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Joy in Birdland: Orioles Win AL East

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It has been seventeen years since the Baltimore Orioles won the American League East, a period in which they and their fans endured 14 strait losing seasons between 1997 and 2012.

I have always liked the Orioles. When I was a kid they were on television a lot as under Earl Weaver and a Hall of Fame roster they always seemed to be in the playoffs or the World Series. I remember when they had the California League Stockton Ports as a farm team and going to games at Stockton’s Billy Herbert Field when my dad was deployed in Vietnam.

Now my dad couldn’t stand the American League. But he did know baseball and despite his dislike for the the American League, and since they were an American League team, the Orioles, he admired baseball players who were exemplary, as such he loved Frank and Brooks Robinson as well as some of the Orioles pitching greats. I wear my Orioles hats, t-shirts and clothing almost everywhere, I have an Orioles doormat at the entrance of my office and lots of signed memorabilia around my house and office. People ask me all the time if I am from Baltimore or Maryland, I always surprise them and tell them that I was a West Coast Navy brat who fell in love with the Orioles in the 1960s and early 1970s. I guess some folks don’t get that you can be as devoted as fan as me without being from Baltimore, a city that I really enjoy which has one of the nicest and friendliest ballparks in the majors, Camden Yards.

My real passion for the Orioles was reignited in 2004 when we took a trip to Camden Yards to see the Orioles play the Yankees, and when I met the late former Orioles great Paul Blair when he visited different bases that I served. But that passion for the Orioles really took off when the Orioles became the major league affiliate of our local Triple-A minor league club the Norfolk Tides in 2006. Now mind you, al lot of those have been very lean years, but I have gotten to know a decent number of Orioles players, some who are with the team that clinched the AL East tonight including Chris Tillman, Zack Britton and Manny Machado, some who have left baseball and some who are doing well with other organizations including the Cubs Jake Arrieta and the Diamondbacks David Hernandez. Likewise I have gotten to know scouts and front office personnel who have spent time in Norfolk evaluating the Tides over the years.

In 2011 things began to turn around for the Orioles, after a miserable two thirds of a season the O’s hired Buck Showalter as manager, and then Dan Duquette, who had laid the foundations of the Boston Red Sox World Series title as their general manager. In 2012 they made the playoffs as a Wild Card team. In 2013 they didn’t get in the playoffs but had a winning season. This year very few people picked them to go far in a division that had the 201 World Series champion Red Sox, the free spending New York Yankees, the amazingly talented and gritty Tampa Bay Rays and the well stocked Toronto Blue Jays.

However, I believed from the beginning of the season that this team would go far. I think that the organization is smart, Buck Showalter is an amazing manager who gets the best out of his players and develops an amazing work ethic, selfless team spirit combined with a climate that the players are relaxed but determined. Led by Adam Jones, Nick Markakis and J.J. Hardy the team has a gritty and under rated pitching staff led by Chris Tillman and a host of players that all do their job on a daily basis, often without the fanfare of the big market teams that have tons of money to spend. The team has made smart trades and between August 6th and September 16th went had a record of 27 wins and 11 losses.

Now that they have won the division the Orioles will try to best the Los Angeles Angels for the best record in the American League and for that matter, baseball. The currently own the second best record in the majors at 91-60. My belief is that the Orioles will at the minimum advance to the American League Championship series, and quite possibly on to the World Series. I am really happy about this because I will be in Munich next week and won’t have to be continually checking my iPhone or iPad to see if the won the division.

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So anyway, I am happy. Now if my other Orange and Black team, the San Francisco Giants can get a spot in the playoffs or somehow overcome the Dodgers to take the National League West I will be truly happy. But until then I will still be truly happy because there is joy in Birdland.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, norfolk tides

A Midsummer Night Dream: Memories of MLB All Star Games Past and Present

“I think the National League has better biorhythms in July.” – Earl Weaver (1979 All Star Game) 

Before the days of inter-league play and free-agency and the multitude of national and regional television outlets for baseball the All Star Game was the one time outside of the World Series that fans of in a National League town or American League town could watch players from the opposing league play their “boys.”

MVP Melky Cabrera homers in the 4th inning. (Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22979315&topic_id=34326704

My dad was typical of his generation. He was a National League fan. He grew up with the Cincinnati Reds and when he moved west with the Navy he became a San Francisco Giants fan. When the All-Star Game rolled around at was if time itself would stop as we gathered around the TV as a family to watch it.

Me with Angel’s Manager Lefty Phillips in 1970 at Anaheim Stadium

I think that is in large part why I have such a veneration for this annual event. As I mentioned back then there was no inter-league play and with free agency very limited players spent their careers in the same organization or with teams of the league that they played.

As far as what league I am for it is hard to say. My dad took me to so many California Angels games at Anaheim Stadium when we were stationed in Long Beach in 1970 and 1971 that I became much more familiar with the players of the American League than the National League. That American League attachment grew stronger when we moved to Stockton California where the local minor league team, the Single A Stockton Ports of the California League were then affiliated with the Baltimore Orioles and because of going to Oakland Athletic’s games when the team was in its first era of World Series dominance. He also took me to an occasional Dodger’s game when stationed in Long Beach and sometimes to Candlestick Park to see the Giants but most of the exposure that I had to baseball in my early years was with the American League.

My favorite teams, with the exception of the Orioles tend to be West Coast teams, the Giants and the A’s. My dad was not a fan of the American League, especially of Earl Weaver’s Orioles but between the Ports and seeing the Orioles constantly in the playoffs or World Series in the late 1960s and early 1970s I became a closet Orioles fan. I remember the greats of that team, Brooks Robinson and Frank Robinson, Boog Powell, Paul Blair and Pitcher’s like Jim Palmer, Mike Cuellar, Pat Dobson and Dave McNally the team was amazing to watch. I became fascinated with the “Oriole way” which to use Cal Ripken Sr.’s phrase “perfect practice makes perfect” really is a model for success in any field.

Despite this I also love the National League primarily because it does not use the designated hitter and there is more emphasis on pitching and because the San Francisco Giants are a National League team.

Both Leagues have had eras where they dominated the game. Between 1963 and 1982 the National League won 19 of 20 games and the American League won 12 of 13 between 1997 and 2009, the only game that they did not win was the 2002 debacle where Commissioner Bud Selig ended a tie game in the 11th when the teams ran out of substitute players, the only previous tie was in 1961 when rain stopped a tie game in the 9th inning at Fenway Park.

There are some All-Star Game moments that stand out to me more than most. The was Pete Rose plowing over Ray Fosse in the 1970 All-Star Game.

Pete Rose collides with Ray Fosse in the 1970 All Star Game

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I remember reverently casting my ballot at Anaheim Stadium that year, which was the first time that fans voted in for All-Stars since 1957 when after a ballot box stuffing scandal by Cincinnati Red’s fans caused then Major League Baseball Commissioner Ford Frick to end the practice. I still remember taking that paper ballot and putting it in that box and those votes probably were more important than any political ballot that I have cast, at least I felt like my vote mattered.  Of course now the vote early vote often philosophy which has exploded on the internet takes away some of the reverence that I have for the All Star voting process, but at least no-one checks your ID to vote.

In 1971 I remember the massive home run hit by Reggie Jackson off Dock Ellis at Tiger Stadium, the longest home run in the history of the game, a home run that had it not hit a electrical transformer on the roof was calculated as a 532 foot home run.

Reggie Jackson’s massive home run in the 1972 All Star Game

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I remember the 1973 All-Star Game which was the last for Willie Mays, it was his 24th trip to the game, a record that still stands.

The 1999 All-Star Game at Fenway Park was one that brought tears to my eyes. It was magical as Major League Baseball announced its “All Century Team” including the great Ted Williams.  It was an exceptionally emotional experience for me as I watched many of the living legends who I had seen play as a child walk out onto the field.

Ted Williams at the 1999 All Star Game where the All Century Team was Inducted

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But I think one of the most memorable for me was watching Cal Ripken Jr. in his final All-Star Game when Alex Rodriguez insisted that Ripken start the game at Shortstop where he had played most of his career and when Ripken went yard in his final All-Star Game plate appearance.

Alex Rodriguez pushes Cal Ripken Jr. to Short in the 2001 All Star Game

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=unF087sArpg

Tonight’s game was played in Kansas City, a town with a remarkable Baseball history especially with the Negro League Kansas City Monarch’s. The Negro Leagues were founded in Kansas City in 1920 and it is the home of the Negro League Hall of Fame. The Athletics played there between their time in Philadelphia and Oakland, and the Royals began as an expansion team in 1969 and opened Kaufman Stadium in 1973. I saw the Royals play for the first time in Anaheim against the Angels.  The Stadium was unique in its era because it was the last non dual-purpose stadium built until Oriole Park and Camden Yards opened in 1991. As such it was and is a beautiful yard and with the renovation completed in 2007 is still among the most beautiful parks in the Major Leagues and there is a seat designated in honor of the late Monarch’s player and manager Buck O’Neil and the home of such greats as Satchel Page.

Buck O’Neil

Tonight  like most All-Star Games I was torn my feelings. Unlike my dad I am not an exclusivist regarding the American or National League. I have favorite teams and players in both leagues. Tonight my Giants have a number of starters on the field including the Starting Pitcher Matt Cain, Catcher Buster Posey, 3rd Baseman Pablo “The Panda” Sandoval and Outfielder Melky Cabrera.  The Giants contingent aided by the ballot stuffing San Francisco Fans dominated the game.

On the other hand the American League had three Orioles on it for the first time in a long time, Closer Jim Johnson, Catcher Matt Wieters and Outfielder Adam Jones. There are future Hall of Famers on the field including Atlanta Braves 3rd Baseman Chipper Jones who is played in his final All-Star Game and got a soft single in the top of the 6th inning.

Chipper Jones 

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Justin Verlander was hit hard giving up 5 earned runs in the top of the 1st and Pablo Sandoval had a bases clearing triple. Joe Nathan of the Rangers pitched the 2nd inning and David Price of the Rays pitched the third while Matt Cain pitched 2 shut out innings and was relieved by Gio Gonzalez of the Cardinals. I hope that the game produces a great moment that will be replayed forever.

Managing the game for the National League is Tony LaRussa the now retired former Manager of the 2011 World Series Champion St. Louis Cardinals. The American League Manager is Ron Washington of the Texas Rangers.

Pablo Sandoval hits a bases clearing Triple off Justin Verlander in the 1st Inning (Photo Getty Images)

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=22978523&topic_id=34326704

Well the National League won 8-0 led by a home run by Melky Cabrera in the top of the 4th inning. Five of the 8 National League runs were produced by members of the San Francisco Giants.  Cabrera was the Most Valuable Player and Matt Cain got the win.  It was a long night for the American League  especially with the pitchers due to pitch including National’s Stephen Strasburg, Met’s Knuckleballer R.A. Dickey, Dodger’s ace Clayton Kershaw, and three closers, Jonathan Papelbon of the Phillies, Ardolis Chapman of the Reds and Craig Kimbrel of the Braves.  As Earl Weaver said “The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Filed under Baseball, Batlimore Orioles, sports and life

Orioles Win Wild One in 17 at Fenway: Sweep Sox

Orioles First Baseman Chris Davis being congratulated by Catcher Matt Wieters after getting the win in relief against the Red Sox. (AP Photo) 

Buck Showalter’s tenacious Baltimore Orioles moved into first place in the American League East today when Orioles completed a sweep of Bobby Valentine’s reeling Boston Red Sox. The Orioles won 9-6 today in a 17 inning marathon that lasted 6 hours 17 minutes. The teams combined to use 18 pitchers who threw a combined 568 pitches.  It was the second extra inning game of the series as the Orioles defeated the Sox 6-4 in a 13 inning game on Friday night and pummeled the Sox 8-2 on Saturday afternoon.

Shortstop J.J. Hardy hit two home runs while Robert Andino also went yard for the second time in the series. Hardy was 5-8 with two homers and a double. Adam Jones hit the game winning home run in the 17th against Darnell McDonald, the Sox Left Fielder who had been called into the game in relief. Red Sox 3rd Baseman Will Middlebrooks hit a Grand Slam home run in the bottom of the 5th inning.

The most remarkable thing about this game was Orioles Designated Hitter Chris Davis who was 0-8 at bat getting the win in relief. Davis who had last pitched in a community college game after having pitched in high schoolserved up two scoreless innings of relief to get the win. He had two strike outs a walk and gave up two hits but got the win.

Darnell McDonald, the Outfielder called to pitch for the Sox in the 17th did not fare as well giving up 3 runs on 2 hits while walking two batters. Boston starter Clay Buchholz gave up 5 runs on 7 hits with 4 walks in just 3.2 innings of work.

It was the fist time since 1968 that a position player won a game in relief in the American League although Phillies Infielder Wilson Valdez got a win in a 19 inning game on May 25th 2011 against the Cincinnati Reds. The game was also the first game where both teams used position players to close the game in relief since 1925. Then it was Hall of Famers Ty Cobb of the Detroit Tigers and George Sisler of the St Louis Browns did it in the second game of a double header on October 4th 1925.

The Orioles are now 19-9 and 10 games over 500 since June 25th 2005. They are 11-5 on road and 10-5 vs AL East. There are still a lot of games left in the season and many including many O’s faithful don’t believe in the team. I think that they are a far better team, a deeper than than a lot of people give them credit to be. I think that they will break .500 this year if not do even better. With the Red Sox in disarray and the O’s playing the rest of the AL East tough I think that the Orioles will have a very respectable season.  Their pitching staff, especially the bullpen is doing well and young players blooded by the brutal AL East are beginning to shine.  Yes it is a long season and they play in what is arguably baseball’s toughest division but I expect them to surprise people this year.

The Orioles begin a home stand at Camden Yards Monday hosting the very tough Texas Rangers followed by the always tough Tampa Bay Rays. The road trip was amazing but the Orioles need to be totally focused after the exhausting series against the Red Sox to win against these two very tough teams.

In other interesting baseball news this week, Jared Weaver of the Angels pitched a no-hitter, Albert Pujols got his first home run of the year and Mariano Rivera of the Yankees was lost for the season due to a freak pre-game injury to his ACL and meniscus.  Bryce Harper, the 19 year old wunderkind of the Nationals broke into the majors in a big way this week showing a prowess very unusual for a player his age. He has shown exceptional ability at bat, on the bases and in the outfield.

Until tomorrow when I take on the topic of the sweeping changes brought about by the European elections and their possible effect on us over here on this side of the pond.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Orioles Down Yankees in the Bronx Go to 16-9

The Baltimore Orioles are one of the pleasant surprises of the first month of the 2012 baseball season. The team is winning they now are 16-9 and took two of three from the New York Yankees in the Bronx. In those three games Orioles pitchers held the Yankees to just 3 runs while the scored 13 runs in the series. Earlier in the season the Yankees took three from the Orioles in Baltimore but two of those were in extra innings where in both cases the Orioles failed to score with runners in scoring position in the 9th and 10th innings.

The Orioles pitchers are holding up well with the 4th best ERA in the Majors at 2.92 with their starters and relievers doing very well. Pitching has been a major problem for the Orioles the past few years and if the young pitchers, particularly Jake Arrieta who pitched an 8 inning shutout tonight continue to pitch well they O’s will make the American League East a much more interesting division this year.  Now led by Jason Hamel (3-1 1.97 ERA) the Orioles starters are making some quality starts. With Jim Johnson as their closer and other relievers pitching well the team is much deeper than in years past.

The Orioles also have hitting and are hitting with power, 3rd in the majors in home runs (33) and 6th in the majors for in slugging percentage (.446).  The Orioles have a number of potential All Stars including former All Stars Adam Jones, Matt Wieters and Nick Markakis. Second Baseman Robert Andino is having a stellar start to his season as is Left Fielder Nolan Reimold. Shortstop J.J. Hardy and First Baseman Mark  Reynolds are providing additional power in the lineup.

At with a 7-5 record against their AL East rivals so far they are doing much better in the division. The are 6-1 against the AL Central and 3-3 against the West.

The Orioles head to Boston to begin a 3 game series with the Red Sox at Fenway beginning on Friday. They will then travel to play the red hot Texas Rangers in Arlington before returning home to face the AL East leading Tampa Bay Rays who I think are the best team in the division. Taking 2 of 3 from the Yankees, which included Manager Buck Showalter’s 1000th managerial win in New York was important. If the Orioles can continue what they are doing it will be an exciting year for all of us Orioles fans.

The season is still young but this year I think is the year the Orioles become a real force in the AL East and the League.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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UNBELIEVABLE! Braves and Red Sox Collapse Complete! Rays and Cardinals win Wild Cards, Orioles sink Red Sox with 2 Outs in Bottom of the 9th as Longoria hits walk off against Yankees

Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon reacts to the Orioles scoring the winning run (Getty Images)

What an amazing and unlikely end to the regular season. The Atlanta Braves and Boston Red Sox who appeared to have their respective Wild Card berths cinched on September 1st had their seasons end tonight in the most unexpected and unlikely ways.  Both the Braves and the Sox had what seemed to be insurmountable leads as August drew to a close.

“It’s like living out a bad dream. You never expect this to happen to you.” Chipper Jones

Matt Holiday and Chris Carpenter celebrate the Cardinal’s Wild Card win

The Braves were up by 10 ½ games over the Cardinals on August 26th and had an 8 ½ game lead on September 6th and slipped into a tie on Tuesday against a resurgent Cardinals team.  The Cardinals defeated the Houston Astros 7-0 behind a two hit performance by Chris Carpenter earlier in the evening putting all the pressure on the Braves to try to force a one game playoff to decide the Wild Card.  The Braves looked like they would force the playoff and had a 3-2 lead with one out in the top of the 9th against the Phillies.   With one out and their ace closer Craig Kimbrel saw it slip away as Chase Utley hit a sacrifice fly to score pinch runner Pete Orr to tie the game.  The Braves could not score a go ahead run and in the top of the 13th the Phillies put the final nail in the Braves coffin as with 2 outs in the top of the 13th when Hunter Pence singled to score Brian Schneider to give the Phillies a 4-3 lead.  The Braves could not score in the bottom of the 13th completing a most amazing collapse.  Kimbrel said after the game “It was tough to be so close and then have the feeling like it was falling out of your hands, and that’s the feeling I have now.”   One has to feel for Kimbrel and other Braves relievers who have endured a punishing season and faltered down the stretch due to a starting rotation which struggled in their performance and due to injuries to young pitchers Jair Jurgens and Tommy Hansen.

A stunned Braves bench after their loss to the Phillies

For the Braves it was an epic collapse but the Tony LaRussa’s Cardinals after having been written off by every expert managed to catch the Braves and steal the Wild Card berth.

While the National League decision was exciting it paled in comparison to what happened in the American League East on Wednesday night. The Rays appeared to be done early as starter avid Price was hit hard by the Yankees especially by Mark Teixeira who hammed a grand slam home run in the top of the 2nd off Price inning to give the Yankees a 5-0 lead and a solo shot against Price in the top of the 4th. When the Yankees finished their at bat in the top of the 8th they had a 7-0 lead.  It looked like the Rays were done unless the Orioles could come from behind to defeat the Red Sox and force a playoff.  As their fans began to leave Tropicana Field the Rays scored 6 runs in the bottom of the 8th and then tied the game with a two out home run by Dan Johnson in the bottom of the 9th.  The game went into extra innings and as the Rays battled the Yankees an even more remarkable story was developing in Baltimore.

Evan Longoria raises his arms in triumph after his walk off home run against the Yankees (Getty Images)

The Red Sox had led the Orioles for most of the game and had not lost a game all season when leading in the 9th inning.  They were 76-0 in this situation.  A rain delay pushed the game toward themidnight hour and when it resumed the Red Sox seemed to be ready to put the Orioles away.

Robert Andino hits a walk off single to score Nolan Reimold against Jonathan Papelbon

With a 3-2 lead the Sox sent their vaunted closer Jonathan Papelbon into the game. After retiring Adam Jones and Mark Reynolds on strikes Chris Davis doubled and the O’s sent in Kyle Hudson to run for Davis.  Papelbon worked a 2-2 count against Nolan Reimold who hit a ground rule double to scoreHudson.  This brought up Red Sox nemesis Robert Andino who hit a walk off single to score Reimold stunning the Red Sox Nation in an unbelievable finish, but the Red Sox had life if the Yankees could put away the Rays in Tampa, but that hope would be dashed three minutes later.

As the Orioles drove the stake into the heart of the Red Sox Nation Yankees reliever Scott Proctor retired B. J. Upton on strikes.  This brought Evan Longoria to the plate. Longoria had hit a 3 run homer in the Rays 6 run 8th inning and took Proctor’s pitch and hammered it down the left field line where it ended up in the stands.  It was only the second time that a walk off home run put a team into the playoffs, the last was Bobby Thompson’s “shot heard around the world” in 1951.

Orioles celebrate. After a rough season they turned into winners in September and ended the Red Sox playoff hopes

It was an amazing finish that was unimaginable and thrilling to behold.  For the Orioles it was their World Series. They have been dominated by the Red Sox for years and going into September had won just 3 games against the Sox all season.  Then in September the Orioles began to win.  They split 4 games with the Yankees, took 2 of 3 from the Rays, 3 of 4 from the Red Sox at Fenway, 2 of 3 from the Angles and split a four game series against the Tigers.  After the 4 games in Boston the Orioles hosted 3 games against the Red Sox at Camden Yards.  They won the first, lost the second and stunned the Red Sox on Wednesday night.

As the bell tolled midnight on the east coast the unthinkable had happened.  Two epic collapses, two remarkable comebacks and an underdog Orioles team that rose to the occasion to beat the Red Sox 5 of 7 games in September.  No one could have scripted the end to this regular season and one can expect that the playoffs will be equally exciting.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Spoilers: Lowly Orioles Make for an Exciting AL Wild Card Race

Orioles outfielders Nick Markakis, Matt Angle and Adam Jones celebrate after taking 3 of 4 at Fenway from the Red Sox (AP Photo)

The Baltimore Orioles will chalk up yet another losing season after beginning with it high hopes.  However the young Birds are not nearly as bad as their record indicates and during the final month of the season they have not only come on strong but more than any other team have made what seemed to be a boring Wild Card race a down to the wire affair.

It appears that the Boston Red Sox are in the midst of an epic September collapse. As the Red Sox faded the Tampa Bay Rays and Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim California or whatever they are calling themselves this year have turned up the heat and are breathing down the neck of the Red Sox who led the Wild Card race by 9 games at the beginning of the month.  It has been an amazing thing to watch because the Red Sox were supposed to challenge the Yankees for the East or do battle with the Bronx Bombers in the ALCS.

But the real wild card this month is the pesky Baltimore Orioles who looked in August to be staring at a 100 loss season.  The Birds pitching which had been horrendous turned around, with the exception of Brian Matusz who cannot get past the second inning.  Their hitting which was already much better than 2010, especially in home runs got hotter and they started winning especially against the Rays, Orioles, Angels and even the Yankees.

The Orioles split a four game series against the Yankees and 2 of 3 games each from the Angels and Rays temporally blunting each team’s race to the Wild Card.  To top it off the O’s have won 3 of 4 games at Fenway against the Red Sox this week.  To make matters worse of the Sox they have to play their three games against the Yankees in New York and their final three games of the season at Baltimore against a team that now has their number.

What is wrong with the Red Sox?  Well as Orioles Hall of Fame Manager Earl Weaver said “Nobody likes to hear it, because it’s dull, but the reason you win or lose is darn near always the same – pitching.” The Red Sox starters have an ERA over 6.0 in September. Their pitching staff which has struggled since mid-season now can’t seem to win a game if their hitters don’t put up double digits.  They are 5-16 in September and have only won one 1 run game in that time, a 4-3 win against the Rays on September 16th.  Their other four wins were by scores of 12-7 againstTexas, 14-0 and 18-6 against the Blue Jays and 18-9 in the one game that they took from the Orioles.

Big Poppy, David Ortiz sits after the 6-4 loss Wednesday night (AP Photo)

I think that things like this are what make baseball such a magical sport.  For teams like the Orioles, and their National League East cellar dweller counterpart Florida Marlins who have no chance at making the playoffs these games are their playoff games and they are creating havoc.  Now for the Red Sox they have to hope for their arch enemy, the New York Yankees to beat the Rays.  There is drama every day of the month in September and every game can mean something.  The lowliest teams can dash the hopes of the elite as the grueling 162 game season takes its toll on teams and every roster move a manager makes is important.  There is no running out the clock.  As Earl Weaver said “You can’t sit on a lead and run a few plays into the line and just kill the clock. You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance. That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.” I’m sure that there are many Red Sox Fans that wish that they could. The Red Sox can still win the Wild Card but they need help and afford to keep losing.  If they don’t get the help and cannot win some games it will be a long winter in Bean Town for the Red Sox faithful.  Manager Terry Francona said in his post game interview ‘We’re going to have to fight for everything the rest of the way out.”  That is true because the Rays and the Angels will do all that they can to steal this from the Red Sox.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Finishing Well: The Orioles’ Revival a Portent of things to Come

Luke Scott and the Orioles finally have something to be excited about

The Baltimore Orioles under new manager Buck Showalter have become a force in the American League and the American League East.  On August the 2nd the O’s had the worst record in baseball, even lower than the perpetual dwellers in the Marinas Trench of baseball the Pittsburgh Pirates. In four months of play the O’s had but 32 wins and had gone through two managers.  They were on pace to lose well at least 110 games and maybe more games than any team in Major League Baseball History in a 162 game season.

Outfielders like Felix Pie (above) as well as Nick Markakis, Adam Jones will have Corey Patterson looking for a starting position and Nolan Reimold hoping for redemption

At the end of last season I said that manager Dave Trembley had to go. At the time I suggested Bobby Valentine as a replacement. After Trembley was fired Valentine as well as a number of other candidates was interviewed, shortly after Valentine removed himself from consideration as a possible successor to Trembley. On August the 2nd the Orioles hired Showalter to take the place of Interim Manager Juan Samuel. When Showalter took over the Orioles no-one gave him much of a chance of making any real progress this season, most considered the Orioles a lost cause.  I did not think so. At the beginning of the year I predicted that the Orioles would be a .500 team and that this would be a good year for them.  That prediction did not materialize but it was not a question of talent but of leadership and the ability of the Orioles Coaching staff to get the best out of the team, especially the young talent.  The team is playing to the level that I thought that they could at the beginning of the season.

Jeremy Guthrie as well as stable mates Jake Arietta, Brian Matusz, Chris Tillman and Brad Bergeson will have competition from others including Zach Britton who is still at Norfolk

It is my belief that finishing a season well is an indicator of the real potential of a team.  If one was to simply look at the Orioles aggregate win and loss totals one might say that the season was a disaster. That is not true. The first 4 months of the season were an unmitigated disaster as the team lost 16 of its first 18 games and never recovered under the management of Dave Trembley and Juan Samuel. The team was obviously demoralized and looked to an outsider that they believed that they would lose when they took the field. Young players, especially the young pitchers either got knocked around or were given no run support.  Veterans acquired in the off-season to provide experience and on field leadership to the youngsters were a bust and the team had numerous injuries to key players. You could not have a worse first two thirds of a season if you tried.

But all of that changed on August 2nd with a simple change in leadership. The Orioles started to win and win frequently. Not only did they win frequently they began to win a lot more series than they lost.If the season began on August 2nd the AL east would look like this:

Orioles            34-23     .596

Blue Jays         30-26   .535

Yankees          30-27    .526

Red Sox          28-27    .509

Rays                28-28     .500

There were turnarounds in hitting as well as starting pitching. Orioles starters went 26-15 with a 3.13 ERA after Showalter.  With that their starters were the 3rd best rotation in majors since August 2nd.  They have the third best record in the Majors since August 2nd with only the Phillies and Twins winning more.

The Orioles have a lot to look forward to. Buck Showalter will not rest in the off season as he gets the O’s ready for next year. There will be changes. I would think that pitchers Kevin Millwood and Mark Hendrickson will be gone; others will have to fight for their jobs. In the off season Showalter will take the raw talent that has been present on the Orioles at the Major League and Minor League levels make prudent trades as well as assignments within the organization to get them ready to challenge the rest of the AL East in 2011.

While the Orioles are definitely on the way up one has to take a look at how others are doing not just in the East but in the Majors. In the AL East the Rays Owner says that payroll will be significantly reduced and with numerous key players in contract negotiations and declaring free agency they will not be the same team that they have been the past three years. The Yankees and Red Sox are both showing signs of age with the Sox being in worse shape in the long run because they have little to speak of in their minor league system are saddled with a good number of older players and have key players entering the free agent market.  The Yankees can always spend money but as the core of the team, Jeter, Posada, Pettitte and Rivera get older they will lose something. Since the organization will be unlikely to trade such favorites at some point they will spend more time on the DL and not perform as well as in previous years. It is simple; the older guys get the more that they wear out.  This may prove problematic for the Yankees in the coming years.  The Blue Jays finished strong but one does not know what will happen with them with the exit of long time manager Cito Gaston.

Outside of the AL East only the Twins performed really well.  Almost every team in the AL was just above .500 or below during the last two months of the season. This includes teams that have a history of doing well and some that are playoff bound.  Finishing well matters and with the exception of the Orioles and Twins in the AL no teams finished strong, many stumbled and the proof is in their records.

All of this bodes well for the Orioles especially if Showalter is able to continue what he started this year.  I expect the Orioles to be competitive in the AL East. I do not think that they will necessarily win the division but they will not be the door-mat that they have been for so many years.  There is work to do in Birdland but for the first time in years there is real hope based on their performance the last two months of the season.  The team believes that it can win every time it takes the field. When there is leadership and talent there is no limit to where the O’s can go.

Over the off-season I will continue my reporting and commentary on the Orioles and their organization, particularly the Triple-A affiliate the Norfolk Tides. Over the next month I will be commenting of the MLB playoffs and begin to publish articles on the young talent in the Orioles organization and what I think might happen as Buck Showalter and Andy McPhail makes the changes to the organization to make the team a force in the American League for years to come.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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The Orioles Take Flight: The Showalter Era Takes Hold

Buck Showalter, a New Sheriff is in Town (Reuters Photo)

On August 3rd the Baltimore Orioles had a record of 32 and 73 and appeared to be heading not only for a 100 loss season but very possibly 110 or more losses.  Under Manager Dave Trembley and Interim Manager Juan Samuel they had lost 52 games before they had won 20.  It was a dismal record for a team that was demoralized and without real leadership.  Trembley and Samuel were both gentlemen and loyal organization people.  They were both popular with players but could not inspire them to win.

The organization was not only a losing organization of the field but in all departments except the minor league system. Unfortunately the promising prospects coming out of the minors entered a clubhouse where losing was accepted as a way of life presided over by an owner who did nothing to promote winning and spent no money to get All-Star caliber veterans to help provide leadership to the team. Instead of hiring top quality managers they settled for second and third tier managers for years, men who were good guys but terribly lackluster leaders and not Major League caliber managers.

The Orioles at that point seemed to be a franchise on the brink of an unrecoverable death spiral. In my times at Harbor Park last season and this season Elliott the Usher and I would spend much time together and muse about how if we ran the Orioles that things would be different.  As we talked about how to solve the problems of the world, in particular those of the Orioles I finally said that it was not the talent. I felt last season and this season that with the talent available at the Major League level as well as what the Orioles had in their farm system that they should at least be a .500 team this year.  But for the first two thirds of the season that was not the case and I told Elliott at the end of April that it was not the players but on field leadership that was the problem. I thought the Dave Trembley was a nice guy and a good minor league manager but that I felt that he had not been able to step up his game to the Major League level.  In fact I commented back on September 29th 2009 that I thought that Trembley needed to go.

“The one spot that I think that the team needs a change is the Field Manager Dave Trembley.  Trembley seems to be a good teacher but is not terribly inspirational.  Admittedly he began the year with a weak squad but something is not working and I do like his calm, but I wonder if the teams needs fire rather than calm right now.” See Oh, Oh, Oh, O’s….The Orioles Skid Continues But there are Some Bright Spots

I repeated this when the O’s had lost 9 of their first 10 games this season. Last year I was looking at Bobby Valentine as a potential manager having forgotten that Showalter was available. At the time that Trembley was fired the Orioles had a 15 and 39 record, the word by far in the majors with a pitiful .278 winning percentage. This did not improve much under Samuel who had served under Trembley as the Third Base Coach.  Samuel had a 17 and 24 record as the Orioles interim skipper with a cumulative .305 winning percentage. Most people doubted that Showalter do much with this year’s team but they were wrong. Drew Forrester wrote: As I wrote earlier this week, if I had to place a bet, I’d bet AGAINST you because history has shown that no one can turn this thing around in Baltimore…because management and ownership don’t want to do what it takes to win. But I’m really pulling for you, because I think you’re exactly what we need in Baltimore.”

I remember when Showalter was hired and I took a look at his track record. He has been successful at every team that he has managed. In fact he was in large part responsible for building the Yankees team that Joe Torre would lead to 4 World Series Championships. He did the same foundation laying work in Arizona with the Diamondbacks.  I would dare say that without Showalter building the foundation that Joe Torre might have been about as successful in New York as he was with Mets, Braves, Cardinals or Dodgers.  All of Torre’s championships came with the Yankees. I believe that this was in large part due to the acumen of Showalter and the willingness of George Steinbrenner for big name player as well as building up an excellent Minor League system to spend the money needed to produce a winner. When I saw Showalter begin to manage the O’s I knew that he would change things and that the team would start producing.  Since he took over the Orioles have won 25 and lost 15 and for the first time since 2008 had two consecutive winning road trips.  They have the second best record in the American League during this time period behind the Minnesota Twins.  The Orioles are now beating the teams of the AL East and in the past week have taken 2 of three each from the Rays, Yankees and as of tonight the Blue Jays who they will play again tomorrow.

The Orioles hitting has come alive and their starting pitchers who had been beaten about by about everyone in baseball made a turn as well.  It is interesting to look at Orioles player’s reactions after Showalter took over. Center Fielder Adam Jones said: “I think what’s really going on is everyone knows his reputation as a hard-ass. He’s going to get on you for doing this; he’s going to say something about everything. I think that’s actually worked. Hey, let’s get it done. You might as well. You don’t want him on you. I think that’s the approach a lot of guys are taking. Hey, let him sit in there with that scowl. If it works, it works.”

“It’s just that his presence, well, you can just feel the change coming. He’s been on some winning ballclubs, he knows what it takes. Everybody knows his reputation around here. They know it as someone who’s going to get on you, and it’s working for us.”

Showalter and his hard driving style, ability to get the most out of players and develop young talent is already remaking the Orioles. Any observe can sense that this team, which before Showalter’s arrival was described by Forrester as “a lot of people — players, coaches and management — who have done nothing but LOSE in their respective careers in Baltimore…  Pick a player on the team.  I don’t care what his name is or what his stats show, I can guarantee you this:  He’s contributed to LOSING during his time here.  Guys who won elsewhere in their career – like Tejada and Millwood – show up here…and start losing.  It’s the “Oriole Way”.

That has changed. As of tonight they have won 4 consecutive series for the first time since 2004.  The Orioles have made one of the most dramatic end of season turnarounds in recent memory.  Players universally talk about Showalter’s tough expectations and the difference in the clubhouse. They now believe that they can win any game against any team that they play.

The starting pitching is one department where things have changed When Showalter arrived; the rotation of Kevin Millwood, Jeremy Guthrie, Matusz, Brad Bergesen and Jake Arrieta had a combined record of 15-45 with a 5.50 earned run average. As of September 7th under Showalter, those pitchers are 15-11 with a 3.23 E.R.A.

The expectations are high. Ty Wigginton commented ”This is our manager….You’ve got his track record, and everybody knows that Buck knows how to win. That speaks for itself with a lot of guys. Let’s wait and see, but I think for some of the younger players, it kind of opened their eyes to realize: I’ve got to start getting this right.”

Brian Matusz commented: ”You can’t just walk over us….We’re playing good baseball right now. We’re doing all the little things right. It’s fun to come out and beat teams in our division and continue this streak that we have.”

The Orioles management has stated that the off season will be very busy. There will be a lot of moves and hard evaluation of talent. There is a new sheriff in town, and his name is Buck. I expect that the Orioles will now be a factor in the AL East.  I do not expect them to be the “Washington Generals” of the division and they will make the East a very interesting division next year as teams that were used to getting 10-15 wins at their expense will have to fight the Orioles at every step of the way. It will be fun to watch the Orioles the rest of this season and next year as they take flight as they have not in the last 14 years.

This could well be the start of something good.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Woe Woe Woe the O’s Woes Continue to Grow

Earl Weaver like him or not knew how to manage and motivate

“The key to winning baseball games is pitching, fundamentals, and three run homers.” Earl Weaver

Well if you are an Orioles fan like me you have got to be wondering what is going on in Birdland.  The Orioles sports fans are losing and are patently not following the advice of their legendary Orioles skipper Earl Weaver. After a perfectly miserable 2009 season the Orioles looked like they had righted the ship and were ready if not to be competing for the AL East title at least to be competitive and playing .500 ball.  Veteran hitters like Miguel Tejada and Garrett Atkins were added to the line-up and last year’s crop of rookies including Catcher Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold were expected to start shining.  Additionally with Brian Roberts, Adam Jones, Nick Markakis  and Felix Pie in the lineup the hitting drought of last year was expected to end.  In the pitching department great things were expected as the young arms of the O’s supplemented by veteran Kevin Millwood acquired from the Rangers over the winter were also expected to perform at a higher level than last year.

Matt Wieters is developing well for the O’s

Unfortunately no plan survives first contact with the enemy and it looks like the Orioles who definitely have the talent and potential to be competitive need to find a way to win.  After losing their opener in Tampa they won the second game in that series but haven’t seen a win since. They lost the third game in Tampa and returned home to be swept by both the Blue Jays and the Rays before losing last night in Oakland to the surging Athletics.  With a 1 win and 9 losses the O’s are tied with the Houston Astros for the Marianas Trench of Major League Baseball and as of the moment show no sign of coming out of this crash.

Miguel Tejada brought back for his bat leads the O’s in RBIs but is not hitting well for average…yet

The team batting average is only .232 and the have scored a total of 29 runs in their first ten games and their on base percentage is a mere .309.  Neither are they stealing bases with only 3 stolen so far this year. Felix Pie is leading the team in hitting at .400 with a on base percentage of .455 and slugging percentage of .650.  Miguel Tejada leads the team in RBIs with 7 nearly a quarter of the Orioles total run output.  Matt Wieters is showing signs of maturity at the plate hitting .313 and an OBP of .405.  However some of the bats which are expected to deliver have not woken up yet and maybe it is time to invoke prayers to Jobu to wake them up.  Brian Roberts is now on the 15 day Disabled List and has been replaced at second by Justin Turner called up from the O’s AAA affiliate the Norfolk Tides.

Big Righthander Kam Mickolio was Brought up for injured Mike Gonzales

The pitching staff widely regarded as having some of the best arms and potential in the majors has fared no better with a 4.89 ERA giving up the most hits with 97 hits to their opponents in these ten games and they have allowed 32 walks. In one area the pitching staff is doing well, the can strike out opponents ranking third in the majors with 80.  Kevin Millwood leads the staff with a 2.13 ERA while rookie Brian Matusz has the team’s only win and leads the team with 15 strike outs.  The biggest disappointment has been newly acquired closer Mike Gonzalez.  Gonzales has blown two saves and lost both games and has an 18.0 ERA.  He is on the 15 day DL and the O’s have called up Kam Mickolio from Norfolk as a middle relief man while moving Jim Johnson to the closer role.

Now it is certainly very early in the season but losses in April count just the same as losses in September and losing nine of your first ten games puts you in a very deep hole to start the season.  However at this point one has to start asking what is going on. The O’s are a very talented team and by all rights should be doing much better than their record and statistics suggest.

Orioles Manager Dave Trembley….”Nice guys…finish last?”

At the end of last year I laid the blame on Orioles Manager Dave Trembley.  As I said then:

“The one spot that I think that the team needs a change is the Field Manager Dave Trembley.  Trembley seems to be a good teacher but is not terribly inspirational.  Admittedly he began the year with a weak squad but something is not working and I do like his calm, but I wonder if the teams needs fire rather than calm right now.  My choice would be for the O’s to make a serious offer for Bobby Valentine now that he has returned from Japan.”

From “Oh, Oh, Oh O’s….The Orioles Skid Continues….” September 29th 2009 at  https://padresteve.wordpress.com/2009/09/29/oh-oh-oh-o%e2%80%99s%e2%80%a6-the-orioles-skid-continues-but-there-are-some-bright-spots/

Please do not get me wrong. I think a lot of Dave Trembley, however the team seems to have little life and it is my opinion that a very motivational manager with proven success at all levels of baseball like Bobby Valentine would be an ideal choice to manage the Orioles.  With so much of the season left I do not think anything is gained by keeping Trembley at the helm.  Now is it possible that Tremblay and his managerial style could turn the team around….certainly.  He is popular with the players a gentleman and a very nice person but I’m not so sure that he is the man to make this happen.  In addition to Valentine Clint Hurdle who has managed at Norfolk and led the Rockies to the World Series in 2007 is coaching at Texas and if one wanted a Baltimore connection there is Don Baylor who is currently the hitting coach for the Rockies.  If an interim manager is needed the Orioles could reach down to AAA Norfolk for Tides manager Gary Allenson who has the advantage of having worked with many of the younger O’s for the last four years and managed the Bluefield Orioles of the Appalachian League as well as the Ottawa Lynx before they moved to Norfolk and became the Tides.  He has a long history of managing in the minors and it may be his time to hit the bigs.

Norfolk Tides Manager Gary Allenson might be a good interim manager should the Orioles fire Trembley

Regardless of what course the Orioles take it is imperative that they start winning. Success breads success and as Chuck Tanner said: “I don’t think a manager should be judged by whether he wins the pennant, but by whether he gets the most out of the twenty-five men he’s been given.” Unfortunately I don’t think that Dave Tremblay is getting the most of this very talented young team and even though it is very early in the season it is not too soon to make the change at the top.  As Leo Durocher said “What are we out at the park for, except to win?”

I’m hoping that the Birds will turn it around soon.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Opening Day at the Church of Baseball at Harbor Park

Another season begins at Harbor Park in Norfolk Virginia tomorrow evening.  The weather looks decent but in the evening there is a 30% chance of scattered storms with the chances going up after 10 PM.  Last year we were rained out and hopefully this will not be the case this year.  Both the Tides and their parent club the Orioles are much improved in terms of depth compared to last year.  The Orioles have solidified their offense with a number of solid veterans as well as had a number of last year’s crop of rookies to include Matt Wieters and Nolan Reimold as well as the youthful All-Star Adam Jones and their pitching staff is deep with many young arms.  The Baltimore outfield in particular has depth and could in the long run produce a number of All-Stars with Reimold, Jones and Nick Markakis.  The infield with veterans Brian Roberts, Garrett Atkins and Miguel Tejada and Caesar Izturis The pitching staff is still young but should they mature this year could be a formidable staff.  Added to the mix this year is Brian Matuz who went from AA Bowie directly to the Orioles at the end of last season and veteran Kevin Millwood. Waiting in the wings is another bumper crop of young pitchers who in not too much time could easily be starters or relievers on the O’s or used to help the team acquire other personnel through trades.

The Tides roster is deep.  Last year the Tides were amazing until an injury riddled Orioles team with little depth was forced to call up many of the Tides by the end of May.  Prior to the massive number of call ups the Tides were playing well over .700 baseball and routinely crushing their opposition. The pitching staff suffered similarly to the hitters and after the call ups the power evaporated and even with decent hitting the tables were turned. This year the Tides are deep, many young prospects as well as some seasoned young players who have some major league experience.  I have had the pleasure of meeting many of the young Tides pitchers last year and most are returning this year.  The Tides are stocked with young players with some Major League experience thanks to last year’s call ups. They are deep in pitching and have many excellent position players.  Since the Orioles have some depth at the Major League level the Tides, baring an epidemic of injuries at Baltimore should keep a solid team together for much of the year and with that win the International League South and possibly compete for the Governor’s Cup Championship.  That is great for the fans but even more important is the chance to groom the members of this team for service on the Orioles without having to rush them into service as was the case in 2009.  The Orioles are also deep to the AA level with a number of players at Bowie who will certainly fleet up to the Tides and perhaps like Matuz head up to the Orioles if needed.

Baltimore will probably do much better than last year and while they may not be ready to challenge the Yankees or Red Sox this year could well by 2011.  If the Orioles were not in the same division as New York and Boston they might even this year compete for a playoff spot if they were in the AL Central or the AL West.

Tomorrow I will go and take my seat in Section 102 Row B seat one as the Tides pitch Chris Tillman against Durham.  It should be good as I meet up with the faithful including Elliott and Chip the Ushers, Ray, John and the Vietnam Veterans of America chapter who man the beer stand behind home plate, Marty the Card Dealer, Kenny “Crabman” the Pretzel Guy as well as General Manager Dave Rosenfield and the rest of the staff. I think that it will be a great year for the Tides a good year for the Orioles.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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