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

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.
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Orioles Returning To Winning Ways + Common Sense on 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.
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