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Musings On Tolstoy As The Woerioles Continue To Sink

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

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!
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