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On The Joy of Wearing My Orioles Jacket + MLB Playoff Predictions

It is always a bittersweet time when the precious days of September fade away.  The autumn leaves tell us that winter is not behind and even worse, that the regular season of baseball is over.


The Orioles' improbable run into contention surprised everyone, certainly yours truly who was glad by summer to ditch my alter ego of Masochist Mel.  Alas, another alter ego, Pessimistic Pete, lurks nearby

because there are no guarantees for 2023.


The Birds still need more reliable starting pitching that can go deep into games and more consistent hitting to truly contend in a tough AL East Division.  I know that the number of intra-division games will

be cut from 19 to 13 in 2023 - not the greatest idea BTW - but you still must win the majority of

your games and get comfortably over .500 which the 2022 Orioles never could do.  


And repeat after me, class:  EVERY SEASON IS DIFFERENT. There is still much to dream about - full

seasons from catcher Adley Rutschman - voted the Oriole MVP though I would have picked spectacularly-fielding shortstop Jorge Mateo in a very close vote - and versatile infielder 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson.


I saw Henderson play last year in the lower minors and twice this year at Norfolk.  You could see not only the talent but his love of the game in his every movement on the field and in the dugout.  Same is true of Rutschman who is reminscent of Gary Carter in his joy in catching.


And get this!  Henderson's older brother is an Orioles fan.  Natives of Alabama, Gunnar couldn't

wait to come to Baltimore to hear the Oriole fans shout "O!" near the last lines of the National Anthem.

That note has dwindled in the recent years of losing, but it is definitely making a comeback.


I happily report that I now wear my Oriole jacket again - it led to an interesting encounter a few days ago. I was sitting on a bench in Riverside Park near the Columbia campus reading a book when a man walking a dog gave me a thumbs up for my baseball allegiance. 


It turned out that not only was he an Oriole fan but I had seen his son on TV a couple of nights earlier.  Watching the Red Sox feed on my MLB Extra Innings package, the Boston announcers kept replaying the shot of a fan in an Oriole cap botching a home run catch in the bleachers.


Earlier he had caught one easily but not this time. and was he ever mad at himself.  And does TV ever love to focus on the agory of defeat as well as the ecstasy of victory.   


It turns out that the 30-something fellow, a graduate of Manhattan College, is virtually a professional ball game attendee.  He drove with his father to that Monday night game.  Because there was a long rain delay, they didn't return to NYC until 4AM.


The father, Shelley Barasch, told me that Greg always gets over 10 baseballs at every game, mostly during batting practice.  They intend to drive to the season's last game at Fenway to get in on the giveaways of jerseys, batting gloves, more baseballs, and other memorabilia.  


I wished them luck and we saluted each other's Oriole fandom. He walked back to his apartment

and I continued reading the deeply moving book "1947: Where Now Begins," published in 2016 by Swedish writer Elisabeth Asbrink (translated by Fiona Graham).  Rarely have I have read such a combination of poetic memoir and historically keen observation.   


A few minutes later Shelley came back to the park bench with a gift that I will treasure, a baseball from Greg's collection. O, those little things that make baseball-loving so special. 


And while I have the Red Sox on my mind, here's to a good retirement for Dennis Eckersley, 65, who I was glad I could hear on that Red Sox-Oriole broadcast.  The Hall of Fame pitcher developed an unique

language as a commentator.  


He was the one who coined "walkoff" homer to describe a game-winning blast.

Here's another Eckersley coinage, describing a pitcher's statistical line:

   "9 strikeouts, 7 swinging, 2 pairs of shoes" (i.e., just standing at the plate, not swinging the bat).


Eckersley, of course, gave up one of the most famous walkoffs to the LA Dodgers' Kirk Gibson in the first game of the 1988 World Series, but he survived to have more good years.  



The 12-team October playoffs begin on Friday October 8 with four best-of-three wild card series.  I don't bet although TV and MLB certainly want me and millions of others to do so. Here's two examples:


An ad on the Yankees' YES network for a betting service show a man sitting on a toilet seat placing bets on his cellphone.  At the Mets' CitiField, the lines for the third base coaching box are now dwarfed by a huge plug for Caesar's Sports Book.


I still want to put in my 37 cents of playoff predictions (my two cents corrected for inflation).


I will go with the home teams in the wild cards - Tampa Bay bowing to Cleveland the youngest team in the playoffs with a great manager in Terry Francona (who everyone calls Tito after his late father a former MLB slugger); solid if playoff-inexperienced pitching; two infielders they got from the Mets for Francisco Lindor, Andres Gimenez and Amed Rosario, both having excellent years; and a fertile player development system.


They also have third baseman Jose Ramirez who in any other year would be a top-rank MVP candidate.

(Aaron Judge will win with Shohei Ohtani getting some votes, but I for one cannot see how even a

great hitting-pitching talent like Ohtani can be most valuable on a bad team.)


That Jose Ramirez decided to stay in Cleveland on a long-term contract was a refreshing sign that not every player wants to come to the highest-paying big market cities.  I just hope Cleveland gets crowds

approaching 30,000 for the games against Tampa Bay. 


I think Toronto, my pre-season pick to win the AL East, will prevail over Seattle, the Mariners in playoffs for first time since 2001.  But the Blue Jays must run the bases better than they did recently against the Yankees.


One of my favorite Jays is stocky catcher/DH Alejandro Kirk signed out of high school in Tijuana. He appears to be the picture of grizzled experience at the plate but he won't be 23 until next month. 


In the NL wild cards, I think the Mets have had enough time to lick their wounds from Atlanta's sweep last weekend to beat the Padres in New York. Deeper starts from Max Scherzer and Jacob DeGrom will be needed and the red-hot closer Edwin Diaz must stay at his near-perfection level.  


A return to health of Mets outfielder Sterling Marte would be welcome but finger fractures are tricky

things and he may not be ready.  The Padres rallied late in the season behind their new veteran manager Bob Melvin and even beat their nemesis Dodgers a couple of times to insure they made the playoffs.  


I hope Yu Darvish does well because I think the Iranian-Japanese righthander is one of baseball's more endearing players. But I hope the Mets prevail in what certainly will not be a slam dunk because the Mets offense without Marte has been sputtering.


Solid shortsotp Francisco Lindor needs to step it up and add his offense to power-hitting Pete Alonso and potential batting champion champ Jeff McNeil - a versatile, intense easy-to-root-for mainstay. Otherwise, there are too many holes in the lineup.  


The Cardinals should hold off the Phillies in St. Louis but their pitching is not proven except for aging Adam Wainwright. He is one of three grand old men along with retiring slugger Albert Pujols and catcher Yadier Molina that may make the Cardinals a sentimental favorite.  


St. Louis also features two potent corner men, third baseman Nolan Arenado and first baseman Paul Goldschmidt. Likely Hall of Famers along with sure-fire immortals Molina and Pujols who passed the

700 career HR mark late this season.  


The Cardinals' nabbing Arenado from Colorado and Goldschmidt from Arizona, two chronic losing franchises, reflects the sad state of those expansion franchises .  The Rockies and Diamondbacks have gotten little in return, but baseball history is replete with the rich picking on the poor and the bright on the dumb and some things may never change.   


In the best-of-five division series, picks are less clear to me.  I'd like to see a Cleveland-Houston

best-of-seven in the ALCS with Dusty Baker going all the way to win his first World Series as a manager.

In fact, it could well be that we have a repeat of 2021, an Atlanta-Houston World Series with

the Astros this time coming out on top. 


The Cardinals will have to face the Braves if they win the wild card series and the Mets the Dodgers

if they win, and both rested teams will be favored with the home field advantage. The Dodgers are

loaded as usual with baseball's largest payroll and a playoff-tested roster.  


But they have question marks at closer and in the starting rotation so their advance is not a slam dunk.

Such a sign of the times - me using basketball terminology to describe baseball! I love basketball

but it is not baseball.   


The Yankees bullpen is a work in progress with no consistent closer.  A return to form of pending free agent Aroldis Chapman would be a godsend. They probably have enough to beat Cleveland.


After its August slumber, the Yankee offense has re-emerged. If DJ LeMahieu is healthy and Giancarlo Stanton gets on a roll which is conceivable, the Yankees will be very dangerous.  


And, of course, add a relaxed Aaron Judge to that picture. I am very happy he got his 62nd home run to

relieve the pressure building on him.  He should be the face of baseball for his genuine team-

orientation and his humble yet perceptive demeanor.


Rumors persist that he might bolt to the West Coast after the season because he is a free agent.  

I personally doubt he will leave, but let's table that emotional discussion into later November when the hot stove fires really start buring. 



That's all for now.  Always remember: take it easy but take it, and hard as it is sometimes, stay positive, test negative. 




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"Playing Meaningful Games In September": An Unexpected Joy For Oriole Fans (slightly revised)

I never expected it to happen in 2022 and was skeptical about future years.  And yet

with 32 games left, 20 at home, as Labor Day weekend starts, the Orioles are 1 1/2 games behind the Blue Jays for the third and final wild card spot.  Seattle and Tampa Bay hold

down the first two spots with the Birds three lost games behind them. 


My long-held views that Every Baseball Season Is Different and There Is At Least One

Surprise Team Each Year have come true in the most pleasant and heart-warming manner. 


The Birds have 10 games left with Toronto, seven of them at home including an old-fashioned Labor Day doubleheader.  The Blue Jays were one of the pre-season favorites in AL East but they have not played very consistent baseball.  


Nor have the Yankees who just endured an August that was its worst since Stump Merrill's 1991 team. The Red Sox are in the AL East basement, following their recent pattern of boom-bust-boom-bust. 


I saw the Orioles twice last month during SABR's 50th convention held this year in downtown Baltimore a short walk to Camden Yards.  The Birds lost the makeup day

game with the Cubs, 3-2, but unheralded castoff RHP Spenser Watkins pitched well.


Before an enthusiastic crowd of over 30,000 on Friday night, including many of the SABR attendees sitting in the right field bleachers, the Orioles blasted the Red Sox, 15-10,

belting five homers.  It was a rare offensive outburst by a team whose rise to contention has been fueled by vastly improved pitching and often sensational defense. 


I had never sat in the outer reaches of Camden Yards and it brought back memories of Fenway Park's fabled section.  In both places, you feel a bond with the third base and left field fans, creating the kind of shared community that is ballpark viewing at its best.


The remarkable resurgence of the Orioles got an added boost in late August by the play of 21-year-old Gunnar Henderson, a second round draft choice who was signed after his graduation three years ago from high school in Alabama.  


All he did in his first game was hit a long home run in his second AB after being victimized in his first AB by Guardians' left fielder Steven Kwan's great catch. In his second game, Gunnar made two outstanding defensive plays at shortstop and stole his first base.


I've seen him play in the lower minors and twice earlier this season at Triple-A Norfolk.  He has that "it" quality, the art of making a difficult game look easy. And you can see his

love of the game is not an act.  


Ditto for catcher Adley Rutschman who was drafted a round ahead of Henderson.  Adley is scuffling at the plate now, but his catching and leadershp skills are not suffering.  


The Orioles suddenly look like they have a bright future. The 2023 option on the contract of   manager Brandon Hyde was quietly picked up earlier this year.  So was the same 2023 option on injured southpaw John Means' contract.  Nothing like stablility in an organization once there is light at the end of the tunnel


It will be a challenge for Hyde, Joe Maddon's bench coach when the Cubs broke their 108-year World Series-championship drought in 2016, to get playing time for all the players

arriving.  Jorge Mateo remains the incumbent shortstop, the former Yankee prospect who

has been a revelation in 2022 once given regular playing time. It is a nice problem to

have, too many good players, but I think Hyde will find a way. 


As for the SABR convention, a highlight for me was Boog Powell in conversation with local sportswriter Dan Connolly of the Athletic.  He shared warm reminiscences of playing for 

the Orioles and how after his retirement he hustled to get the Lite Beer commercial that featured him and umpire Jim Honochick. The lines for Boog's BBQ at the ballpark are deservedly long.


Before I close this return to blogging, here's a tip of the cap to the Mets Old-Timers Day that owner Steve Cohen organized last Saturday August 27.  Cohen is a genuine Mets

fan and many original Mets returned for the first Old Timers Day in almost 30 years.  One of them was Jay Hook who won the team's first game.


In a TV interview with SNY broadcaster Steve Gelbs, Jesse Orosco shared the moving story of what happened to the glove that he threw towards the Astrodome roof when the Mets

won the epic 16-inning game over Houston that propelled them into the 1986 World

Series.  He said he gifted it to Steven McDonald, the NYPD officer who was paralyzed in

the line of duty. 


The National Anthem played on Old Timers Day was a recording by Jane Jarvis, the team's only organist from its first days at Shea Stadium in 1964.  I was fortunate to get to know Jane during her career as a jazz pianist when she left the team after the 1979 season.


Jane had been a child prodigy on both piano and organ in Indiana, proficient in classical music but loving jazz and all kinds of music. She later lived in Milwaukee where, among her other gigs, she became the Braves' ballpark organist.  


That's all for now.  But here's one TCM tip - Thursdays in September will be devoted to the

many films of Humphrey Bogart, some of them real classics.  


Always remember - take it easy but take it!  





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