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The Giant’s, A’s and Orioles and the 2012 MLB Playoffs: Taking Me Back to the Church of Baseball

“I believe in the Church of Baseball. I’ve tried all the major religions, and most of the minor ones….It’s a long season and you gotta trust it. I’ve tried ’em all, I really have, and the only church that truly feeds the soul, day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” Annie Savoy (Susan Sarandon) in Bull Durham

As any reader of this site knows Padre Steve loves baseball. In fact it is a passionate love that goes back to my childhood thanks to my dad. I talk with good reason about belonging to the Church of Baseball.  I love the game and I find a lot of life lessons and draw much inspiration from it.  It is something that is good for my soul, baseball parks are among the few places that I feel absolutely safe and even baseball on television or radio can calm my often troubled PTSD afflicted mind. I love the game, I love the players, I love the people. I can’t say that about a lot in this world.

I have gotten to know a lot of players both major league and minor league, front office staff and among my favorites former players of the Negro Leagues.

This year is kind of weird. If lucky I might have one of my three favorite teams, the Giants, A’s and Orioles make the playoffs. The last time I had a favorite win the World Series was 2010 when the Giants did it. The Orioles and the A’s have had fairly long droughts in getting to the playoffs or the World Series.

As a kid growing up on the West Coast, born in Oakland and being a Navy brat I have a natural tendency to support West Coast teams in the post season, unless they are the Evil Dodgers, who I hate to say I have cheered for in the World Series when they played the Yankees, may God have mercy on me, but it was against the Yankees so I’m sure there is some measure of grace.

My dad was a big National League fan and he became a die hard Giants fan a bit before I was born as the Giants moved to San Francisco about the same time he was transferred to Naval Air Station Alameda. I remember seeing the Giants in Candlestick as a kid, seeing Mays, McCovey and Bobby Bonds play and watching Ed Halicki throw his no-hitter there in 1975. We also went to a decent number of A’s games including the 1972 ALCS against the Detroit Tigers back in the days of Catfish Hunter, Rollie Fingers, Mutcat Grant, Vida Blue, Joe Rudi, Sal Bando, Campy Campaneris and Reggie Jackson. My dad couldn’t stand A’s owner Charlie Finley but who could not like the mixture of uniforms and the ball girls in hot pants down the foul lines?

So in a sense because of geography I was a default fan of the Giants and Athletics. However my love of the Orioles defied my dad as well as geography. I started liking the Orioles as a kid because I would always see them in the playoffs. Though my dad didn’t like the Orioles he had tremendous respect for their players, especially outfielder Frank Robinson and Third Baseman Brooks Robinson. I could name the Orioles starting rotation and liked the way that Manager Earl Weaver argued with the umpires. In retrospect my dad kind of reminded me of the scrappy Weaver. My dad always emphasized fundamentals, pitching and working hard.

The Orioles also had the a minor league affiliation with the Stockton Ports back in the 1960s and early 1970s. When my dad was transferred to Alameda for his final assignment on the Aircraft Carrier USS Hancock he moved us to Stockton because we had a great aunt there.  So with the Ports playing at Billy Herbert Field about a mile from our house and a few blocks from where I played Little League ball I was at the stadium a lot including a hat giveaway where the team gave out black Orioles caps with the classic Cartoon Bird. In 1972 the Orioles left and the Angels took the team but from that time I remained an Orioles fan.

That love for the Orioles has increased over the past decade as I have gotten to know the team, organization and players through their minor league affiliates the AAA Norfolk Tides and High Single A Frederick Keys.

I want all of my teams to advance. As I write this the Giants lost their first game against the Reds last night while the A’s have went down 2-0 against the Tigers thanks to great Tigers pitching and critical errors. The Orioles open tonight against the Yankees.

No matter who wins it has been a great season for my teams. The Giants fought a lot of adversity to win the NL West, the A’s pulled off one of the most amazing runs seen in baseball to overtake the highly favored Texas Rangers in the final game of the season and Buck Showalter’s never say die Orioles have surprised the experts, but not me for the entire year.

My picks to win the Division series are the Tigers, the Giants, the Cardinals and the Orioles. Yesterday I would have picked the A’s but as much as I like them the chances of taking three in a row against the Tigers pitching are a lot lower than sweeping the Rangers. However, if there is a team that can come back from a 0-2 deficit it is the A’s. I think that the Giants take the Reds despite last night’s loss, and I think that the experience of the Cardinals will give them the edge over the Nationals, but think that the Nats could win the series. Finally I think that the Orioles are going to take the Yankees. They have played them even all year and despite all the power of the Yankees I think there is something about this Orioles team that is going to take them deep into the playoffs.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Improbable, Unexpected but not Impossible: Four Games remaining and Orioles now Tied with Yankees in AL East

Manny Machado singles in a run on Saturday night as the Orioles Defeat the Red Sox to gain a share of First Place in the AL East (Patrick Semansky / AP)

“No matter how good you are, you’re going to lose one-third of your games.  No matter how bad you are you’re going to win one-third of your games.  It’s the other third that makes the difference.” Tommy Lasorda

Four games are left in the regular season and the Baltimore Orioles are tied with the perennial AL East favorite New York Yankees for the division. Last year at this time the Orioles were in last place but ruining the chances of the Red Sox but now they are tied for first with the Yankees.

What a night to do it as the Orioles honored Hall of Fame 3rd Baseman and Orioles legend Brooks Robinson before the game.

No expert would have predicted this but this but the plucky and determined Baltimore Orioles are threatening the Yankees in a very real way after 158 games. Today the Toronto Blue Jays defeated the Yankees and the Orioles defeated the Red Sox. With identical records of 91-67 the Birds and the Bombers are tied atop the American League East in a manner that no-one expected.

The Orioles are now within a game of clinching a spot in the Wild Card Playoff and are even money to take the East against the Yankees. If the Orioles win tomorrow regardless of what happens with the Yankees they will clinch a spot as a Wild Card team.

Who would have expected it? Name the players that have really came on to get the Orioles where they are? Most people can’t. Manny Machado? Last year I was watching him lead the Frederick Keys to the Advanced Single A Carolina League title in Kinston against the Indians. Chris Tillman? Last year not called up in September despite being on the 40 man roster. Nate McLouth, in Pittsburgh. Jim Thome? In Cleveland in order to get his 600th home run where so much of his career was made. Chris Davis? In AAA Norfolk. The list goes on and on. They are a real life version of the movie Major League Cleveland Indians.

There is a great line in that movie uttered by the Indians Manager Lou Brown played by James Gammon: “Every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think we’d save everyone a lot of time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sports writers’ time. So, I’d like to hang around and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat.” 

Personally I would love to see everyone that predicted the Orioles to finish last again eat a shitburger and for the Orioles to win it all.

The Orioles are 72-0 when leading after 7 innings. They are 28-9 in one run games and have won 16 straight extra inning games. That is something that makes the Orioles something special, a tam that will defy the odds to win. Yes anything can happen but I think that this season is one that people will remember for a long time to come. The Orioles have not have a playoff appearance or winning season since 1997 and were predicted by most experts to finish last or next to last in  the AL East this year. I have never bought that line. I thought back in April and May that this was a special team. It is a team on a mission, a team fixed on the next 9 innings.

I think that is a sure fire way to win this thing. God this is fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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A Cold Rain Fell: The last Night of Kinston Indians Baseball as K-Tribe Falls to Frederick 11-3

The Kinston Indians ended their 25 years in Kinston losing to the Frederick Keys on night that seemed more like early November than mid-September in Eastern North Carolina.  In a game that was delayed by rain an hour and 11 minutes at the outset which experienced a second delay in the 4th inning

It seemed that the K-Tribe never recovered their edge after their heartbreaking loss in Frederick Tuesday night in game two of the Carolina League “Mills Cup” Championship Series.  For the second strait night in the series ineffective pitching and critical fielding errors doomed the K-Tribe. The damage all was done in the 3rd inning when the Keys, down 2-0 found the range early and often.  Once again they used excellent hitting and aggressive base running taking advantage of every opportunity that they were given by the Indians.  The Keys had doubles by Dale Mollenhauer and Miguel Abreu and Manny Muchado had a 3 run home run which served as a coup de gras capping an 11 run 3rd inning in which 7 of the runs were scored with 2 outs.  In the inning the Indians committed 3 errors and had a wild pitch.

It was a sad end to what had been a magical final season for the K-Tribe.  The Indians become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  Many fans plan to continue to follow the team and make trips over to Zebulon to see “their” Mudcats next year.  Many are pessimistic about the possibility of a new team coming to Kinston next year though management is hopeful of something coming through. Kinston is the smallest city to have a Minor League Baseball team in the country with a baseball tradition that dates back over 100 years.  During the 25 years of their affiliation with the Cleveland Indians the K-Tribe won 5 Carolina League Championships and 11 Division titles.  The playing field has been named the best in the Carolina League 4 of the past 10 years. Numerous Major Leaguers including Jim Thome, C.C. Sabbathia, Manny Ramirez, Shane Victorino, Alex White, Grady Sizemore, Albert Belle, Matt Williams, Bartolo Colon, Marco Scutaro, Jhonny Peralta, Cliff Lee, Luke Scott, Fausto Carmona and Lonnie Chisenhall along with many more Indians have reached the Majors.  I expect that a number of the current K-Tribe players will follow in their illustrious footsteps.

One has to compliment the Orioles organization and the Frederick Keys.  They put together a talented team that played aggressive yet solid fundamental baseball.  A number of these young players will likely become outstanding Major League players.

I watched the game with the friends that I met this year and as we filtered out of the stadium we agreed to meet for dinner once a month.  Since we are all connected on Facebook this will be much easier than in the past.  Hopefully Kinston will land a Minor League Franchise next year.  I appreciate the people of the city and hope for both baseball and better economic times for it and them in the future.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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K-Tribe on Verge of Elimination: Lose 3-2 on Wednesday and 7-3 Thursday to Keys

Jesus Aguilar hit his 4th Home Run in 4 consecutive post-season games

In the space of 21 hours the Kinston Indians went from being 4 outs away from a two games to none series lead to being on the verge of elimination.  On Wednesday night in Frederick Maryland the Indians lost a close game which did not begin until 10 PM due to a 3 hour rain delay.  The Tribe took a 2-1 lead into the bottom of the 8th inning and lost when reliever Kyle Landis gave up 2 runs with 2 outs on singles by Manny Muchado, Miguel Abreu and Brian Ward. Frederick won the game which ended at about12:45 PM.  The teams arrived in Kinston after an overnight bus ride at about 7:30 AM Thursday.

K-Tribe starting pitcher Mike Rayl and Indians relievers struggled Thursday night

On Thursday at Historic Grainger Stadium the K-Tribe got off to a quick start on First Baseman Jesus Aguilar’s two run home run in the bottom of the second inning.  The shot was Aguilar’s fourth home run in the last 4 post season plays.  However the Indians were shut down by Frederick pitchers Scott Copeland, Ryan Berry and Sean Gleason scoring just one more run that in the bottom of the 9th inning.

The Keys played very aggressive baseball against a Kinston team that seemed at times listless taking advantage of K-Tribe mistakes all night long. Kinston’s problems began with and ended with pitching.  Starting pitcher Mike Rayl struggled from the beginning and relievers Trey Haley and Giovanni Soto had a hard time finding the plate. They were taken deep in the count by numerous Frederick batters and control was a major issue.  K-Tribe pitchers gave up 7 runs on 10 hits, but the walked 5, hit 3 and a wild pitch.  The K-Tribe added two errors in the field both on errant throws.

Keys reliever Ryan Berry looking like something out of the 1970s shut down K-Tribe hitters

To give credit to the Keys they played well, their pitching was strong and their hitting sharp. They used aggressive base running, stole 3 bases and laid down several outstanding bunts.  In the field turned three very important double plays that erased chances that the Tribe had to get back in the game.

The losses were difficult especially because of how well the Indians have played during the second half of the season.  It think that the loss Wednesday took a lot of life out of the Indians Thursday.

Friday night the teams will meet again in a must win game for the K-Tribe.  If the Indians win they will force game five on Saturday and if they lose it will be the end of an era for baseball in Kinston as the Indians franchise moves to Zebulon to become the Carolina Mudcats in 2012.  I will be there and cheering for the K-Tribe to win and force that final game in their quest for the Carolina League championship and the Mills Cup.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Kinston Wins Opener in Frederick: Defeat Keys 3-1

Tyler Holt 

Kinston pitchers were solid and timely hitting proved decisive as the Kinston Indians defeated the Frederick Key by a score of 3-1 at Harvey Grove Stadium in Frederick Maryland on Tuesday night.  The K-Tribe now stand two wins away from winning the Mills Cup and Carolina League Championship in this their final year in Kinston.

K-Tribe starter Clayton Cook got the win going 5 and a third innings giving up one run on four hits. Relievers Chris Jones and Toru Murata pitched solid innings and Preston Guilmet closed out the game to get the save.  Key’s starter Nicholas Houghian took the loss giving up 3 runs, 2 of which were earned on 6 hits in four inning work.

The Indians struck first in the top of the 3rd inning.  Tyler Holt singled and advanced to second on an errant pick off attempt by Houghian.  Bo Greenwell singled to advance Holt to third and Holt scored on a ground out by Adam Abraham.

The Keys got their only run in the bottom of the 3rd when Manny Muchado hit a two out double to drive in Bobby Stevens.

In the top of the 4th inning the K-Tribe struck again.  First Baseman Jesus Aguilar homered to lead off the inning, his second home run in as many games.  Tyler Cannon doubled to right and scored when Casey Frawley bunted for a single and took second on a throwing error by Key’s third baseman Dale Mollenhauer.

Kinston had 3 runs on 8 hits and left 7 runners aboard.  They committed no errors while turning two double plays.  K-Tribe pitchers struck out 8 and walked 4. The Keys scored 1 run on 7 hits leaving 9 men on base and committed 2 very costly errors.  Keys pitchers struck out 10 Indians and walked just 2 batters but were beaten by timely extra base hits and their team’s errors.

Until tomorrow,

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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Celebration in Kinston as K-Tribe Wraps Up Carolina League South Title

The Kinston Indians (Cleveland) are now on the verge of finishing their 25th and final season in the Eastern North Carolina city in a grand fashion by defeating the Myrtle Beach Pelicans (Texas) for the Carolina League Southern Division title.

Jesus Aguilar crosses home plate after his massive 3 run blast

The Indians (76-62) who won the second half battered the first half leading Pelicans (72-67) winning the series 3-1 battering the birds with 24 runs in the final three games.  Led by strong pitching and the hitting of  Tyler Holt, Adam Abraham and a massive final game three run homerun by Jesus Aguilar the Indians capitalized on defensive mistakes and pounded the Pelicans in the final three games by scores of 8-6, 7-0 and 9-2.

Indians starting pitcher Mike Rayl

I was at the two games in Kinston against Myrtle Beachand the K-Tribe was fun to watch. When the last out was recorded on Saturday night the celebration was something to remember. I have not seen a championship game in person although I did attend two games in the 1972 ALCS which the Oakland Athletics took from the Detroit Tigers winning the final game in Detroit.  To see the players celebrate and the fans remain after the game was special.

My friends and loyal K-Tribe fans

The Indians will open the final series for the Mills Cup against the Frederick Keys on Tuesday the 13th in Frederick.  The teams will play the first two games in Frederick and return to Kinston on Thursday the 15th.  The Keys (Baltimore) (80-60) defeated the Potomac Nationals in 5 games to win the Northern Division in a series extended by a rain out.

The Keys hold an 8-7 head to head advantage against the Indians in 2011. The teams during the second half of the season have been exceptionally well matched and the series should be exciting.

It ill also be the last series played inKinstonwin or lose. The K-Tribe will move to Zebulon to take the name of the AA Carolina Mudcats of the Southern League who are moving toPensacolaFlorida.  While it is indeterminate if Kinston will have a team next year both the President and the Vice President of Minor League Baseball have visited this year.  While old, Historic Grainger Stadium is very well maintained and its immaculately kept field is among the best in Single-A baseball.   Frederick whose future with the Keys was in doubt now appears to be on the verge of signing a 10 year stadium lease agreement with the Orioles affiliate.

Kinstonhas a long baseball history in the Carolina League and the team is central to the identity of this city which has been hard hit with the exporting of most of its textile jobs overseas.  I hope that Minor League Baseball finds a team for Kinston and I hope that the K-Tribe gives the city one last Carolina League title.  It has been a special season; why not go out on top?

I plan on being at each game to be played inKinstonwith my friends.  Watching a game at Grainger Stadium is like being in the stands in the movie Bull Durham.  The people fans and the team are special. It is the end of an era that hopefully will be the prelude to a new era of baseball in this historic town.

Peace,

Padre Steve+

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