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Late August Thoughts As The Home Stretch Looms

It is hard being an Orioles fan right now but as you dear blog readers know I have been loyal to a fault since 1970.

I guess we've reached a certain point in this summer slide where we have to say without sarcasm that Sunday’s rain-delayed 5-3 loss to Houston was respectable (after giving up 27 runs in the prior two games). There is enough time to straighten the ship but a schedule of facing contenders doesn’t get any easier.

“To be the best you have to beat the best” is a mantra that Branch Rickey and all winning sports leaders have invoked. So tough schedules have never been an excuse for bad play.

Neither have easy schedules been an excuse for coasting into the playoffs. How well I remember Earl Weaver going ballistic when a writer would say, “If you play only .500 ball the rest of the way, the opposition must play over .750.”
Earl would growl, “Are you telling me we are going to lose half our games?!”

It is up to a genuine contender to play like a champion regardless of the teams on the other side of the ball. And since before the All-Star Game, the O’s have played sub-.500 ball.

The lack of depth in the farm system -- from starting pitching to speedy guys who can manufacture runs -- lies at the heart of the problem. The loss of fleet rookie outfielder Joey Rickard to a hand injury has really been a major blow.

I was at the game at Yankee Stadium a month ago when I heard the thudding sound of his hand colliding with the hard auxiliary scoreboard in right field. Rickard’s broken finger has not sufficiently healed and he won’t be ready to play until sometime in September.

Still, it is too early to throw in the towel on 2016. The O’s remain only two lost games behind Toronto and Boston, but clearly the confidence from leading the AL East for much of the season has been shattered. Someone on the starting pitching staff must step up with a deep effort to allow so-far-perfect closer Zach Britton to work his late game magic.

**There must be a rule passed in the off-season to place a limit on how long a replay challenge can take. Three minutes might even be too long. You can split hairs on different camera angles, but the cost of disrupting the flow of the game is too great.

Here's a good question to ask in all walks of life these days:

**I see where it is becoming fashionable again to criticize baseball for being too slow a game for the instant gratification of today's age. I beg to differ.

From my vantage point, baseball doesn’t need a clock between pitches. It needs some courage from leadership to stop batters from adjusting batting gloves after every pitch, and to limit the number of visits of catchers to the pitcher to one per AB or maybe only a few per inning.

Then the natural flow of the game could proceed the way it was intended.

**How about the response of Philadelphia Phillies fans to the return of Chase Utley in a Los Angeles Dodgers uniform? He received a standing ovation before his first at-bat, something he admitted he was looking forward to. He received more ovations after hitting two home runs, including a grand-slam.

The emotional bonds between fans and players run very deep, even after a hero has been traded. Utley was a mainstay on the Phillies teams that won 2008-09 pennants and the 2008 World Series. His three-word victory speech at the 2008 parade, “World F----n’ Champs,” won’t ever be forgotten in Philadelphia.

Though New York Mets fans have a far more negative view of Utley for his hard injury-causing slide into Ruben Tejada in last year’s N.L. playoffs, there is no doubt that the Southern California native has always played the game very hard.

Philly fans’ warm reaction to Utley’s return reminded me of something baseball’s first forgotten late 19th century labor hero John Montgomery Ward once said: “Without sentiment baseball would be a very empty game.”

That’s all for now. As the song goes, “See you in September.” And always remember:
“Take it easy but take it.”
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