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It's Only Early September But American League Wild Card Race Getting Wilder and Wilder + Two Good Causes

The innovations of the second wild card and mainly divisional play in September have made for amazingly exciting American League races. Blasé folks will say, “It’s only mediocre teams fighting for the right for an early playoff elimination.”

They may be right, but for an Orioles fan the sudden re-emergence of Baltimore to the fringe of the wild card race has been very welcome. They only split four games with the cellar-dwelling Toronto Blue Jays this weekend, but their two extra-inning wins kept hopes alive for even more meaningful games later in September.

Both wins went to rookie right-hander Jimmy Yacabonis, a thirteenth round draft choice out of St. Joseph’s of Philadelphia, a school known more for basketball than baseball with the major exception of southpaw Jamie Moyer.

Yacabonis hails from Matawan, New Jersey, and has a grandfather who played pro ball in Cuba. It’s always rewarding to see kids from the Northeast, where weather conditions are always capricious, make a mark in the Show.

A tip of the cap to the Blue Jays who are not a bad team and are coming off two straight playoff appearances. But I knew they would struggle this year when they decided not to re-sign powerful Edwin Encarnacion who took his wares to Cleveland.

They have also lost key pitchers to injury, but they played the Orioles very tough this weekend. A 21-year-old middle infielder Richard Urena had a memorable first MLB at-bat in Friday night’s Orioles nail-biting 1-0 13-inning win. He fought off 10 pitches from reliever Brad Brach before delivering a ringing double to left field.

It was a sign of improved Bird pitching that Urena was stranded. The double shutout lasted until Jonathan Schoop doubled home Manny Machado with the winning run in the bottom of the 13th.

It was Schoop who got the leadoff double in Sunday’s 5-4 extra-winning win that came around to score on Mark Trumbo’s double. (It helped that Toronto walked the struggling Chris Davis to get to Trumbo.)

Schoop has not only been clearly the Orioles’ MVP in 2017, but if he keeps up his clutch hitting and sturdy defensive play he’ll get into the league MVP consideration. He’s driven in over 100 runs for the first time and is closing in on league RBI leader former Oriole Nelson Cruz.

These close games are always draining for the fans. At least they players get to play and try to forge their own destiny. For now I’m just savoring the narrow series split and taking some deep breaths before the Yankees come to Baltimore on Labor Day for a three-game series.

Dylan Bundy takes the ball on Labor Day, and I hope he realizes he cannot match his his last performance, a complete game one-hitter over the Mariners. I think he is mature and talented to stay within himself and give the Birds a good chance to win.

To give you an idea of how wild the AL wild card race is, the Orioles swept Seattle and knocked them under .500. They went home to sweep the A’s and are now only one game behind Baltimore.

The Yankees and Twins still lead the race for the two wild cards but as long as you are over .500 and within three games of the second WC, you have a chance. So take heart Rangers, Royals, and even Rays fans too.

TWO GOOD CAUSES FOR YOU TO KNOW ABOUT:
1. Bernie Williams, the classiest of all the Yankees' great turn-of-20th-century teams, has become a key spokesman for the Pulmonary Fibrosis Foundation. His father, Bernabe Williams, Sr., died of the disease. Google PFF for more information.

On a Labor Day weekend Yankee broadcast, Williams didn't take the bait of a question about his favorite Yankees World Series-winning team.

But he did say that the 2001 team, that lost in the 9th inning of the 7th game, was very special because it came after 9/11. How the country and not just New York City rallied behind them remains an indelible moment.

Bernie's new career as an accomplished guitarist is going well. He even applied a musical twist to a question about why he isn't considered a member of the Core Four with Jeter, Pettitte, Posada, and Mariano Rivera. "I like the sound of the Core Four Plus Bernie," he quipped.

2. Here is word on a special organization founded by Chicago White Sox John Tumminia. Baseball Miracles that brings the joy of baseball to underprivileged youngsters all over the world.

They've been to Kenya and Native American communities in the Dakotas and many other stops. Next up this fall is a trip to Argentina. For more information about how to donate equipment and make contributions, check out: http://www.baseballmiracles.org

That's all for now, butalways remember: Take it easy but take it!
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The Plot Thickens as Orioles Gain in the Playoff Race

“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!
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