing is good, however, doesn't mean they're doing it with luck. Please. This isn't about karma or mojo or any such subjective nonsense. The Royals are playing great baseball. Their pitching hasn't blinked. Their fielding has been ridiculously good. They've hit in the clutch more consistently than their opponents. As Orioles manager Buck Showalter said after the series, the Royals earned it.
The Ravens weren't lucky in 2012, either. Did they pick the perfect time to start playing well and fully realize their potential? Sure. But with Hall of Famers in their defensive huddle and plenty of playmakers on offense, they had that potential all along.
Playoff runs aren't a new phenomenon. In 2011, New York Giants won the Super Bowl after going 9-7 during the regular season. They had injuries that cleared up. Similarly, the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series in 2006 after barely surpassing .500 during the regular season. Sports history is full of teams that were situated far from the top of the pack during the season but got hot at the right time.
When you're a fan and it's your team, the exhilaration is enough to make you dizzy with delight. There's no better experience than watching your team defy logic and go all the way. You just climb up and ride the wave, shrieking louder and louder as you go.
Baltimore was fortunate to experience it a couple of years ago when the Ravens went all the way, defeating San Francisco in the Super Bowl. (Weird coincidence, now the Royals will also play a San Francisco team in the World Series.) Though they're disappointed, I'm sure Baltimore's fans can relate to what their counterparts in Kansas City are feeling right now. Alas, it seems that what goes around comes around.