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A No Hitter a Wild Card Playoff and an exciting End to the 2013 MLB Regular Season

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“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.”  ~Walt Whitman

Well I do love baseball and even when my favorite teams don’t make the playoff there is something magical about the game. Baseball is an amazing game and today some six months and 162 games after opening day the drama that is baseball continued to amaze.

Yes I know that the United States is now “football nation” but that doesn’t mean that baseball is not the game that most represents the spirit of the country.

Today Henderson Alvarez of the Miami Marlins, who lost 100 games this year pitched a no-hitter against the American League Central champion Detroit Tigers. Alvarez pitched nine no-hit, no-run innings but was saved from going out to pitch a tenth inning when Tiger’s reliever Luke Putkonen served up a wild pitch with 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth with the bases loaded. The wild pitch by Putkonen to pinch hitter Gregg Dobbs scored Giancarlo Stanton giving the Marlins a walk-off win on the final day of the season. It was the first walk-off no-hitter on a wild pitch and only the fourth no-hitter on the final day of the season.

Elsewhere after a long hard fought season all play off-berths except one, the American League 2nd berth were decided. That remains the case tonight as the Texas Rangers and the Tampa Bay Rays meet tomorrow in a one game sudden-death playoff the winner will move on to take on the Boston Red Sox.

Among the interesting features on the 2013 MLB Playoffs is that the reigning World Series Champion, the San Francisco Giants are not in them, nor are the New York Yankees nor the Anaheim Angels. However the Pittsburgh Pirates returned to the playoffs as a Wild Card team, their first post-season appearance in over 20 years as did the Red Sox, the Los Angeles Dodgers, the Atlanta Braves and the Cleveland Indians. Surprising to some but not to me was the success of the Oakland Athletics, who for the second straight year won the American League West. Though they didn’t make the playoffs the Baltimore Orioles had a very respectable showing in the American League East, arguably the toughest division in baseball.

There were a lot of great moments this season, three no-hitters as well as some amazing performances by young and up and coming players like Chris Davis of the Orioles who led he majors with 53 home runs and 138 RBI.

Baseball remains alive and well and i expect that the 2013 playoffs could be ones for the ages.

After all, with all the foolishness in Washington we need something to “repair these losses and be a blessing to us.”

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Musings on Easter Night: Holy Week Happenings, Busted Brackets a Radical Pope and Opening Night

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The liturgy proclaims “Alleluia! The Lord is Risen. He is risen indeed! Alleluia!” It is the triumph song of life conquering death in the Suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ.

This week I have done about all that I could to avoid political, legal and even religious controversies. Lord knows there are enough of those that i get involved in but I really wanted to focus more on Jesus, my wife Judy and our friends. So I have stayed away from becoming too deeply involved in the heated debates and topics of the past week limiting myself to skimming the news, reading as little commentary as possible and making almost no editorial comments of my own. That was hard but I digress…

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Instead I have spent most of my time reading to the Gospel accounts of the Passion narrative and historical accounts and descriptions of the time, culture and political conditions that Jesus was crucified in Jerusalem. I began Holy Week hoping to complete the first two parts of a historical fiction trilogy built around the Roman Centurion that tradition calls Longinus. According to tradition was the man who placed his spear in the side of Jesus and who exclaimed “surely this man was the son of God” as Jesus died on the cross. You can find the links to the first two parts of the Trilogy below.

Part One: A Centurion in Jerusalem 

A Centurion’s Sunday in Jerusalem: The Story of Longinus

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Meeting of Friends

The Story of Longinus the Centurion: A Visit to Death Row

Duplicity in Jerusalem: An Official Visit and 30 Pieces of Silver

Part Two: An Unenviable Mission

The Long Good Friday of Longinus the Centurion

The Morning After a Most Unsettling Crucifixion: The Story of Longinus the Centurion

New Troubles: A Missing Body an Empty Tomb and Sleeping Soldiers The Story of Longinus the Centurion

In fact I did not spend time in church this week. Usually i will spend large parts of Holy Week engaged in attending or performing different services, Masses or times of prayer. However, I have been on the road a lot the past couple of years. Judy and I have spent too much time apart. Apart from personal meditations and prayers on Holy Thursday and Good Friday the only thing that we did was to have me celebrate an Easter Sunday Eucharist together at home. We could have spent a lot of the limited time that I was home in church, and as much as I love the people at the small Episcopal parish that I attend when home I needed the time with Judy more. Being stationed over 200 miles from home for the past two and a half years does help help one realize what is important. Next year I will be in charge of a chapel and then I will be fully engaged in Holy Week activities, this year however, we needed to be together. Some might find fault in this but if they do they can pound sand, of course in Christian love.

The week was interesting because Wednesday was my birthday and Judy made arrangements to have friends go with us to a local German restaurant. I really enjoyed being with Judy and our friends and that time was well spent. Once again, something that I have come to be thankful for and to make sure that I spend time to do now is to make time for friends and family.

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Speaking of baseball I found it fitting and quite symbolic that Opening Night 2013 fell on Easter Sunday. If you ask me this should always be the case but it would involve having all of Christianity having to change their calendars to fit and that will not happen. If Pope Francis hailed from the Dominican Republic there might be a chance, but we need to wait to get a Pope from the Dominican Republic.

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Speaking of Pope Francis it appears that he is really starting to rattle some guided cages at the Vatican and among Church Traditionalists, and if you ask me not a moment too soon. He turned a lot of heads with his common touch over the first couple of weeks of his Papacy but it was his actions on Holy Thursday that set heads spinning a la Linda Blair in The Exorcist.

For the first time a Pope washed the feet of women, one of them being a Moslem. I do pray for this Pope and I worry about him because some of the most violent people are religious types. Some of the more traditional mindset don’t take change well. Some, even among Christians resort to violence when a church or religious leader is going outside what they believe is “orthodox” even if it has little to do with their actual orthodoxy.

Well now it is the time that I need to get ready for work in the morning. While I am doing this I will continue to watch the Texas Ranger’s play their new American League Central neighbors the Houston Astros.

Until tomorrow,

Peace, Happy Easter and Happy Opening Night after all “the only church that truly feeds the soul day in, day out, is the Church of Baseball.” 

Padre Steve+

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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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Buckle Up: Buck Showalter’s Traveling Road Show O’s Put an End to Rangers’ Misery 5-1 in Arlington

Wild Ones: O’s Win in Arlington (AP Photo-Tony Gutierrez)

“The only thing that matters is what happens on the little hump out in the middle of the field.” Earl Weaver

I had no doubts about tonight. The Rangers were not looking good and the plucky Orioles had nothing to lose. Buck Showalter’s stingy Orioles pitching and clutch hitting ending the defending two time American League Champion Texas Rangers season in the first American League Wild Card game.

The Rangers stumbled into the playoffs being swept by the amazing A’s and the Orioles played hard against the Yankees, Rays, Blue Jays and Red Sox in the final weeks of the season. The Orioles exuded a confidence that came from winning one run and extra inning games and not losing a game when leading after the 7th inning. Their bullpen was lights out and their starters, a collection that most people could not name and were not around at the beginning of the season were good enough to get them to the playoffs. They are 75-0 when leading after the 7th inning.

Joe Saunders (Reuters- Tim Sharp)

Buck Showalter started Joe Saunders who the O’s picked up in late August from the Diamondbacks. Saunders had a 0-6 record against the Rangers in Arlington before tonight but since coming to the Orioles has been reliable in important games. Saunders was not phased by history. He went in and aided by excellent defense shut down the potent Rangers offense.

Buck (Getty Images- j. Meric) 

The Orioles gave up just one run in the first inning and after that played great defense shutting down several potential Texas rallies with three double plays. The Rangers also had good pitching by starter Yu Darvish but the Orioles were able to make their hits count with Robert Andino, Manny Machado and Nate McClouth applying the coup de grace in the top of the 9th.

Former Ranger Darren O’Day pitched two innings of scoreless relief while former starter and now late season reliever Brian Matusz struck out Josh Hamilton on three pitches.

The Rangers loaded the bases against Orioles closer Jim Johnson in the 9th but Johnson and the O’s as always held giving up nothing.

Now the O’s will go back to Camden Yards to play the Yankees in the ALDS. They finished a close second to the Yankees in the AL East and were 9-9 against the Bronx Bombers during the regular season. They won 4 of the last 6 games they played against the Yankees in September.

I have known for a long time that this Orioles team is a special team. I felt it at the end of 2011 when they helped end the Red Sox season in  walk off fashion. I have also seen many of these players in the minors for the past few years playing on either the AAA Norfolk Tides or High Single A Frederick Keys. I have seen them develop and have watched the culture of the organization change after the hiring of Buck Showalter at the end of 2010 and GM Dan Duquette in the off season.

These guys are winners. I think that they have a good chance of taking the Yankees in a 5 game series. It certainly should be fun.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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Celebrate Good Times Come On! The American League West Champion Oakland A’s!

“All right people, we got 10 minutes ’till game time, let’s all gather ’round. I’m not much for giving inspirational addresses, but I’d just like to point out that every newspaper in the country has picked us to finish last. The local press seems to think that we’d save everyone the time and trouble if we just went out and shot ourselves. Me, I’m for wasting sportswriters’ time. So I figured we ought to hang around for a while and see if we can give ’em all a nice big shitburger to eat!” Lou Brown (Charles Gammon) as the Indians Manager in Major League

When the season began no one expected for the Oakland Athletics even to have a winning record. Most experts predicted them to finish last in the American League West. In fact it wasn’t until September that most experts even believed that they were for real, that they wouldn’t fold going down the stretch. They had to. They didn’t have the payroll and most people couldn’t name five of their players. The Angels and Rangers would battle it out and Texas would win the division. The Angles despite a bad start would take a Wild Card bid, they had to. They had the depth, the payroll and the all-star lineup.

At the end of June they were 13 games behind the Rangers. With 9 games left the A’s still trailed the division leading Rangers by 5 games. The experts were ticking down the magic number, the A’s would have to battle for the Wild Card. But the A’s stunned the baseball world taking 5 of 7 from the Rangers in the last 10 games of the season, winning 8 of their last 10 games. They did not take sole possession of the division lead until today.

On game 162 after the A’s had defeated the Rangers to tie division the teams met in Oakland to decide the AL West. The A’s took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first but saw it go away in the top of the third when the Rangers scored five runs. But the A’s were not done. Their pitching kicked in and their bats came alive. In the bottom of the 4th the A’s put 6 runs on the board. They followed adding another in the bottom of the 5th. With two outs in the bottom of the 8th it appeared that the Rangers would be able to keep the game in reach, but then the A’s broke loose with another 4 runs. Grant Balfour came in and retired the Rangers in order in the 9th and the A’s won 12-5.

It was such an unlikely scenario. The A’s have the lowest payroll in the American League. Their rookie pitchers won 53 games, a Major League record. Baseball Prospectus said they would win just 72 games.

It is one of the most amazing stories in recent MLB history. The A’s certainly gave the Texas Rangers, Los Angeles Angels and the experts a big “shitburger” to eat.

Congratulations to a most deserving team. It will be fun to hear the A’s being announced during the Division series as the “American League West Champion Oakland A’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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September Surprises: O’s and A’s Shake up the American League

“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.” Padre Steve May 2nd 2012

The pennant races in the American League are getting really interesting. They are not what anyone expected at the beginning of the season. In the West the Rangers and Angels were supposed to be duking it out matching power and pitching against power and pitching. In the Central the Tigers were supposed to be on top with little threat expected from anyone else in the division while in the East the Yankees were the prohibitive favorites to take the division, with the Rays their strongest competitors.

No one expected the “rebuilding A’s” or the “inexperienced O’s” to be more than speed bumps in their respective divisions. That was at the beginning of the season and every month that the two teams have remained in the hunt experts have been talking them down. However, the Orioles and the Athletics have each become real factors in the American League. Made up of young players, journeymen veterans and rising stars the two teams under excellent management of GM’s Billy Beane and Dan Duquette have surprised everyone and are now finally being taken seriously as contenders.

It is now September 2nd and A’s trail the Rangers by just three games. The Orioles trail the Yankees by just two games and the White Sox are one up on the Tigers. The O’s and A’s lead the Wild Card race and with only about 30 games left in the regular season the American League is anybody’s guess as to what teams will make the playoffs.

The O’s took two of three from the Yankees in Yankee Stadium this weekend, and probably should have swept the series, losing a game Saturday that was theirs to win. The A’s are about to sweep the now hapless and floundering Boston Red Sox while the White Sox have lost three in a row giving the Tigers a change to make up some ground.

The Orioles are a team that knows how to win. They do not have the depth or “star power” of the Yankees, Rays, Rangers or Angels but under Buck Showalter they are a team that knows how to win. They dominate in one run (24-7) and extra innings (12-2) games and in Yankee Stadium which has been their very own Valley of Armageddon for years, the O’s won 6 of 9 games outscoring the Yankees 42-14 in their home park. Manager Showalter has been a steady presence in guiding this young team into contention. Chris Tillman and Zach Britton have been splendid late season starters and closer Jim Johnson is among the best in the majors.

A big key to the Orioles season has been the solid pitching out of their bullpen and a defense that found itself in the second half of the season.

The A’s under Bob Melvin have come on strong and have won 8 in a row, and will make that 9 in a row if they complete the sweep of the Red Sox in Oakland this afternoon. They set the stage on Friday by pummeling the Sox 20-2 and Saturday 7-1.

It should be a September to remember and I expect that the Orioles, Athletics and White Sox are going to really make things interesting. In my dreams I want to see the Orioles and Athletics to win their divisions and leave the Rangers and Yankees battling for the Wild Card spots. That would be sweet.

Peace

Padre Steve+

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