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NL Wild Card Drama + One Oriole Fan's Farewell to Buck Showalter

October 4, 2018

Tags: Tony Wolters, Kris Bryant, Yu Darvish, Anthony Rizzo, Theo Epstein, Aaron Judge, Billy Beane, Bob Melvin, Ryan Braun, Melky Cabrera, Joe Maddon, Paul Molitor, Buck Showalter, Joe Torre, Derek Jeter, Randy Johnson, Curt Schilling, Bob Brenly, Justin Verlander, Kate Upton, Delmon Young, George Costanza (Jason Alexander), Jay Buhner, Ken Phelps, Zach Britton, Ubaldo Jimenez, Adam Jones, Dan Duquette, Bear Bryant

The end of the regular baseball season is always a bittersweet time. There are playoffs ahead but October baseball is national not local (except for radio if your team is in the hunt.). I already miss the daily flow of games from all over the country and the amassing of steady incremental statistics.

The National League Wild Card game was historic in that two divisions ended in dead heats. That meant two one-game playoffs this past Monday Oct 1 to determine the division winner and automatic entry into the playoffs.

The Dodgers won at home over the Colorado Rockies and the Milwaukee Brewers won at Chicago to assure their places in the tournament. That meant the Wild Card game would pit Colorado at the Cubs’ Wrigley Field on Tuesday night Oct 2.

In a 2-1 13-inning thriller, the Rockies eliminated the Cubs. (I’m a New Yorker and have never called them the Cubbies and never will.) It was a wonderful ending for those of us who like to see the unheralded player - almost the last man on the 25-man roster - become the unlikely hero.

Around the bewitching bell of midnight CDT, it was third-string catcher Tony Wolters who drove in the winning run with a single up the middle. It was a tough experience for Chicago to lose two post-season games in a row at home but I think they’ll be back in future post-seasons.

A fully healthy Kris Bryant should help a lot. Maybe they’ll be able to get some wins and innings from the very expensive free agent bust Yu Darvish. Most of all, the team cohesion will have to return.

When the Cubs were in command of the division for most of the second half of the season, team leader Anthony Rizzo was quoted as saying that the team was made up of number one draft choices who don’t act like them. That grinding quality needs to return.

The American League Wild Card game the following night - Bobby Thomson Day October 3 - provided no such excitement. A now-healthy Aaron Judge slugged a two-run homer in the first inning and the Yankees were rarely threatened on their way to a 7-2 romp over the Oakland A’s.

Predictably, Billy Beane, the widely-hailed genius of the A’s, said that a playoff never tests the true value of a team, and usually effective manager Bob Melvin agreed. But like the Twins last year the A’s did not seem ready to play in such a high-pressured situation. A low payroll is no excuse for uninspired play though the Yankees are certainly formidable and peaking at the right time.

I grew up watching too many Yankees-Dodgers World Series in the 1940s and 1950s but we may be heading in that direction again. We’ll find out more in the next couple of weeks as the Yankees-Red Sox and Houston-Cleveland meet in the ALDS and the Dodgers-Atlanta Braves and Colorado-Milwaukee go head-to-head in the NLDS.

I'd like to see a rematch of the 1948 and 1995 with the Indians and Braves - Ryan Braun's arrogant unrepentant PED-abusing past makes it impossible for me to root hard for the Brewers though I have Wisconsin roots from the 1960s.

I'd like to see Indians win in seven though they too have a poster boy for PED abuse, Melky Cabrera. (Maybe he won't make the post-season roster.) But I know very well you can't always get what you want.

Meanwhile the baseball managerial firing season is in full flower. Cubs honcho Theo Epstein has assured the world that Joe Maddon will return in 2019 but not with an extension to the contract so he could well be considered a lame duck. Not likely given his innovative approach to life and managing.

Some people were surprised that Paul Molitor was fired in Minnesota but not me. I could see a look of near-resignation on his face in the latter stages of the season. In a very weak AL Central, the Twins finished second at 78-84 but only because they won a lot of relatively meaningless games at the end of the year.

The decision to not renew Buck Showalter’s contract in Baltimore was no surprise to anybody. A 47-115 season doesn’t look good on anyone’s resume.

It may mean the end of his managerial career though at 62 he still looks good on the surface. He certainly should be saluted for his many great achievements at turning around moribund teams - starting out with the New York Yankees in 1992 who had just come through their worst non-championship period after the 1981 World Series.

Buck left the Yankees after they lost a thrilling ALCS to the Seattle Mariners in 1995. He then became the first manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks, starting with the team and setting the tone of the organization two years before they played their first game in 1998.

Just as in New York though, where Joe Torre took over essentially Buck’s team plus Derek Jeter and won the 1996 World Series, the Diamondbacks only went all the way in 2001 after Buck yielded the reins to former catcher (and now announcer) Bob Brenly. The addition of aces Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling didn’t hurt.

After managing the Texas Rangers for a few years earlier this century, he came to the Orioles late in the 2010 season. He turned the team around quickly and by 2012 the Orioles were back in the playoffs for the first time since 1997.

They won the AL East in 2014 and I’ll never forget the last great euphoric moment at Camden Yards. After beating the Tigers two in a row - a bases-clearing double by Delmon Young the deciding hit - a joyous Orioles fan carried a sign into the happy milling crowd: KATE UPTON IS HOT, VERLANDER IS NOT. (Justin of course now has the last laugh appearing again in the playoffs for the second year in a row.)

Buck’s last playoff game with the Orioles can be marked in 20-20 hindsight as the beginning of the end - when he chose not to use ace closer Zach Britton in the Wild Card game at Toronto in 2016. In fairness to Buck, every other bullpen choice in that game had worked like a charm.

But to channel George Costanza to George Steinbrenner in a classic Seinfeld episode, “How could you trade Jay Buhner for Ken Phelps?” I asked in wonderment sitting at the bar at Foley’s that night: “How could you choose Ubaldo Jimenez over Zach Britton in a double-play situation in a tied game on the road?!”

Buck’s last two seasons were not good in Baltimore and 2018 defied belief in its horror. He is moving back to Texas, this native of the Florida Panhandle who went and played at Mississippi State but owes a lot of his inspiration to meeting his father’s friend Bear Bryant at Alabama.

From his earliest moments in Baltimore - when he finished 34-23 in 2010 winning more games than the team had won before he arrived - he made all of us Oriole addicts proud and created lasting memories.

It is almost fitting though equally sad that Adam Jones has probably also played his last game in Baltimore. This effervescent modern player and the old school manager formed a unique bond during the Orioles’s good years.

Jones’s free spirit but obvious desire to win allowed Buck to loosen up some of his old-school rules. So on hot days Buck allowed the Orioles to take batting practice in shorts. It was Jones who insisted that Buck take a bow out of the dugout when he won his 1000th game as a manager.

It’s sad that this year from hell lowered Showalter’s lifetime record to under .500 with the Orioles. The road up will be a hard one and the Orioles are also looking for a new general manager with the decision to not rehire Dan Duquette.

Ownership remains in flux with the Angelos sons in charge now with patriarch Peter ailing. It can’t be worse than 47-115, can it?

So let me close with a big thank you to Nathaniel “Buck” Showalter for the pride and joy he brought to the Orioles and their fans for many years.

That’s all for now - always remember: take it easy but take it!

The Plot Thickens as Orioles Gain in the Playoff Race

August 27, 2017

Tags: Baltimore Orioles, Doug Fister, Chris Davis, Mark Trumbo, Jonathan Schoop, Roberto Alomar, Trey Mancini, Ubaldo Jimenez, Zach Britton, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, Milwaukee Brewers

“Playing meaningful games in September” is all this baseball fan realistically wants.
Which is why the “outrageous sense of entitlement” of too many Yankee fans rubs me the wrong way, to put it mildly.

And lo and behold it’s possible after this weekend’s sweep of the Red Sox at Fenway that the Orioles might have a meaningful September after all. With 32 games to play, they are at back at .500 with a 65-65 mark.

Now carrying the remaining schedule in my wallet wasn’t such a bad idea after all. They return home for a 10-game home stand against Seattle, Toronto and the Yankees, the first and last teams with very realistic hopes for playoffs themselves.

Sunday’s 2-1 victory for O’s at Boston was the proverbial nail-biter. After outscoring Boston 23-3 in the first two games of the series, I expected a pitcher’s battle and got one.

I was happy that Doug Fister pitched well for Boston because he helped knock the Yankees out of the playoffs a few years ago, earning a special plaudit on our Yankee Elimination Day (YED) caps. It is always a special occasion when the Yankees are eliminated because they brag about their 39 post-season appearances but ignore their twice-as-many failures.

This Sunday August 27, the O’s made two runs in the first stand up against a suddenly slumping Boston offense that left 13 men on base.

My O’s still have many holes on offense and in starting pitching. Chris Davis and Mark Trumbo are not producing at bat but the slack has been picked up by talented second baseman Jonathan Schoop who just broke Roberto Alomar’s Oriole record for most RBI by a second baseman. And rookie Trey Mancini has been a godsend as a run-producer and near -300 hitter while adjusting quite well to his new position of left field.

Of course, any team with wildly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez in its rotation has mound issues. And last year’s star closer Zach Britton now has knee issues to go with his earlier forearm ailment.

Nonetheless there is hope in Charm City as the Labor Day weekend nears. A most lovely hopeful feeling that makes the foolish illusion of contention seem less foolish.

One final note on the series in Boston. The Red Sox NESN cable feed utilized former catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia as their color commentator. Though he made an interesting observation about location as a big factor in baserunners stealing signs from second base, he should be forbidden from using the word “great” until the next millennium. He also talked too much and too much of it was trite cheerleading.

Here’s a shout-out to the Milwaukee Brewers who beat the LA Dodgers in a series on the road this past weekend. It was the first series loss for the Dodgers since early June as they have a chance to break a regular season record of 116 wins.

Milwaukee is only two games behind the defending World Series champion Chicago Cubs. As someone with strong affinity for the Wisconsin Badgers (I got my master’s and doctoral degrees in American History at Madison in the 1960s), it’s nice to see the Brewers get into the hunt for post-season glory.

That’s all for this time. Always remember: Take it easy but take it!

A Tumultuous End to April for my Orioles and Columbia Lions

May 1, 2017

Tags: Orioles-Yankees Apr 28-30 series, Kevin Gausman, Mark Trumbo, Aaron Judge, Buck Showalter, Vidal Nuno, Jacoby Ellsbury, Mychal Givens, Jayson Aquino, Chase Headley, Starlin Castro, Matt Holliday, Brad Brach, Ubaldo Jimenez, Manny Machado, Caleb Joseph, Austin Romine, Jacob Ruppert, Joe Girardi, Aroldis Chapman, Bryan Mitchell, Logan Verrett, Kyle Bartelman, Ian Burns

The Orioles' first visit to NYC in 2017 was certainly eventful. The Friday and Sunday games will be ones remembered forever.

The weekend could have been a total washout and a sweep by the insanely hot Yankees who rallied from 9-1 and 11-4 deficits on Friday night to win 14-11 in 10 innings. Facing another devastating late inning loss on Sunday, the O's managed to hold on and win in eleven innings, 7-4.

On Friday night Kevin Gausman pitched four shutout innings in his first sustained good outing of the year and the Birds roared to a 9-1 lead. Mark Trumbo, MLB"S home run leader last year, contributed a grand slam, his first HR since he won on Opening Day with an extra-inning blast.

Two homers by powerhouse Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge brought the Bronx Bombers closer at 9-4. The Orioles quickly responded to make it 11-4 as the game entered the bottom of the 7th.

After a dinky infield single, Bird manager Buck Showalter lifted Gausman for journeyman lefty reliever and former Yankee Vidal Nuno. It says here that Gausman's pitch count wasn't enormous and I wouldn't have lifted him. Of course, then there wouldn't have such drama.

Nuno showed why he has bounced from many teams by giving up a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury - the first ever for the former Bosox center fielder and the 100th of his career. Ellsbury may have an untradeable bloated contract but he is off to a good start as a veteran presence on a team that trends young.

It was now 11-8. Reliable Oriole relievers Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day restored order until the bottom of the 9th. The Oriole farm system gets a lot of criticism for its failure to produce many major leaguers but Givens is a great success story and tribute to Oriole player developers.

A former high draft pick/shortstop who never mastered hitting, Givens was converted to a hard-throwing semi-sidearmer. He is extremely effective against righthanded hitters and getting better against lefty batters. He also fields his position with the aplomb of a former shortstop.

On Friday night temporary closer Brad Brach was not up to the occasion. A local boy from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, Brach committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter. Before long Yankee second baseman and former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro belted a long HR to tie the game at 11-11.

Once the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the 10th against Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, I knew the game was probably over.

Yet being a baseball addict, I watched on my TV as rookie Jayson Aquino (being groomed as a starter) walked two in a row. After a strikeout of Chase Headley, a new Yankee the veteran Matt Holliday homered deep into right center for the victory.

After the game, Nuno and Aquino were optioned to the minor leagues and might not be back for a while esp. Nuno. Aquino is still a possible fifth starter for an extremely thin Orioles starting staff.

Saturday's day game was the one I attended in person and it fulfilled my worst expectations. Amazingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez gave up two HRs to Yankee leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the first two innings and it was quickly 5-0.

The game then followed the pattern that imperious Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert loved. Score a bunch of runs in the first inning and pull slowly ahead. Final score was 12-4 and it was never really a contest.

To give you a sense of the bad omens for the Orioles on Saturday, Chase Headley pulled a Manny Machado on Machado. The Orioles hot corner master smoked a ball down the left field line with double written all over it. (A cliche but a nice one IMHO).
Headley dove to his right and speared it as Machado looked on in astonishment.

There was a brief moment of hope when it was only 7-2 in top of the sixth with two men in scoring position and two out. Birds backup catcher Caleb Joseph was facing Yankee reliever Adam Warren. A single could make it 7-4, so I dreamed.

It was a great competitive AB for Joseph who fouled off a couple of pitches while bringing the count to 3-2. Alas, he struck out. His quest for his first RBI since 2015 had to wait.

Once the Yankees immediately answered those runs with a two-run HR by Yankee backup catcher Austin Romine, it was time to beat the crowd and head home.

A tip of the cap to Romine. Like Joseph he is a longtime minor leaguer in the same organization for his whole career. He is performing wonderfully on both sides of the ball during starting catcher's Gary Sanchez stint on the DL.

And though I missed it, I was glad that the final two runs on this desultory day came on Joseph's HR in the 9th No longer must he answer questions about his RBI dearth.

I did not expect Sunday's 7-4 Oriole 11 inning win. Especially after they blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. It was a game that lasted over four and a half hours and featured an ejection of Showalter on a disputed 9th inning balk call.

When he brought in closer Chapman for the 10th inning, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi moved reliever Bryan Mitchell to first base from the mound. The strategy backfired when Mitchell returned to the mound to give up the 3 decisive 11th inning runs with Trumbo delivering the tie-breaking RBI.

How fitting that Logan Verrett in his first appearance as an Oriole won the game with two shutout innings of relief. The former Met reliever had just been called up from Triple A the night before.

By contrast with the bizarre weekend drama in the Bronx, the Columbia Lions put on almost a clinical display of baseball Saturday in Philadelphia. They needed to sweep the Quakers to force a playoff after splitting two games in New York on Friday.

Sweep they did, coming from behind in each game. There were heroes galore but special mention must be given to slugging senior second baseman Kyle Bartelman and sophomore righthander Ian Burns who earned the second game victory with nearly 5 innings of shutout relief.

The one-game playoff will be this Saturday May 6 at 1p at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium in the Baker Field complex west of Broadway on 218th Street. We'll see if the Lions can repeat their amazing success in elimination games.

Yale awaits the following weekend in New Haven in the best-of-three series that will determine the Ivy League participant in the NCAA baseball tournament beginning on May 30.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Orioles and Mets Face An Early Winter After Losing Close Wild Card Games

October 10, 2016

Tags: Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner, Conor Gillapsie, Jeurys Familia, Buck Showalter, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Darren O'Day, Edwin Encarnacion, Ubaldo Jimenez, Peter Angelos, Dan Duquette, DJ LeMathieu, Walt Weiss, Ted Williams, Daniel Murphy, Jose Lobaton, Devon Travis, Rick Porcello, David Price, Corey Kluber, Billy Blitzer, Jamie Moyer, Shawon Dunston

If you are a pure baseball fan, the pitchers’ battles that punctuated each Wild Card game last week were your cup of tea. Nothing like an elimination game to focus the minds of players and fans alike.

If you are emotional fans of the Mets and the Orioles, the losses were harder to take.
They must now face winter in the early fall. Nobody can criticize the effort of either losing Wild Card team, but when bats grow silent and runs are not scored, there is no way to win, especially in the post-season when pitching and defense matter more than ever.

The Mets lost a classic pitcher's duel with Noah Syndergaard going seven shutout innings but playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner pitching a complete-game shutout. Journeyman third baseman Conor Gillapsie's 3-run 9th inning HR off Mets usually effective closer Jeurys Familia was the deciding blow.

Gillapsie's moment in the sun was touching for Giants fans because he came up in the San Francisco organization but made his major league debut with the White Sox where he performed for two years. He then bounced around for a while until he returned to the team that first signed him. You see in baseball, you can go home again.

The O's 11-inning 5-2 loss to the Blue Jays was one that will be harder to forget. Manager Buck Showalter is being crucified for not using his perfect closer Zach Britton - 47 for 47 in the regular season - in the game. Buck might have made matters easier for himself if he just said to the press, “I wasn’t gonna use him until we had a lead.”

That’s how it works in regular season but the playoffs are different. There’s no tomorrow, to coin a phrase. As it turned out, the excellent relievers in front of Britton did do a marvelous job - two of them, hard-throwing converted shortstop Mychal Givens and soft-tossing sidearmer Darren O’Day, each got one pitch double plays.

However, going to starter Ubaldo Jimenez with one out none on in bottom of 11th inning was the disastrous choice. Within five pitches, Jimenez gave up two singles and the game-winning three-run bomb to Edwin Encarnacion. It was the top of the order and the big boppers were coming up for Toronto. That was where Britton should have been used.

I know it is so easy to second-guess, and the bottom line is the Orioles didn’t get a hit after the sixth inning. We had seen the offense disappear so often in second half of season. The illusion that the playoffs would be different faded quickly.

I sure hope the O’s make a strong effort to re-sign Mark Trumbo who produced Baltimore’s only two-runs in the wild card game with a homer that unlike his usual mammoth shots just sneaked over the left field fence.

I wanted the O’s to offer Britton a two-year deal before the season and buy out one of his arbitration years. Alas, owner Peter Angelos and gm Dan Duquette don’t do business that way. So now Britton’s one-year salary will probably escalate into the 8 digit category.

By contrast, the Colorado Rockies saw the promise in second baseman D. J. LeMahieu and offered him a $6 million-plus two-year contract before the start of 2016. Mahieu wound up winning the National League batting title.

My praise for the budding star is tempered by the poor decision by Rockies management to bench Mathieu for four of the last five games of the regular season so he could win the title over the injured Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy.

It was not Mathieu’s choice to sit but evidently management dictated it with the support of field manager Walt Weiss. It did not help save Weiss’s job as the New York metropolitan area native from Suffern was not rehired after four years on the job.

I find the contrast quite striking between Mathieu’s sitting and Ted Williams’ insistence on going for a genuine .400 average on the last day of the 1941 season. Williams could have sit out and protected a .3996 average that would be increased to .400.

The proud Williams insisted on playing and went 6 for 8 in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A’s. He wound up with a .406 average, a revered number in baseball history that is not likely to be surpassed.

Without the Orioles, the post-season doesn’t provide me with a real outlet for my baseball passion. I do watch many of the games because as I’ve said many times on his blog, the only reason to play baseball is to keep winter away.

Before the games of Monday October 10, Toronto, riding a high ever since avoiding Zach Britton in the wild card game, is already in the AL division series after sweeping the Rangers. In hindsight, Texas’s poor run differential of only 8 runs over their regular season opponents doomed them.

Cleveland surprised Boston by routing Boston aces Rick Porcello and David Price, but they still have to contend with the Bosox in Fenway. If it comes to a game five in Cleveland, the Tribe should feel confident that their defending Cy Young award winner Corey Kluber can come through again with the kind of dominant performance he delivered in game 2.

In the National League, the Cubs convincingly dispatched the Giants in the first two games. Facing elimination, the Giants will throw the amazing playoff whiz Madison Bumgarner on Monday October 10 in an attempt to stay alive.

The Washington Nationals and Los Angeles Dodgers are playing the only series that looks like it could go the distance. A fan who loves baseball’s redemptive quality has to love Jose Lobaton’s game-changing 3-run HR on Sunday.

Only playing because his friend and Venezuelan countryman Wilson Ramos tore up his knee at the end of the regular season, Lobaton bounced into a bases loaded 1-2-3 DP in his prior AB. He was ready for a better showing next time around.

Redemption was the rule again when Blue Jays second baseman Devon Travis started Toronto's winning rally against the Orioles. He had bounced into two double plays earlier in that game.

Because they are franchises that have long suffered, I’d like to see a Cubs-Indians World Series with the Cubs finally winning after an 108-year drought. Their loyal scout for 35-years Billy Blitzer - who brought Shawon Dunston and Jamie Moyer and others into their fold - deserves his ring. But I do want to see some memorable gut-wrenching baseball before winter comes prematurely to all of us ardent addicted fans.

That’s all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it!

O's Make It To The Wild Card Game As Regular Season Ends

October 2, 2016

Tags: Craig Kimbrel, Foley's nyc bar, Mike Matheny, Joe Girardi, Matt Wieters, Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Ramon Martinez, Dan Duquette, Colin Kaepernick, Cardboard to Leather-Oriole Advocates project, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, J.D. Martinez, Chaz Roe, Jim Johnson, Mark Trumbo, Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, Noah Syndergaard, Madison Bumgarner

Baseball’s exciting, wildly unpredictable season came down to Game 162 with a real possibility that there would be play-in games before the wild-card Winner Take All playoffs. It didn’t happen because the Toronto Blue Jays and Baltimore Orioles won their final series on the road at Fenway Park and Yankee Stadium, respectively.

After taking advantage of Macy's "greatest sale of the year," I strolled the big blocks from 7th Avenue and 34th Street to Foley's bar not far from the Empire State Building where I took in the proceedings I knew that on a football Sunday there would be many TVs tuned to baseball.

Amazingly, Foley's is a big St Louis Cardinals outpost and many Redbird-clad fans gathered hoping against hope that the Giants would lose and the Cards would get in.
After the umpires on Thursday night shockingly didn't enforce a rule that a ball was a ground-rule double allowing the Cards to beat the Reds, I was glad the Cards were locked out of the 2016 playoffs. Like the Yankees, they are in there too much (but at least their manager Mike Matheny doesn't wear a number like Joe Girardi's 28 to tell the world about the inevitable next world championship.)

I was pleased when there was a family of Oriole fans from Towson, Maryland, where I started my teaching career way back then. We made appropriate noise when the O's took and kept the lead.

So now the O’s and Blue Jays will meet on Tuesday Oct 4 at 8:08 on TBS in Toronto for the right to play the Texas Rangers in the best-of-five AL Division Series. Boston, the AL East winner whose closer Craig Kimbrel is in a slump at the worst time, lost home field advantage to the Cleveland Indians who will host them in the other ALDS.

The Detroit Tigers, given up for dead a couple of months ago, made a valiant run at crashing the playoff party. But playing the role of spoiler to the utmost, the Atlanta Braves beat the Bengals on Sat. and Sun. to eliminate Detroit. The Braves in September also swept the Mets at Citi Field but the New Yorkers rebounded to win the first wild card.

It was unfortunate for Detroit that they couldn’t use their designated hitter Victor Martinez in the National League park but they had their chances to win each game. Just couldn’t come up with the big hit, a lament that is often heard when teams just miss out on the post-season.

A fascinating sidelight in the Tiger losses is that two former Oriole castoff relievers got huge outs for the Braves. Coming in with bases loaded and nobody out in the 8th on Sat night, Chaz Roe kept Atlanta's 5-2 lead by striking out fearsome Miguel Cabrera and getting stellar J.D.Martinez to hit into a double play. Former Oriole closer Jim Johnson got saves in each game.

Meanwhile the much-maligned Oriole starting pitching came up big in the last weeks of the season. Who would have thought that Ubaldo Jimenez would emerge as a consistent contributor?

Ramon Martinez, Pedro’s older brother and a special adviser to Oriole gm Dan Duquette, has become a confidant with fellow Dominican Ubaldo. Ramon has evidently helped to eliminate some extraneous movement from Ubaldo’s complicated delivery.

Things are going well in Ubaldo’s outside life that certainly hasn't hurt his performance.
**He recently became father for the first time.
**In early September he flew to Miami in between starts to attend a swearing-in ceremony to become an American citizen.

At a time when the national media is making such a big deal about journeyman quarterback Colin Kaepernick’s refusal to stand for the national anthem, most of the country doesn’t know about Ubaldo Jimenez’s unabashed affirmation of his adopted land.

He also has become the new spokesperson for the Cardboard to Leather philanthropic project of the Oriole Advocates, a longtime baseball-loving community service organization in Baltimore. Cardboard to Leather makes annual trips to Latin America bringing baseball equipment to the needy.

If the Orioles manage to beat Toronto in the wild card game, Jimenez will certainly get a start in the division series. The Orioles young veteran Chris Tillman is likely to get the wild card start with the finally healthy Dylan Bundy ready to aid in relief.

The Birds’ other young hard-throwing right-hander Kevin Gausman beat the Yankees in Game 162 to clinch the wild card bid. All of a sudden, with Bundy, Gausman, and Tillman, and one more year of revived Jimenez and maybe Yovani Gallardo and Wade Miley, Oriole pitching doesn't look so foreboding.

One of the interesting sidebars in the upcoming Toronto-Baltimore wild card tussle is that two sluggers on each team might be playing their last game for their current franchises. Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion of the Blue Jays and Mark Trumbo and Matt Wieters of the Orioles are all free agents at the end of the post-season.

All year on this blog I have refused to speculate on where these run-producers might go and I’m not gonna start now. Wieters, a switch-hitter and an excellent defensive catcher, probably has the most value. It certainly went up when he smashed for the first time in his career home runs from both sides of the plate in the O's Game 162 5-2 victory over the Yanks.

We’ll cross that bridge of free agency speculation after the World Series.
For now I’m just glad that we have at least this extra game to look forward to.

Ditto the National League Wild Card game that will pit the defending NL champion Mets against the Giants who swept the Dodgers in San Francisco to earn a chance to go for their third straight even-year World Series title. The Wednesday matchup between the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard and the Giants’ World Series hero Madison Bumgarner should be a beauty.

But it’s baseball - it could be a rout or a slugfest. We don’t know and neither do the stat heads. That’s why they play the games.

That’s all for now but always remember: Take it easy but take it.

Orioles Returning To Winning Ways + Common Sense on September Rosters

September 11, 2016

Tags: AL East and wild card races, Kevin Gausman, Brad Brach, Victor Martinez, Miguel Cabrera, Jordan Zimmermann, Adam Jones, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Ubaldo Jimenez, Michael Bourn, Chris Tillman, Jonathan Schoop, Mychal Givens, Zach Britton, Mark Trumbo, Buck Showalter on inflated September rosters

The only way to stay relatively sane in a tense pennant race is to invoke the mantra again and again: “If we win every series, we will make the playoffs.” Though like most Oriole fans I have been disconsolate at the O’s fade since they were a season-high 18 games over .500 in early August, they just won two big series on the road.

They head to Boston two games behind the first-place Red Sox and tied with Toronto for the two wild card positions. The Tigers and the sizzling Yankees are two games back and Houston, Seattle, and Kansas City are still alive in the tight race. (There is less drama in the NL but there is a tight race for the two wild cards in progress between the Cardinals, Giants, and Mets.)

To beat the Tigers two out of three at Comerica Park gave the Birds a big boost. ‘Twas especially nice after they lost the Friday night opener 4-3 despite a solid effort
from Kevin Gausman. Reliever Brad Brach lost the game on an 8th inning solo home run by Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez who may not be able to run any more but he still can hit, especially from the left side.

On Saturday the Birds jumped on obviously still-rusty Jordan Zimmermann for two HRs in the first inning and they were never headed in an 11-3 win. Adam Jones homered on the first pitch of the game and Chris Davis followed with a two-run dinger.

It was a rare laugher for an Orioles team that has been struggling in close contests because of a homer-or-bust offense. Reborn Ubaldo Jimenez came through with seven solid innings and catcher Matt Wieters iced the game with two homers accounting for 5 RBI.

Sunday’s rubber game was a taut classic from the first pitch to the last. In the 3-1 Baltimore victory 15-game winner Chris Tillman pitched six strong innings in his first start in three weeks, sidelined because of shoulder bursitis.

Newcomer Michael Bourn showed he was born again by hitting a two-run homer off Detroit ace Justin Verlander and Jonathan Schoop’s solo homer added an important insurance run. Schoop is striking out too much these days and perhaps his swinging for the fences is hurting his all-around proficiency at the plate.

Yet the Orioles are an ultra-aggressive team at the plate and they continue to play solid defense. Adam Jones made two outstanding catches mid-game that maintained the Orioles lead. And back on the horse in the 7th inning, Brach pitched a solid inning.

Mychal Givens – he of the 95 mph sidearm fastball – got Miguel Cabrera to hit into an inning-ending DP in the 8th. Zach Britton got his 41st consecutive 2016 save in the 9th not before yielding two base runners. But he was in control, keeping the ball on the ground when it was hit.

Holding Cabrera hitless in the three games was a key to the series win. It was playoff baseball of great intensity with Cabrera in the middle of a good deal of testiness. Gausman on Friday stared down Miguel on more than one occasion.

Sunday’s game saw both Adam Jones and Mark Trumbo complain in the first two innings that Cabrera’s awkwardness with his feet around first base left them vulnerable to being tripped and seriously injured. Fortunately, no further incidents occurred in the game.

I don’t predict outcomes, and it is amusing how the proliferating pundits' websites are filled with percentages of what will happen for the rest of the season. Baseball is a game of inches and penalties, as Branch Rickey as usual wisely said, and the only way to watch it successfully is pitch-by-pitch without preconceived notions.

One thing that MUST be corrected by next year is the over-expansion of September rosters. Teams play from April through August with a 25-man roster but come September 1, the full 40-man roster is eligible to play. Teams have been using as many as 12 pitchers in a single game.

It’s just not right and must be modified. Orioles skipper Buck Showalter and others have called for a taxi squad for September games. Before a series, a team must list no more than 30 people eligible for the games, they argue correctly.

Another issue that has marred games all season is the incessant meetings on the mound, especially between pitchers and catchers. That number must be reduced by
rule to only a handful.

In spite of these irritating flaws, it is great to be alive in September, isn’t it?
Let the games continue in all their beauty and yes agony.

Orioles Honor 1966 Champs + Musings at All-Star Game Break

July 11, 2016

Tags: 1966 Orioles, Oriole Advocates Jim Palmer, Frank Robinson, Brooks Robinson, Boog Powell, Moe Drabowsky, relief pitcher Eddie Fisher, Ubaldo Jimenez, Joe Smith, Jonathan Schoop, Andrelton Simmons, Curacao talent pipeline

On Friday July 8th the 1966 World Series champion Baltimore Orioles were honored at a luncheon sponsored by the Oriole Advocates, a longtime charitable organization in Charm City. There was also an evening pre-game ceremony at Oriole Park at Camden Yards. More than a dozen players and coaches from Baltimore’s first World Series champion gathered for the events.

Of course, Hall of Famers Jim Palmer and Brooks Robinson attended - both have established roots in Baltimore since their playing days, Palmer as an excellent TV analyst and Robinson as a truly beloved year-round resident.

No surprise that slugging first baseman Boog Powell was also on hand – his barbecue stand is a popular feature at Camden Yards.

Unfortunately, Frank Robinson did not come, citing a previous commitment.
His arrival in a pre-1966 season trade from the Cincinnati Reds was the catalyst that put the Orioles over the top in 1966. He went on to win the Triple Crown and American League MVP, the only season incidentally that he ever led the league in batting average, home runs, and RBI.

Though not there to hear the plaudits, Frank Robinson’s role on the 1966 team was universally praised. His intense desire to win was infectious. Some teammates even thought that the moment he hit a home run in his first batting practice was the moment the whole team knew they would win it all.

The most amusing speaker was knuckleballing relief pitcher Eddie Fisher (no relation to the pop singer who married Debbie Reynolds and then Elizabeth Taylor).
A retired golf director for the Oklahoma tourism department, Fisher said he developed the knuckle ball because "my spitter was so slow that it dried up before it reached home plate."

After the late Moe Drabowsky pitched over six innings in relief and won the first game of the 1966 Series over the favored Los Angeles Dodgers, the bullpen was not needed. Fisher said that he warmed up a couple of times just to get on television. He added that he thought about applying for unemployment because he hadn’t worked at all in the Birds' stunning four-game sweep.

Sadly, Friday's day of celebration ended on a sour note when Ubaldo Jimenez imploded again in a starting role for the 2016 Orioles. Baltimore fans are generally not savage – they are more likely to cheer sacrifice bunts and the animated ketchup-mustard-relish race on the ballpark scoreboard than boo the home team.

But after being knocked again in the second inning, Jimenez heard the catcalls. He is
still owed $27 million through 2017 so an outright release is not likely yet. But there is much speculation that his place in a very suspect starting rotation may have been irretrievably lost.

The happier news is that the Orioles bounced back to win two close games on Saturday and Sunday. The also-ran Los Angeles Angels were in a giving mood and the Orioles were gracious hosts and accepted the breaks.

On Saturday former Mets reliever Joe Smith dropped the ball before he started to pitch. A balk was called, allowing the O’s to tie the score at 2-2. Emerging star second baseman Jonathan Schoop gave the O’s the lead with a RBI single in the 8th inning.

On Sunday shortstop Andrelton Simmons, like Schoop a native of the Dutch Caribbean island of Curacao, let an easy popup fall in short left field. It set up a big insurance run in an eventual 4-2 Orioles win.

The O’s enter the All-Star Game break with a two game lead over Boston with Toronto right behind. The Yankees pulled to .500 with a 3-1 series win at Cleveland.
They are only 8 back of the Birds in the lost column. The Birds make their first trip to NYC July 17-20 and they will be crucial for both teams, especially the Yankees.

Lots of baseball still to be played. Even teams totally out of the playoff races like the Braves in the NL and the Twins in the AL are playing better.

As always the team that wins will not necessarily be the best team but the team that plays best down the stretch. After their sizzling start, the Cubs have looked mortal and what was once a 14 game lead over the Pirates has been cut in half. The Cardinals are even a little closer than Pittsburgh.

So as always in baseball as in life the advice is the same: Take it easy but take it!

First 2016 Thoughts on Orioles + Shout Outs to Columbia Lions/Wisconsin Badgers/Gelf Magazine

February 25, 2016

Tags: Orioles prospects, Yovani Gallardo, Dexter Fowler, "qualifying offers, " Dariel Alvarez, Nolan Reimold, Mark Trumbo, Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, Colby Rasmus, Basic Agreement of 1976, collusion, Dylan Bundy, Kevin Gausman, Ubaldo Jimenez, Dave Wallace, Harry Chiti, Chris Tillman, Miguel Gonzalez, Zach Britton, Mychal Givens, Gelf Magazine, Jon Wertheim, Justine Gubar, Jason Gay, Columbia Lions basketball, Wisconsin Badgers basketball, Bo Ryan, Greg Gard

The first pictures from the spring training camps in Florida and Arizona are always tonic for the soul of this baseball nut. Nice to realize that every team will remain 0-0 until early April when the records start to count.

I find it ridiculous to rank teams before games really matter, but the 24/7/365 world (more…)

Pre-Birthday Oriole Musings + Hail to the Virginia Cavaliers, Winners of Their First College Baseball Title

June 25, 2015

Tags: Denny McLain, Jim Palmer, Storm Davis, Mike Flanagan, Kevin Appier, Mike Mussina, Scott Erickson, Jason Giambi, Buck Showalter, Andy Pettitte, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nine Magazine, Richard Galliano, Dizzy's Club at Jazz at Lincoln Center, Adam Jones, Chris Tillman, JJ Hardy, Matt Wieters, Manny Machado, Brian O'Connor, Karl Ravech, Kyle Peterson, Aaron Boone, Gus Craig, Jordan Serena, George Thanopoulos, Austin Bossart, Ronnie Glenn, Tanner Anderson, Mike Martin, Joe Purritano, Tyler Servais

I turn 73 on June 27. For a good chunk of my birthdays since I became an Orioles fan nearly a half-century ago, I’ve spent them watching my team in person. Ah the steamy humidity in 1969 – Bethlehem Steel Night at old Memorial Stadium – when the Birds pounded Denny McLain, a year removed from his 30-win (more…)

Cheers for Columbia and Wisconsin Basketball on The Eve of Spring Training 2014

February 26, 2014

Tags: Wisconsin and Columbia basketball, Kyle Smith, Brett Boretti, Mike Fischer, Aaron Silbar, David Speer, Donna Shalala, Barry Alvarez, Bo Ryan, Frank Kaminsky, Ubaldo Jimenez, Nelson Cruz

I have long believed that bad winters create good baseball fans. If so, 2014 should be a banner season because we are enduring in New York City and much of the country the worst winter in recent memory. There is no relief in sight as March is coming in as a lion with more snow predicted for next week.

At least my Columbia Lions are providing thrills and hopes for the future on the basketball court. Picked for the basement by the pre-season "experts," Columbia has established itself as a first-division team with four games to play in the Ivy League season. With no seniors on the team, the prospects are seemingly bright for the future.

Under fourth-year head coach Kyle Smith, Columbia has an aggressive team with two possible All-Ivy players in forward Alex Rosenberg and guard Maado Lo providing consistent double-digit scoring. The roster is versatile and talented and Smith is using almost all of them. They provide "deep depth," to use Earl Weaver's wonderful phrase
to describe a winning team.

Columbia baseball won the Ivy League last year and beat New Mexico in a NCAA tournament game, a first-time achievement for a Lions nine. Those dreaded "experts" now pick us to repeat but it will depend of course on merit on the field beginning at U of South Florida in Tampa Feb 28 through Mar 2.

Coach Brett Boretti enters his 9th year as head coach with a balanced squad led by tri-captains, catcher Mike Fischer, shortstop Aaron Silbar and southpaw ace David Speer. It is very pleasant to be talking about successful Lions teams and not hearing the tired jokes about moribund Columbia football that has nowhere to go but up in 2014.

The cagers at my graduate alma mater the University of Wisconsin-Madison started the year with 16 straight W's, then lost five out of six in the tough Big Ten. They now have righted the ship with seven straight wins and look poised to give a good showing in March Madness.

Spunky 66-year-old Badger coach Bo Ryan has gone to the tourney every year since he became head man in Madison in 2001. I'm rooting hard for this year's edition to go all the way into April. The emergence of 7' foot center Frank Kaminsky as an offensive threat has given Wisconsin a very potent lineup.

I spent five winters in graduate school in Wisconsin in the 1960s and bigtime sports were mediocre until Cleveland-born Donna Shalala, the former president of Hunter College of the City of New York, arrived in the 1980s. Her hiring of Barry Alvarez as football coach brought the pigskin boys to national attention and Bo Ryan has done the same for basketball. On Wisconsin!

It's been a long time since my alma maters have done so well in college basketball and I'm savoring every moment. With the opening of the baseball exhibition season I am experiencing additional pleasure..

I'm sorry, marketers, they will always be exhibition and not pre-season games for yours truly. I still cherish memories from the 1950s of listening to games from Florida on the radio. Oh, how the sounds of bat on ball and softly buzzing crowds warmed me in my eighth floor apartment in midtown Manhattan.

The Orioles have suddenly been active on the free agent front, signing RHP Ubaldo Jimenez to a four-year contract and former Texas Ranger slugger Nelson Cruz to a one-year contract. I love the latter - I wish most players in baseball were on one-year deals because the desire to get another deal next year by playing hard this year would never be doubted. Wishful thinking I know. More on spring training and how the season looks in the next post.

That's all for now. Always remember - take it easy but take it!

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“Lowenfish’s take is detailed and nuanced.... he doesn’t look for simple answers; despite his own abiding admiration, he never sugarcoats or presents Rickey in anything other than a three-dimensional light.”
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