Oscar 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.