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A Tumultuous End to April for my Orioles and Columbia Lions

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.
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You Can’t Always Get What You Want But I Did Get My Dream Extra-Inning Game 7

If you scroll through these blogs over the past few years, you’ll see that I fervently believe in Lowenfish’s Law: No lead of four runs or less is ever safe in a baseball game until the last man is out.

In my last blog, I wrote that the Indians just might win a seventh game in what shaped up as a very close World Series. Well, the Indians did have a chance to win that seventh game on the second night of November.

They rallied from 5-1 and 6-3 deficits to score three in the 8th against the Cubs’ star closer Aroldis Chapman. Journeyman Rajai Davis hit a two-run home run to tie the game.

I couldn’t help thinking of a similar great World Series game in 1975 when Bernie Carbo hit a three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth to tie the game against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine. Would there be a Carlton Fisk to win the game in extra innings?

That classic contest was only a Game 6 and this one was for all the marbles, a Game 7.
Alas for Cleveland, there was no Carlton Fisk on their roster. Chapman recovered his poise to retire the Indians in order in the 9th, and the Cubs got the lead in the top of the 10th on a clutch RBI single by Ben Zobrist, the deserving MVP of the Series.

I really had no horse in this race. Both teams deserved to win but in organized sports there is only one winner. I was glad that the triumphant Cubs were gracious in victory. Both manager Joe Maddon and team architect Theo Epstein praised the Indians for their gallant effort.

Zobrist, who now has won back-to-back World Series (he played for the 2015 champion KC Royals), added to his laurels as one of the classiest as well as most versatile of MLB players. He praised his teammate Anthony Rizzo for being so good that he was walked intentionally to get to Zobrist in the chance of getting the inning-ending double play.

People who truly love sports know there are times when it is a shame that there has to be a loser. The 2016 World Series was a prime example.

The Indians showed amazing heart not just in the last game but in sweeping the Red Sox in the first round, knocking out the Blue Jays in five games in the ALCS, and taking the highly favored Cubs to the last out of game 7 in the Series.

That the Tribe accomplished all this missing two key starters in their rotation, Carlos Carrasco and Danny Salazar, was quite remarkable. I know this is small consolation for Cleveland which has now not won a World Series since 1948 and has only appeared in four since then.

I think the most astonishing part of this Series is that no starting pitcher threw a ball in the seventh inning and very few got far into the sixth. The Indians had the superior bullpen and excellent manager Terry "Tito" Francona was not afraid to use Cody Allen, Andrew Miller, and Bryan Shaw more than one inning.

Joe Maddon didn’t have as many relief reliables as Francona but he hoped to get as many as three innings out of the powerful arm of Aroldis Chapman. This strategy almost backfired in Game 7 when starter Kyle Hendricks was yanked with two out in the 5th inning with a four run lead.

A throwing error by catcher David Ross followed by a wild pitch that led to two immediate runs made it a 5-3 game. But Ross, ending his 15-year major league career in style, atoned for his miscue with a big solo home run in the next half inning.
ANSWERING RUNS IN BASEBALL IS ALWAYS HUGE, ESPECIALLY IN BIG GAMES LIKE THIS.

So now winter has come for everyone in baseball, but very soon news of free agent possibilities and signings will hit the sports pages. Teams have exclusive rights to their potential free agents until five days after the Series ends, which means Monday November 7.

Here are some questions for the Series teams and one other playoff team to answer:
**Will the Cubs re-sign Dexter Fowler their leadoff hitter and centerfielder?

**Will they re-sign Aroldis Chapman or will he possibly return to the Yankees ?

**How will the Indians fortify their lineup with more power and consistent hitting?

**Will the Dodgers, who actually led the Cubs two games to one in the NLCS, keep their free agents - solid third baseman/timely hitter Justin Turner and potent closer Kenley Jansen?

Those answers will be coming soon. In the meantime, let’s salute everyone on the Cubs and Indians who kept winter away for so long.

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