Tag Archives: american league east

Real Life Major League? We Have a Pennant Race in the American League East and the Orioles are in It

Who would have thought that with 157 games played that the the New York Yankees would not be battling the Boston Red Sox or Tampa Bay Rays for the AL East championship. Instead they are battling Buck Showalter’s Baltimore Orioles.

I think that this season began on the final day of the 2011 season when the Orioles knocked off the Red Sox on a walk-off at Camden Yards to end the Red Sox season. That was their 69th win of the season, but it was like a World Series win, a celebration that Baltimore had not seen at the end of a season in years.The plucky Orioles are a game behind the Yankees with 5 games left in the regular season and have a magic number of three to at the least be one of the two American League Wild Card teams. The O’s are 8-2 in their last ten games and are now 90-67 for the season. Since they failed to win 70 games last year and most experts predicted that they would have yet another losing season in 2012, this is pretty big news.

 

Tonight Chris Tillman again showed his metal pitching a one hit game through 8 innings allowing only one unearned run. Tillman is now 9-2 after being called back up from from AAA Norfolk in July.

The Orioles bats came alive early as they took a 6-1 lead in the first inning after Ryan Flaherty hit a 2 out Grand Slam home run in the bottom of the first inning. The Orioles are not a typical playoff contender, they have few big name stars, their starting pitching staff has been makeshift for most of the year and they have used 50 players so far this year.

That being said the Orioles know how to win. They win consistently in extra innings and one run games, especially when they are leading after the 7th inning. Their bullpen has been stellar and they get the game winning hits when they need them.

There is something special about this team. It is possible that they could very well be the real life Cleveland Indians of the movie Major League.

This could be really fun. Let’s go O’s!

Peace

Padre Steve+

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81: First Place Orioles Ensured of First Non-Losing Season Since 1997

The Baltimore Orioles Celebrate Sweeping the Tampa Bay Rays on rookie Manny Machado’s walk off single in the 14th inning. (Rob Carr, Getty Images / September 13, 2012)

There is something magical and enduring about baseball that makes it such an important part of the American experience. Saul Steinberg said that “Baseball is an allegorical play about America, a poetic, complex, and subtle play of courage, fear, good luck, mistakes, patience about fate, and sober self-esteem.”

Today the Baltimore Orioles reminded us of that fact. The plucky O’s under Manager Buck Showalter using a roster that  has now included 50 players during the season have defied all predictions. They are determined contenders. They have won 13 consecutive extra inning games and are 27-7 in one run games. Their bullpen is stellar. They are 64-0 when leading after the 7th inning. They may not have the raw talent and the certain Hall of Fame players that the Yankees have but they can win the close games.

The Baltimore Orioles are perched atop the American League East duking it out with the New York Yankees. The Orioles completed a sweep of the Tampa Bay Rays today in a 14 inning 3-2 walk off win after splitting a four game series with the Yankees at Camden Yards.

The win ensures that they will not have a losing season for the first time since 1997 when they won 98 games and were the AL East Champions. There is a real possibility that the Orioles will win 90 or more games this year. No one predicted that, although I predicted that they would break .500 this year and be a factor in the American League East at the beginning of the season.

The Orioles will now embark on a six game West Coast road trip where the will play the equally surprising Oakland Athletics and the Seattle Mariners.

The interesting thing about the weekend series between the O’s and the A’s is that it is a pivotal series. It actually matters and could be a series that determines where they and their competitors end up in the post season. It is as if the gods of baseball scheduling looked out over the season and said “no one thinks that the O’s and A’s are any good so let’s screw with the experts.” The A’s are just three games behind the Texas Rangers and lead the AL Wild Card race.

Things like this are what make baseball such a magical game. I guess what makes me love baseball so much is that small market teams like the O’s and the A’s can contend even without the big name players and obscene payrolls of the big market teams.  It is funny because the NFL season is just a week old and games are being sold as “do or die” or “must win.” When I hear that kind of talk I realize that football despite its popularity lacks the real human drama of the 162 game Major League Baseball season. If a team’s season is determined by the second game then it is not all that exciting if you ask me. Yes there is some drama in football and it is a good game, but it is not baseball, it is just a game.

My dream at the end of the season is to hear the phrases American League East Champion Baltimore Orioles and American League West Champion Oakland Athletics. I get chills thinking about the possibility.

Peace

Padre Steve+

 

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TV Tonight: Orioles vs. White Sox or GOP Convention?

 

 

Walt Whitman said “I see great things in baseball.  It’s our game – the American game.  It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism.  Tend to relieve us from being a nervous, dyspeptic set.  Repair these losses, and be a blessing to us.”  I agree wholeheartedly with Whitman on this opening night of the political convention season.

I think I have picked up a summer cold or perhaps am suffering from allergies related to all the mold in the air from all the rain that has inundated us over the past month. I have had a sinus headache since last night and thankfully I was able to take off a bit early to go home, lay down and try to clean out my sinuses.

Regardless of what the malady is I am deciding what to watch on television tonight. The MLB Channel features the Baltimore Orioles against the Chicago White Sox while the Republican National Convention and other reality TV dominates the airwaves elsewhere. I’ll have a similar choice when the Democrats have their convention next week though it may not be the Orioles playing.

The problem is that I love baseball, I am thrilled that for the first time in years and years the Orioles are in playoff contention in late August but I also am fascinated by politics in the same way that I am by shark attacks and train wrecks. I began watching political conventions and debates 1968 when I was just 8 years old. I worked for the campaign of Gerald Ford as a volunteer in 1976 and I have watched campaigns and conventions ever since. However this year it is different. I thought it might be gutter quality of the campaign and the absolute polarization of the parties or the unwillingness of the uber-partisans on both sides to actually work together for anything that might be the cause of my lack of interest this year.  However that is not the case, other elections in my life have been nasty and partisan.

Unlike other election years there is no drama. Neither party’s convention packs any drama this year. Obama was an unchallenged incumbent and Romney destroyed his fragmented conservative opponents by carpet bombing them when they started to gain traction. There will be no surprises. The nominees have been set for months, the VP picks are chosen, the platforms offer nothing really new. Gone are the days of tension waiting to find out the VP nominee of a close role call vote or an insurgent candidate that is allowed, unlike Ron Paul to speak at the convention. Even protestors, who are a staple of the American political drama are being cordoned off by massive police and security forces a half mile away from the convention site. What happens in Tampa will be followed next week by the same show under a different name in Charlotte.  It is as if the conventions of both parties are completely in the thrall of the special interests and that nothing unscripted can be allowed to interrupt the show.

The speakers will do their best to fire up their respective electoral base by demonizing the opposing party and at the same time will do their best to make their candidate look good. The pundits and preachers have all chosen sides and smelled armpits while the advertising barrages of both campaigns and their allied Super-PACs and mega-donors are spending hundreds of millions of dollars in mostly negative advertisements. I get no respite from this since where I am stationed and where my home is are both swing states. Thus I and millions of others have to suffer through an unending bombardment of negativity, lies and distortion.

The one issue that really matters to me, that of what is happening to our military serving in harm’s way in Afghanistan will scarcely be addressed. There will be short tributes to “the troops” at both conventions but it will for the most part be bumper sticker patriotism devoid of any real depth, passion or empathy. But the fact is the vast majority of the country is not involved in the war and many don’t even know that there is a war going on or that we are on the verge of being sucked into other wars. Everyone is happy to “support the troops” especially if it doesn’t cost them anything. So for me that huge displays of red white and blue decorations and Old Glory flying over these conventions is somewhat askew with the reality that I see. It is cheap patriotism, except for the diamond, ruby and sapphire studded 24k gold pendants and American flag pins adorning the faithful. Those are expensive.

Please know that I recognize the profound differences between the parties and the choice that the voters of this nation will have to make in November. I just think that this year the conventions are lacking in drama, lacking in real passion and for that matter are simply places where the most partisan elements of both parties gather, surrounded by the big money people and treated as a new aristocracy by the media.

Streakers would make either convention more interesting

Because of this, and the availability of all the convention coverage by a multiplicity of sources from all sides of the American political-media spectrum as well as overseas media I don’t need to watch either convention. I might watch Mitt Romney and Barack Obama make their acceptance speeches but I am not going to trouble myself with the rest of it, unless a hoard Ron Paul of streakers make a dash through the convention, Paul Ryan converts to Islam, Chris Christie makes the case for himself in 2016 or if Joe Biden shows up in Tampa and steals the GOP nomination. That would make it interesting. It would take similar events at next week’s Democratic Party convention to make me watch it.

So tonight it is baseball. The Orioles are having a magical year. They are three and a half games behind the Yankees in the American League East and tied for the lead in the American League Wild Card race. They have already won more games this year than they did all of last season. They have won 13 straight one run games and no-one, with the possible exception of me and maybe Buck Showalter thought that they would be in this race right now. With just over a month left in the regular season the Orioles matter. That my friends is drama, that is inspirational, that is worth watching. So to Mitt and the GOP faithful this week and President Obama and the Democrat faithful next week, I have better things to do than watch you. I have baseball.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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The Night of the Long Knives comes to Red Sox Nation: Terry Francona Out as BoSox Manager

Terry Francona driving out of Fenway before returning for the announcement of his Departure

The Boston Globe has reported that the owner of the Red Sox John Henry has decided that Manager Terry Francona, the best thing to happen to baseball in Boston since the day that Babe Ruth signed with the New York Yankees will not exercise Francona’s contract option to return to the Red Sox next year.  On Thursday GM Theo Epstein sat next to Francona and said “Collectively it was a failure, I’m the general manager so I take more responsibility than anybody. I don’t think we believe in — I know we don’t believe in scapegoats. In particular, no one blames Tito for what happened in September. Look, we all failed collectively. We kind of failed collectively in this one and we have to live with that.” On Friday there were multiple reports that the player friendly Francona was out.

The reports were accurate but Epstein sent out a press release today which said “John Henry, Tom Werner, Larry Lucchino, Ben Cherington and I met with Terry Francona this morning at Fenway Park to exchange thoughts and information on the 2011 season and discuss areas for improvement going forward. We all plan on taking some time to process the thoughts expressed in the meeting. There are no immediate plans for an announcement.”

The Red Sox had 10 days from the end of the season to make the decision to retain or release Francona but around5:30 PMa joint announcement was made that the team was not picking up its option on Francona’s contract and that he would not be back in 2012. Epstein released another statement in the evening saying:

“Nobody at the Red Sox blames Tito for what happened at the end of this season; we own that as an organization. This year was certainly a difficult and draining one for him and for us. Ultimately, he decided that there were certain things that needed to be done that he couldn’t do after eight years here, and that this team would benefit from hearing a new voice. While this may be true, his next team will benefit more than it knows from hearing Tito’s voice. I will miss seeing Tito every day in the manager’s office, and I wish him and his family nothing but the best in their next chapter.

The Red Sox front office also released a statement which praised Francona:

“We have enormous respect, admiration and appreciation for Tito and the job that he did for eight years, including two World Series championship seasons and five playoff appearances,” the statement read. “His poise during the 2004 postseason was a key factor in the greatest comeback in baseball history, and his place in Red Sox history will never be forgotten. We wish him only the best going forward.”

Francona commented:

“We met this morning to look back on the 2011 season and to consider the future of the Boston Red Sox, including my involvement with the club. I passed along my frustrations at my inability to effectively reach the players. After many conversations and much consideration, I ultimately felt that, out of respect to this team, it was time for me to move on.  I’ve always maintained that it is not only the right, but the obligation, of ownership to have the right person doing this job. I told them that out of my enormous respect for this organization and the people in it, they may need to find a different voice to lead the team.”

Francona who managed a Red Sox team that had not won a World Series since 1918 brought not one but two World Series titles to Beantown and led the Sox to the playoffs 5 times in his 8 years as the team’s manager.  He won with a loose and player friendly approach and when the team won the Red Sox Nation cheered his “idiots.”  Now it appears that the Red Sox ownership is ready to let Francona go and many of the younger members of the Red Sox Nation are looking to blame someone.

Yes the Red Sox collapse was epic, the worst ever in the history of Major League Baseball.   They had a nine game lead in the Wild Card Race and went 7-20 in September. The collapse was made even worse by how they lost the final game of the season to the suddenly hot last place Baltimore Orioles.  They had the Orioles down to their last strike in the bottom of the 9th inning and lost with their ace closer Jonathan Papelbon on the hill.  It was an unthinkable and humiliating blow.

However to simply assign Francona the blame is to take the easy way out.  Many factors contributed the most important was how the Red Sox went from playing “Money Ball” with a lot more money than Billy Beane aver had in Oakland to trying to screw what made them successful and try to spend money on “talent” to compete with the Yankees now. But the talent that they purchased was overpriced and underperforming. John Lackey and Carl Crawford, both solid players in their own right failed to live up to the expectations set before them and the money that the organization paid them.  The Red Sox set the price for both with exorbitant contracts to ensure that neither went to their hated arch rival Yankees.

But there were other factors on and off the field especially regarding the pitching staff which collapsed and that some pitchers routinely drank in the clubhouse on their off days.

David Ortiz seemed to indicate that there were problems in the dugout saying “I worry about playing baseball more than anything else, I know we have some players that (the organization thought were) worried about some other s— and sometimes there were certain things that no one in the clubhouse can control. I was trying and I have no issues.”

Jackie MacMullan wrote an article today that really laid out a case for how everyone had a part in this epic collapse.  But one thing that she pointed out was something that almost any observer could tell.  The Red Sox had become unlikable, arrogant and complacent.

“While the Rays were young, hungry and edgy, the Red Sox were arrogant, complacent and, worst of all, entitled. They took their baseball gifts for granted, and when those gifts abandoned them, as they almost always do during a long baseball season, they were either too lazy or too cocksure to recognize what was required of them to maintain the consistency that is so vital in baseball. So they complained about the absence of the designated hitter in inter-league play, bemoaned injuries that robbed them of key players, even suggested their schedule was too grueling because they played too many televised night games (Adrian Gonzalez can lay claim to that gem). Back in the good old days, the Red Sox famously dubbed the Yankees “the Evil Empire” because they were arrogant, complacent and, yes, entitled. When New York failed, it merely outspent everyone else to pluck the best players from free agency and rejigger its lineup. Somewhere along the way, the Red Sox became what they once abhorred.”

Players defended Francona. First baseman Adrian Gonzalez said “It’s not Tito’s fault he’s not on the field playing. You can’t blame the manager who has kept an even keel the whole time. That’s what he’s supposed to do. You want him to show panic and put pressure on us? No. He did his job and us as players just didn’t get it done.”

Venerable Red Sox Captain Jason Varitek who played a part time role on the team in 2011 said “I don’t think right now there’s a reason to point any fingers, we as players didn’t get our job done.”

However Francona has to bear some of the blame.  Yet his part in the collapse compared to decisions made by Theo Epstein, Red Sox ownership and failure of players to perform his place in the blame game is in my mind smaller.  But he is the on-field manager and like the Captain of a ship he gets blamed for the actions of his subordinates as well as those above him.  That is the nature of the game.

Personally I like Francona’s leadership style.  I have a similar one.  However, as Francona found out it can reach back and bite you in the ass if you are not careful.  I personally believe that he was let down by his team which since 2008 has not performed in the playoff and finished 3rd in the AL East twice.  Likewise the GM and ownership have a large amount of blame to bear for this debacle.

Francona is the best manager the Red Sox have ever had. The Red Sox went 744-552 under Francona, and 8-0 in World Series games under him. I do not know who could replace him.  The fact is that what happened to the Red Sox this season will not be easy to fix. Many changes will have to be made and it could take the team years to recover.  The hardest thing to recover will be what they lost along the way; the Red Sox need to rediscover their soul.  For the rest of the American League East it could mean that the road to challenge the Yankees will have one less obstacle in the way.

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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Tides Shelled Thursday: Shut out by Rochester 9-0 and an Orioles Report

Brandon Erbe was Rocked again by the Rochester Red Wings

The second expedition of the Norfolk Tides to the great north ended on a cloudy and cool afternoon in Rochester as the Red Wings hammered the Tides to split the four game series.  Unlike the first three games of this series this game took an ugly turn in the 6th inning when the Wings scored 6 runs.  Tides starting pitcher Brandon Erbe’s woes continued as the young right hander was hit hard giving up 5 runs 4 of which were earned runs on 5 hits in 5 innings before being pulled in the 6th after facing four batters without getting any out.  Erbe (0-9 6.14 ERA) was followed by another pitcher that most thought last year would be in the Orioles bullpen possibly as a closer and that is Kam Mickolio (1-2 10.43 ERA).  Mickolio gave up 2 runs on 4 hits getting just one batter out before being replaced by Andy Mitchell.  Mitchell gave up 2 runs on 3 hits in 1.2 innings work before Pedro Viola (0-2 15.23 ERA) entered the game in the bottom of the 8th giving up no runs on 1 hit.   Rochester starter Jeff Manship (3-2 3.64 ERA) pitched 9 innings of scoreless ball scattering just 4 hits, walking none while striking out 6.

The Red Wings runs came the 5th, 6th and 7th innings.  In the 5th the Wings scored a run on 3 singles, an error and a wild pitch.  In the 6th inning they scored 6 runs on 8 hits against Erbe and Mickolio and in the 7th 2 runs on Mitchell.  Of the 16 hits produced by the Wings 13 were singles and the three extra base hits were all doubles.

The Norfolk offense was non-existent today just the four singles to Robert Andino, Jeff Salazar, Nolan Reimold and Blake Davis.

The Tides return to Harbor Park on Friday to play the Buffalo Bisons at 7:15 on Marine Night, a tradition here in Norfolk where the Tides honor “the Few, the Proud, the Marines” that serve in our midst.

As for the Orioles one commentator referred to them today as “hapless” after losing 6-3 and being swept by the Yankees.  They fall to 15-39 with a .278 win percentage 21 games behind Eastern Division leader Tampa Bay.  The O’s go into a 3 game series against the Red Sox at home on Friday with Chris Tillman on the mound hoping to help the Orioles turn things around.

Dave Trembley: Will he survive the week in Baltimore?

I doubt if Dave Trembley will be around much longer as the Manager of the O’s, some are speculating that he will be relieved of his duties as early as today or tomorrow.  It will be a sad day for the O’s as Trembley is well liked who always tries to be positive about things even when you can see the suffering on his face, night after night and loss after loss.  He has been saddled with a near impossible task for the past number of years, working on a rebuilding program but having to call up many of the Orioles best prospects before they are ready to play every day in the toughest division in baseball.  Since the end of the last campaign I have felt that he needed to be let go but I feel bad for him and the team, especially all the young players who look up to him and his caring leadership.  Trembley never had enough of a solid veteran nucleus to build around and had to throw his young guys into situations that were often impossible.  They now need someone that can turn the organization around someone who can combine patience with urgency and caring with cold steel and blazing fire. The Orioles need to move some of the non-producing veterans and pick up some winners who will help the team win now and serve as mentors to the young players.  They also need to look at their 40 man roster as there are some hard decisions that will have to be made there as they cannot afford to keep players on the 40 man roster that cannot consistently perform at the AAA level.  This includes some of the Norfolk pitching staff. I find it notable that the Tides pitchers having the most difficult time and the worst seasons imaginable are all on the 40 man roster while the ones performing really well to include Jake Arietta and Denis Sarfate are not on it.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Comebacks in Baseball and Life: 27 Outs- the Baltimore Orioles teach us a Lesson in Life

salazar home runOscar Salazar being greeted by Nolan Reimold, Matt Wieters and Luke Scott

“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.” Earl Weaver

“Nothing in the world can take the place of Persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful men with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated derelicts. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent. The slogan ‘Press On’ has solved and always will solve the problems of the human race.” Calvin Coolidge

Last night something truly remarkable happened and it wasn’t something the latest in a political scandal, natural disaster, or war, coup d’état or international crisis.  Likewise no additional entertainment icons died and we have been Michael Jacksoned to death. His death while tragic is now becoming an annoyance as the media and everyone with an opinion about him, his family, his lifestyle, antics or the cause of death chimes in on those subjects.  The 24 hour non-stop news coverage is threatening to take on eschatological dimensions.  Even so, all of those things happen all the time.  They are not for all of the fanfare that remarkable or special be they wars, famine, death of icons, pestilence or scandals. Since they happen all the time they are not that remarkable.

No something much more remarkable happened last night which I am patently sure that the Deity Herself had something to do with.  Something that causes us to remember that nothing is ever certain and that almost anything is possible.  The Baltimore Orioles set the record for a comeback in a major league baseball game where a last place team came from behind to beat a first place team as well as their team record for biggest comeback set against the Red Sox in 1956.

The Red Sox have been great so far this year.  They are in the most competitive division in baseball.  The Yankees, Rays and Blue Jays are good teams and the Orioles, though bringing up the rear are showing promise as they continue to build a franchise based on a great farm system producing quality players.  They now are tied for the 3rd best team batting average in the majors at .274 with the Blue Jays and the 9th best slugging percentage.  What has hurt the Orioles has been pitching which is the third worst in the majors and this is slowly getting better as young pitchers developed in the minors are beginning to show up and do good things on the Orioles staff. The Orioles are not expected to be in the race this year, but the overall plan is to be contenders in a season or two.

However what matters now and makes this significant as it is an example of how something that happens on a baseball field can help us in life.  The game was delayed by rain delay of 79 minutes in the 5th inning. At the end of 7 ½ innings the Orioles were down 10-1.  It was a game that seemed to be over.  After all’ the Orioles had lost their last 8 games, going back to 2008 against the Red Sox and faced several outstanding Boston Relief Pitchers.  Likewise, it was not certain that to Sox would not score any more runs.  The Orioles pitching staff has not been consistent and the Red Sox have beaten up on the Orioles pitching staff. Things did not look good for the home team.  Then something happened. Aubry Huff singled to right to open this inning.  Huff was followed by rookie Nolan Reimold, who I have seen play many times this year at Harbor Park, who singled advancing Huff.  The Luke Scott doubled scoring Huff.  With 2 on and no outs Oscar Salazar, a hard working journeyman who was hitting .378 at Norfolk pinch hit for Melvin Mora.  Salazar took Red Sox reliever Justin Masterson to deep left for a three run home run.  Felix Pie (Pee-ay) who had relieved an injured Adam Jones drove in Robert Andino for a 5th run.

The game was now 10-6 as Boston came to the plate in the top of the 8th.  The Red Sox appeared to be getting something going.  With runners at 2nd and 1st with two out Jacoby Ellsbury hit a single to center.  Red Sox catcher George Kottaras trying to score from second was thrown out at the plate by Felix Pie for the third out.

In the bottom of the 8th the first four Orioles hitters; Reimold, Scott, Salazar and Wieters hit and Reimold scored against Red Sox reliever Hideki Okajima who left the game.  Okajima was replaced by Takashi Saito who gave up two more hits to Ty Wiggington and Brian Roberts scoring Scott and Salazar.  To quell this Orioles uprising the Sox sent in the ever dependable Oriole killer Jonathan Papelbon who was 20-0 in save attempts against to O’s.  Papelbon looked like he was in control when he struck out Felix Pie for the second out bringing up Orioles Right Fielder Nick Markakis who had never had a hit against Papelbon.  Markakis hit a double off the left field wall to score pinch runner Jeremy Guthrie and Roberts to put the Orioles up 11-10.  In two innings the Orioles had scored 10 runs on 10 hits.  Going to the top of the 9th the Orioles brought in closer George Sherrill who shut down the top of the Sox order to get the save.

It was an amazing game.  A last place team that had no recent success against the first place team managed the biggest comeback of such a match up in Major League Baseball history and it was stunning.  Red Sox Shortstop Dustin Pedrioa said “It was a weird game, a terrible loss for us. That’s upsetting. Things just kind of spiraled on us.” While Manager Terry Francona said “We just had no answer. We went through everybody. Nothing we did worked.”  In the home clubhouse an emotional Orioles Manager Dave Tremblay said “That was probably the best game I’ve been involved in, right there. That was absolutely tremendous. When you talk about playing all 27 outs, that’s tonight.”  While Oscar Salazar said something that I think made the difference in the game, mental readiness to step in and play when it looked like the game’s ending was already written in stone.  Salazar who came up as a pinch hitter said “You sit on the bench 5 hours with the rain delay, but when they told me to hit, I was ready.”  As Salazar stepped to the plate and got ready to hit you could see the look of calm, confident determination that only years of hard work in the obscurity of the minor leagues can bring to a person.  A blogger in Boston had a banner headline: PAPELBLOWN and Sox Blow the Biggest Lead in the History of Earth.

Now of course the Red Sox being an excellent baseball team got their revenge at Camden Yards today, scoring 4 runs in the top of the 9th to tie the Orioles and go on and win in 11 by ascore of 6-5.  This being said they are the Boston Red Sox and as much as I have hope for the Orioles, the Red Sox are at this place in the space time continuum the far better team.

So here are the life lessons that I drew from this game.  First, no matter how bad things are you still have to keep playing.  I know this from really crappy times in seminary where it looked like I would never ever finish seminary and that all I had sacrificed to get through would be in vain.  There are 27 outs in a game and if you don’t give up, you always have a chance to win.  Life is not like football or basketball where people can run out the clock on you once they get a comfortable lead.  The other team still has to face you and if like Oscar Salazar and the other young Orioles you can step up and keep your head in the game you have a chance.

I have mentioned before how a number of people wrote me off in seminary making comments like “It’s obvious that you weren’t called to ministry otherwise God would be blessing you,” and “have you thought that maybe you were wrong to get out of the Army to go to seminary” or one that hurt the most, “you’re dumber than dirt for getting out of the Army to waste your time in seminary.”  I heard such comments from people in church, at work, people that I called for prayer and even some family members.  The toll on Judy was severe and though she was suffering she refused to even let me entertain giving up.  If I had quit I would not be here today, I had to gut it out with the odds stacked against me and at times when I even thought that God might have turned his back on me.

Likewise if you are riding high you can’t become complacent.  I do not believe that this happened to the Red Sox, but complacency kills.  Jonathan Papelbon noted “Give the other team credit. They put pressure on our bullpen tonight and we pretty much imploded. I can’t think of any other word that describes it better.”  The Red Sox infield also did something rather unique.  With two outs in the bottom of the 6th Dustin Pedrioa charged off the field followed by the rest of the infield thinking that there were three outs.  Only problem there were only two outs. The Boston Globe put it this way:

“And it’s hard not to attach some significance to that play in the bottom of the sixth, when the Red Sox infield trotted to the dugout with two out.  “I looked up and I saw Tek standing there all by himself,” said Francona. “The first thing I think is that I must be nuts. I’ve never seen that. Pedie came in and said, ‘I led the charge. I (screwed) up.’ ” Said Pedroia: “I think it was my fault. I got ahead of myself and everyone followed me.”

That is my lesson learned.  Watching the Orioles make this comeback against the Red Sox inspired me again to work harder and also reminded me from where I came and the struggles that we endured.  If you had asked me in the spring of winter and spring of 1989-1990 if I thought I would make it through seminary I would have said, I may not but I will do everything that I can to make it through.  Even 6 years later after finishing both seminary and CPE residency as Major in the Army Reserve Chaplain Corps I still had to work hard to overcome professional adversity.  I got my second chance in 1999 when the Navy signed me as a free agent to play on the big team.  My hat goes off to the young Orioles who fought back last night to win, especially Oscar Salazar who never gave up in 13 years in the minors.  They may not be in the playoffs this year, but they are doing the things that will make them contenders.  Any time a time does something like this against a team as fine as the Red Sox you know that they have the potential for greatness.  The same goes for anyone who has the determination to come back from adversity when defeat looks certain.

As Bert Blyleven said “The problem with being Comeback Player of the Year is it means you have to go somewhere before you can come back.”  Those places are not enjoyable places, but sometimes fighting our way out of them teaches us the value of persistence and perseverance.  These are far more valuable than having everything our way, and knowing nothing but success without knowing failure.  Without them we will never have the wherewithal to come back when things go bad.

Peace, Steve+

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