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On The Edge of Contention Orioles Enter The Dog Days of August

The 2012 major league baseball season is certainly exciting and unpredictable if not always artistically pleasing. Clearly the age of the raging steroid users is over with home run totals way down and the dominance of pitching once again coming to the fore.

The late great Hall of Fame manager SPARKY ANDERSON once pithily explained the essence of baseball: "Without pitching you're nothing."

Just take the last weekend of July as an example. The Tampa Bay Rays, in the lowest echelons of run-scorers in MLB, shut out the California Angels in Anaheim on both Saturday and Sunday and moved into a tie for second in the AL East with the Baltimore Orioles. The Texas Rangers' unheralded spot starter SCOTT FELDMAN shut out the surprising White Sox 2-0 to keep rookie manager ROBIN VENTURA'S AL Central-leading Chicagoans from sweeping Texas on the road.

The dog day battles looming between the Tigers and Chisox and Reds and Pirates in the AL and NL Central Divisions (and don't rule out defending world champion Cardinals) should be wonderful to watch. So too the showdowns between the Rangers, Angels, and very surprising A's and Giants and Dodgers and perhaps Diamondbacks in the Western divisions of MLB. And the Nationals and Braves seem headed for a battle to the wire in the NL East.

Back in the AL East the Rays and the Orioles are tied for second, 8 games behind the Yankees who are also not hitting very much these days except the long ball. They are especially dangerous at the cozy new Yankee Stadium where their potent left-handed hitters have a field day taking target practice at the short right field fences. When the heat and humidity rise in the Bronx it takes great pitching to stifle Yank bats.

How the Orioles have managed to stay in contention for at least one of the two playoff wild cards is a great tribute to the winning culture manager BUCK SHOWALTER
is trying valiantly to install in Baltimore after 15 straight losing seasons. Buck has always succeeded in turning out moribund franchises like the early 90s Yankees, the expansion Arizona Diamondbacks, and the early 2000's Texas Rangers.

But Showalter has never led a team he built into the Promised Land. JOE TORRE took over the Buck-built Yanks in 1996 and led them to 4 World Series titles in 6 years. BOB BRENLY, now a TV commentator for the Cubs, replaced Buck in Arizona and was at the helm in 2001 when the D'backs nipped the Yankees in the Series. And it was RON WASHINGTON who took the Rangers to the World Series in 2010-11 not Showalter.

When he took over the Orioles late in the 2010 season Buck uttered the heartfelt line: "I'd like one day to lead a team to the altar myself."

However, it is hard - if not impossible - to believe that the current Oriole squad is a true contender. Its questionable starting pitching, sporadic hitting, and porous defense especially at the infield corners often make it agonizing to watch them. But they enter a series tonight July 30 at Yankee Stadium four games over .500, a vast improvement over previous seasons.

Center fielder and cleanup hitter ADAM JONES is emerging as a star on both sides of the ball and switch-hitting catcher MATT WIETERS, while he will never live up to the ballyhoo bestowed upon him by a Sports Illustrated cover some years ago, can be a dangerous hitter and is a superb defensive catcher.

Fans in Baltimore remains skeptical as evidenced by mediocre attendance. But at least this year the Orioles are doing the right thing by honoring their great players and leaders of their glory days. Earlier this season Oriole Hall of Famers manager EARL WEAVER and pitcher JIM PALMER were honored with statues at Camden Yards. And before the August 11 Saturday night game against the Kansas City Royals, the likeness of another Hall of Famer EDDIE MURRAY will be unveiled.

Fortunately I will be able to attend this ceremony and will report on it in my mid-August post. Eddie's emergence as a rock on the Oriole teams that made the World Series in 1979 and won it all in 1983 was a wonder to behold. REGGIE JACKSON may have defected to the Yankees after 1976 but Eddie's arrival helped to keep the Orioles in contention through the mid-1980s. It was a dark day in Baltimore when Murray was traded to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

That's all for now - In the meantime, always remember in the immortal words of Woody Guthrie: Take It Easy But Take It!
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