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"Anything Can Happen In A Short Series," Is Felix Hernandez Worthy of Another Cy Young, and The Derek Jeter Farewell Tour Finally Ends

And now the 30 MLB teams that began the season with hopes in spring training have been reduced to 10. And while there was a chance that there could be three game 163’s after action on the final Sunday of the regular season, none of them materialized.

Oakland won at Texas and Seattle thus lost out on the second wild card in the American League. Late July acquisition David Price, the onetime stellar southpaw of the Tampa Bay Rays, came up big for the Tigers and they won the AL Central for the 4th consecutive year.

But runner-up Kansas City still made the post-season for the first time since 1985 and they will host the Athletics in the Winner Take All Wild Card game on Sept 30. Their hopes will rest on righty James Shields, another former Tampa Bay Ray hurler, versus southpaw Jon Lester, himself a late July acquisition plucked from the Red Sox by A’s gm Billy Beane.

In the National League Pittsburgh lost two in a row at Cincinnati and the Cardinals won the NL Central again though the Pirates and St. Louis could meet again in the NL Championship Series. The Pirates will have to get through the San Francisco Giants in the Wednesday NL Winner Take All game. The home field crowd at the wonderful PNC Park should give them a big boost.

The matchup of well-traveled Edinson Volquez versus Giants’ ace southpaw Madison Bumgarner should be a gripping one. I will never forget Giant pitching coach Dave Righetti, the former Yankee closer, gushing over Bumgarner’s abilities after the Giants won the 2012 World Series: “He just looks like a pitcher!”

Left out of The Big Dance – if you allow me to use the basketball post-season phrase - are the Seattle Mariners who won 87 games, a vast improvement over recent fallow years. But they will always rue a late season horrid road trip that cost them a chance at the playoffs.

“King” Felix Hernandez could not stop the bleeding and got lit up by the Toronto Blue Jays in his next-to-last start of the season. He might still win another Cy Young award but I don’t like the way his case has been artificially bolstered.

MLB changed a hit into an error in one of Hernandez’s losses thereby making his ERA lower than another Cy Young contender the Chicago White Sox’s star southpaw Chris Sale. Cleveland’s Corey Kluber might have the best credentials for the Cy Young but too often votes go by raw numbers and reputation.

The post-season should provide a lot of excitement. I have never been a predictor but it will be interesting to see if the Orioles can turn it on in October after clinching very early on September 16. "Playing Meaningful Games in September" is the title of an essay on The Orioles Glory Years 1960-1983 that will be published shortly in NINE: A Journal of Baseball History and Culture.

An irony of September 2014 is that the last two weeks of the regular season saw the Orioles playing Meaningless Games in September. After the early clinching manager Buck Showalter decided that resting his everyday star outfielders Adam Jones and Nick Markakis made sense, esp. since Markakis got drilled behind his shoulder blade by Toronto southpaw Aaron Loup. Catcher Caleb Joseph also almost got hit in the head by Blue Jay righty Marcus Stroman in the same series resulting in a five-game suspension for the promising Stroman.

Showalter decided that it was not worth it going all out for the best record in the league over the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim. What distressed Showalter and all us ardent Oriole fans (I call myself a CON man - Certified Oriole Nut) were the fielding lapses in the last games of the season. Third base became a sink hole, reminiscent of the days before miraculous Manny Machado arrived in August 2012 and helped to propel the team to the playoffs.

Machado is gone for the season with an injury to his second knee and my guess is that the utility man Ryan Flaherty gets the start on Thursday October 2 against the Tigers.
If the team gets as far as AL Championship Series Chris Davis, who surprisingly filled in well at third base, will be eligible beginning in the third game. But that it is a long long
way off.

Jeter Scripts Another Special Yankee Stadium Moment
I love baseball because surprise and unpredictability is at the heart of the game. And never bet against Derek Jeter doing the dramatic on the largest stage.

On Thursday night Sept 25 in the last home game of his 20 year career as a New York Yankee, he doubled in the first run of the game and quickly scored the second. In mid-game, showing more range than usual, he started an excellent double play to nip the Orioles’ speedy Adam Jones (a videotaped ruling overturned an umpire’s on-field call).

With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 7th inning, Jeter hit a slow roller to short that wouldn’t have been a double play. But normally reliable, indeed brilliant Baltimore shortstop JJ Hardy didn’t even get a force play as he threw past newcomer Kelly Johnson at second base. Two runs scored and the Yankees went into the 9th inning with a 5-2 lead.

Fate struck in Jeter’s behalf again. Yankee closer David Robertson gave up two long home runs to tie the score. But in the bottom of the 9th Jeter was up with the potential winning run on second. As he had done so many times before, Captain Clutch slammed a game-winning single to right field.

After the game losing pitcher Evan Meek, a journeyman who will not make Baltimore's post-season roster, expressed almost delight that he would be linked in baseball history with Jeter’s last great hit. Such is the reputation that Jeter has among his peers.
And needless to say, he is a saint to his legion of fans some who paid up to $10,000 for tickets to his final Yankee Stadium appearance.

Enjoy the post-season beginning with the Wild Card games. And I'm glad to learn that there will be 7 umpires at the World Series. One will umpire behind home plate for the first game, go to right field for game two, and then the replay booth for the remaining games.

I have long advocated a replay chief being on the scene of the game. Maybe this development can avert the overturning of a key call from someone hundreds of miles away from the action. Let the best teams win and the baseball be memorable. Of course I want the Orioles to go all the way and perhaps avenge 1971 and 1979 against the Pirates.
Whatever happens, I hope that a team clearly wins and there are more heroes than goats.

And always remember: Take it easy but take it!  Read More 
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Giving Pearce A Chance, Deep Depth, and Other Wonderful 2014 Oriole Storylines

I first heard the phrase “Give Pearce A Chance” (a takeoff on a famous John Lennon song) in a July Sports Illustrated piece by David Simon, creator of the HBO series set in Baltimore, “The Wire”.

I use it all the time now – thank you David - because the saga of Steve Pearce, the 31-year-old journeyman who was even designated for assignment early this season (left off the active roster for a few days), is one of the best stories in the season.

Pearce hit a first inning three-run home run in the AL East division-clinching game that brought the Orioles their first title since 1997. For good measure Pearce hit another one the next night, bringing his seasonal total to 20, three more than he hit in his entire career. His batting average is on the cusp of .300 and his RBI total is nearly 50.

Pearce is now a fixture in the lineup, often protecting cleanup hitter Nelson Cruz as the #5 hitter. He also runs the bases hard, breaking up many a potential double play, and providing superior defense at first base.

What a godsend Pearce has been now that last year’s homer king Chris Davis has been suspended for 25 games for taking the stimulant Adderall without written permission. Davis had flunked one drug test already but for reasons known only to himself he continued to use the speed-like drug.

(Adderall is probably a performance-enabling drug not a performing-enhancing drug, but the collective bargaining agreement in baseball doesn’t make a major distinction – though the penalty for repeat violation is less drastic for Adderall than it is for steroids.)

Missing due to physical injury All-Star players third baseman Manny Machado and catcher Matt Wieters, the Orioles have stunned much of the baseball world by running away with the division flag in the usually hotly competitive AL East.

How have they done it? The answer can be found in one of late Hall of Fame Oriole manager Earl Weaver’s favorite phrases, DEEP DEPTH. When Wieters went down in May the Orioles brought up career minor leaguer Caleb Joseph who has been excellent. He receives well, throws out more than 40% of base stealers, and in one stretch hit home runs in five consecutive games.

Joseph is also known to be a good impressionist. He does one of manager Buck Showalter that breaks up the clubhouse. He also can mimic general manager Dan Duquette but he keeps that one to himself. “Buck can only send me to the minor leagues,” he has explained sagely. “Duquette can release me.”

Showalter and Duquette might be in line for Manager of the Year and Executive of the Year awards that are voted before the post-season begins. I don’t want to jinx the team’s chances of winning their first World Series since 1983, but the Buck and Dan show has been a pleasure to watch in 2014 as both seek to win their first World Series rings.

Showalter taught the Yankees of the early 1990s how to win but it was Joe Torre in 1996 who took them to the World Series victory stand. Buck was the first manager of the Arizona Diamondbacks expansion team but it was Bob Brenly who led them to the 2001 title. Showalter also was at the helm of the improving Texas Rangers last decade but it was the recently resigned Ron Washington who led them to the 2010-11 World Series.

When he took the Oriole helm late in the 2010 season, Showalter wryly noted that he looked forward to finally walking down the aisle with someone he raised.

He immediately embraced the Orioles’ proud past that made them the envy of baseball during their glory years from the late 1960s through the early 1980s.
Framed photos of the six Oriole Hall of Famers, in action photos with their teammates, now adorn the halls of the modern clubhouse at Camden Yards: pitcher Jim Palmer, manager Earl Weaver, the Robinsons – Frank and Brooks – and Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken Jr.

During the great 2012 season of rebirth (when they made the playoffs as a wild card but lost in the divisional round), the six Oriole Hall of Famers were honored by statues created by talented sculptor Toby Mendez. They now grace the area beyond the center field fence at Camden Yards.

GM Dan Duquette has a similar history of near-misses in his career. He built a contending team in Montreal under manager Felipe Alou but the 1994 strike wiped out the World Series that year (leaving Showalter's Yankees similarly frustrated). Later he ran the Red Sox, but he was his successor Theo Epstein who got to enjoy the end of the so-called Curse of the Bambino in 2004 with a repeat championship in 2007.

Away from major league baseball for nearly 10 years, Duquette never left the game. He created a summer college baseball league in his home area of western Massachusetts and remained interested in the international game.

Drawing on recommendations of veteran scouts Ray Poitevint and especially Fred Ferreira (who was with the Yankees when they developed the haul that produced Bernie Williams, Mariano Rivera and Ramiro Mendoza in the early 90s), Duquette brought two key starting pitchers to Baltimore: Miguel Gonzalez from the Mexican League and Wei-Yin Chen from Taiwan via the Japanese pro leagues.

No one can predict how the playoffs will turn out. Some pundits think that the early clinching by the Orioles could make them rusty when playing for keeps begins again on Thursday October 2 against an opponent still to be determined.

Personally I don’t think that will happen. The team is too resilient and hungry. And there remains an outside chance that the Orioles could still nose out the California Angels for best record in the American League and home field advantage throughout all the playoffs.

For the moment as an Oriole fan for nearly a half-century it is time to celebrate and relax a little and be ready to turn on the faucet full-bore in early October.

And always remember to Take It Easy But Take It!
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