The Orioles' thrilling season continues on its merry way. After being embarrassed 13-1 in the opening Fri June 23 game of a three-game home series against a Seattle Mariners team hovering around .500, they came from behind to win the next two games, 6-4 in 10 innings and 3-2 in Sunday's rubber match.
If the 6-4 game Sat. game had been played during the post-season, a wider audience would have called it a classic. Even though the Birds managed the dubious distinction of "running for the cycle" - 4 men were thrown out on the bases.
Red-hot Anthony Santander hit a tying homer (did the same thing on Sunday and made a sensational catch) and Aaron Hicks, finding new life after trying times with the Yankees, hit a go-ahead homer. But Yankee castoff Mike Ford, the undrafted slugger from Princeton, hit two long home runs, the second one tying the game with two out in top of the ninth off the huge Oriole closer Felix "The Mountain" Bautista.
Julio Rodriguez, last year's AL Rookie of the Year, also homered and kept the game close by a sensational robbing of a two-run homer off the bat of Ryan O'Hearn. O'Hearn is a KC Royals castoff who has stepped in productively for the injured and struggling Ryan Mountcastle who might be in danger of being Wally Pipp-ed although the farm system has younger, possibly more talented players than O'Hearn waiting in the wings.
The game was won in bottom of the tenth by a two-run homer by defensive replacement Ryan McKenna. It has been that kind of year for the Orioles - major contributions from unlikely members of the roster.
Sunday's game-winning hit came off the bat of third-string catcher Anthony Bemboom who blooped the ball over second baseman Jose Caballero who kicked it towards the tarp and fleet shortstop Jorge Mateo scored all the way from first base on the error.
Baltimore enters the last week of June 4 1/2 games behind Tampa Ray but only two in the loss column. They immediately host another even more surprising team the Cincinnati Reds who rolled off 12 wins in a row before losing two close games to the NL East leaders Atlanta Braves.
The Reds have caught the nation's attention because they have been downtrodden for so long. Some impressive rookies led by shortstop-third baseman Elly de la Cruz have fueled the surge and the return of future Hall of Famer Joey Votto will undoubtedly help. Votto is one of the most thoughtful and team-oriented players in MLB and I hope he stays healthy now (but not too healthy against the Orioles).
Maybe the most encouraging development this weekend was the solid seven-inning starts by young Oriole starters Dean Kremer, the first dual Israeli-American citizen in MLB history (and the last Oriole remnant of the
Manny Machado fire sale of 2018), and Kyle Bradish obtained as a minor leaguer in a trade for the fading
Dylan Bundy (last seen pitching for the Mets' Triple-A farm club in Syracuse).
Nothing like the feeling of hope for one's team and the inevitable anxiety - can't have one without another - as summer moves on. On the local NYC high school baseball scene, congrats to Tottenville of Staten Island and Hunter of Manhattan's East Side for their triumphs at Yankee Stadium on June 12 in the AAA and AA divisions.
More next time on the law suit brought by older MLB scouts against the MLB hierachy that may have committed age discrimination violations by severing many experienced veteran scouts. As I stressed in my new book BASEBALL'S ENDANGERED SPECIES, there is no substitute for the informed opinions of those who have worked in the trenches trying to evaluate and project the success of aspiring young players.
The saddest entry this post focuses on the passing last week of two outstanding pitchers and baseball personages, Roger Craig, 93, who died on June 4, and Dick Hall, 92, who died on June 18.
I will never forget Craig coming up with Don Bessent in the middle of the 1955 season to help the Brooklyn Dodgers win their only World Series. After winning another ring with 1959 LA Dodgers, Craig went on to become an anchor on early Mets staffs.
He managed the San Diego Padres in 1978 and 1979 and later became a great pitching coach for the 1984 world champion Tigers. He managed mainly contending SF Giants teams from 1985-1992, losing the 1989 "earthquake" World Series to the Oakland A's.
Craig was a renowned teacher of the split-fingered fastball, the pitch du jour of the 1980s. He looked like a more avuncular and kinder former President Lyndon B. Johnson. His signature phrase will be remembered as "Humm baby!" but he was more importantly a wise dispenser of wisdom learned in his home state of North Carolina.
Dick Hall was a lanky young outfielder-third baseman on Branch Rickey's young Pittsburgh Pirates teams in the 1950s before his conversion to the mound. He blossomed as a relief pitcher for the Orioles in the 1960s winning two World Series rings in 1966 and 1970.
The only Swarthmore graduate who made the field in MLB history (Larry and Lee MacPhail made the Hall of Fame as executives), Hall became an accomplished accountant and a persuasive advocate for the game.
Hall grew up near NYC in Haworth NJ and I met not long ago one of his neighbors who remembered the sound of Hall's practicing his throwing on a cushioned wall or maybe a barn near my friend's house. The sound of ball on wall night after night became the percussive musical background of my late friend's youth.
In closing let's also cross fingers that the recent termination of several TCM (Turner Classic Movies) executives doesn't lead to a diminuition of that valuable cable channel's programming of classic films.
There have been a lot of layoffs at TCM recently, and chief executive David Zaslav is trying to dampen criticism by saying he believes in the station. For now, my favorite show on TCM - Eddie Muller's Noir Alley Sat at midnight, rebroadcast at 10A Sun - remains on. Even if the Noir formula grows tiresome and predictable, Eddie's intros and outros are must-see watching.
That's all for now. Next post comes from Chautauqua where I'm teaching a class from July 3, 5-7 on "Can Baseball Survive the 21st Century?" Always remember: Take it easy but take it, and stay positive, test negative.