June 28, 2018
The great Russian novelist Leo Tolstoy once observed that all happy families are happy in the same way and all unhappy families are unhappy in different ways. I've been thinking a lot about that observation as I watch from afar - on TV and internet - the continuing sinking of the once-proud Orioles franchise into the Woerioles.
There is little evidence that Tolstoy had any interest in baseball. In the heyday of the Soviet Union its leaders claimed that lepka was a game that preceded baseball but research has refuted it.
When I tried to explain in the 1980s the essence of baseball to a Soviet TASS news agency correspondent - "The ball is round, the bat is round, and you have to hit it square" - he chuckled a bit but muttered, "I don't get it."
So does Tolstoy's bon mot really apply to baseball? The season is soooo looooong that story lines do emerge like in a family saga. Yet I wonder if winning and losing are just the flip side of the same coin.
Winning teams exude confidence, shake off bad breaks, come from behind, get the big hit, and make the big pitch. Losing teams do precisely the opposite and usually are afflicted with injuries.
In the painful case of the Orioles, for example, no sooner had their bullpen, once considered a team strength, seemed whole again, steady lefty Richard Bleier came down with a season-ending lat injury and Darren O'Day went back on the DL.
A key reserve outfielder Craig Gentry, who would have been a fine role player on good Orioles teams, suffered a broken rib on a hit-by-pitch and he's out indefinitely.
I caught the last innings of the Baltimore-Seattle game on my 76th birthday after a wonderful dinner of food and drink and dessert. The Birds were trailing by only a run in the bottom of the 8th. One pitch could turn the game around, and voila! Chris Davis hit a three-run homer to give the Orioles a 7-5 lead. It was a rare moment of productivity for the seemingly permanently faded slugger.
In the top of 9th the once-impregnable closer Zach Britton, just back from a injury to his Achilles tendon, promptly blew the lead. Not even a scintilla of drama. First, a single to the amazingly productive outfielder Mitch Haniger - who came in a trade from the Diamondbacks - and then boom! two-run tying home run by Kyle Seager who is generally an Oriole killer.
You could almost feel the inevitable outcome ahead - a 8-7 Seattle win in 11 innings. The sad thing is the shell shock from so much losing - 23-56 as of this writing on June 28 - is etched on the faces of everyone clad in Oriole orange and black. Starting with manager Buck Showalter.
Ailing owner Peter Angelos doesn't like to fire people because he'll still have to pay them. I knew with so many key people heading to free agency at the end of this season - including manager Showalter and gm Dan Duquette - this could be a disappointing season. But no one expected the historic horribleness.
There is no easy solution to the mess. Maybe there is no solution. I have never been a supporter of cosmetic firings. So I will stop beating the dead horse.
And suggest (to myself as well as you, dear readers) that there are plenty of other teams to follow both in the majors and in the minor league and summer amateur ranks. Baseball is always rewarding if you don't get too too emotional.
Next time I'll say more about two very good reads - "Pitching With Dick Bosman" (Rowman and Littlefield) and Felipe Alou's memoir, "Alou: My Baseball Journey" (U. of Nebraska Press). For now always remember: Take it easy but take it!
June 17, 2018
The above headline is not a typo. By winning on Father's Day 10-4 over the Miami Marlins, the Baltimore Orioles "improved" to 20-50 on the season with 92 games left to play.
The last time they had won at home at Camden Yards was Mother's Day. So how do you enjoy the rest of the season with your team hopelessly out of the pennant race?
The short answer is: Believe in the process and not just the outcome.
Baseball is such a magical game that every game provides something you have never seen before. Case in point: On Wednesday night June 13 I saw the Washington Nationals beat the Yankees at Yankee Stadium, 5-4. The key runs were driven up by two home runs by the 19-year-old rookie left fielder Juan Soto who because of injuries has been rushed to the majors.
What I'll most remember about this game is that the Nationals managed to get thrown out on the bases five times in the win. In the second inning, the first two batters got on base but Yankee starter Sonny Gray picked Soto off first base. (Soto did get even by hitting his first homer, a three-run job, off Gray in the fourth.)
Then Wilmer Difo lined to shortstop and Matt Adams was doubled off second base, a virtually unforgivable base running lapse on a play in front of the runner that too often occurs these days. As second man up in the third inning, Adam Eaton tried to stretch a single into a double but was thrown out by Brett Gardner.
So four outs were made on the bases in a span of FIVE batters. I never had seen that. For good measure Eaton was caught stealing in the eight inning. The Nats did win this game but they went up to Toronto and got swept over the weekend by the Blue Jays.
In one of the nicer stories of the MLB season so far, the Atlanta Braves are holding a narrow lead over the Nats in the NL East with the improved Phillies in striking distance. The Mets have hit such a skid that they even lost two games to the Orioles in the first week of June.
Without the oft-injured Cuban defector Yoenis Cespedes, who evidently is out indefinitely, the Mets' offense has ground to a halt. The team is perilously close to falling over 10 games under .500.
There is a clamoring for them to trade their ace pitcher Jacob DeGrom, even to the Yankees, but I say: You build around him and perhaps another injury-prone talent, fellow right hander Noah Syndergaard.
What do the Mets and Orioles have in common? Aging rosters without speed and ownership by the Wilpon and Angelos families, respectively, whose increasingly involved sons don't have a good grasp of how to improve their teams' fortunes. Understatement of the year!
Yet miracles do happen in baseball! As I was finishing this post, the Mets pulled up a rally at Arizona that was reminiscent of their comeback in Game 6 of the 1986 World Series against the Red Sox.
Down to their last out and trailing 3-1, Jose Reyes kept the game alive by a bunt single. A former Mets star now on the verge of being released (if only the farm system had an adequate replacement). Pinch-hitter Jose Bautista, another veteran on his last legs, then doubled to score Reyes.
And on the next pitch Brandon Nimmo, a rare bright light on this Mets team and a rarity in that he hails from Wyoming where there is no high school baseball, hit a long home run. For good measure Asdrubal Cabrera, the plucky second baseman playing hard despite nagging injuries, also homered to make it 5-3 and the Mets won the game.
To repeat: The game remains beautiful and surprising in so many ways. And here's a shout-out to Monroe HS from the Bronx who won the PSAL (Public Schools Athletic League) championship on Monday night June 11 at Yankee Stadium, dethroning Grand Street Campus from Brooklyn, 3-0.
And though the sound of the composite aluminum bat is jarring to baseball traditionalists, do give a look at the College World Series in Omaha through June 27 on ESPN. North Carolina and Mississippi State have moved into the winner's bracket with Arkansas leading Texas while waiting out a rain delay as I type this. Texas Tech and Florida are the last teams to get into action later tonight on Father's Day.
That's all for now. Back before the end of the month with a report on SABR's national conference in Pittsburgh. I'm chairing a panel on Branch Rickey's Years in Pittsburgh on Sat afternoon June 23 at 1p at the Wyndham Grand Hotel in the Steel City's downtown.
Always remember: Take it easy but take it!