The Orioles' magical 2023 ride hit a serious bump on Fri night Aug 25 when ace closer Felix "The Mountain" Bautista, one strike away from completing a save against the Colorado Rockies, stumbled off the mound after throwing a 102+ mph fastball.
Head trainer Brian Ebel and manager Brandon Hyde rushed to the mound and led Bautista away without him even throwing a practice pitch. Some kind of elbow injury was quickly diagnosed and Felix was put on the injured list. He will undoubtedly be lost for the season, and if he needs Tommy John surgery out for all of 2004 and maybe beyond.
Danny Coulombe, a recently re-activated southpaw reliever also having a career year, completed the save on only one pitch. In a cruel irony, Felix Bautista Bobblehead Day was celebrated the next night and over 42,000
packed Camden Yards to see another Oriole win.
Bautista was present in the dugout to show solidarity with his teammates on a surprising Oriole team that continues to win despite the huge loss - both figuratively and metaphorically - at the back end of the bullpen.
On the eve of their second West Coast trip in the last few weeks, the Orioles are 1 1/2 games ahead of the Tampa Bay Rays, winners of 10 of their 12 games after a disappointing July in which they let the Orioles overtake them.
Tampa has endured its share of injuries, too. They lost their Cy Young Award-candidate Ryan McClanahan to Tommy John surgery and their pitching roster as always is a merry-go-round of other pitchers going and coming back from surgery.
Even more seriously in the longer run, star shortstop Wander Franco has been indefinitely suspended with pay He is being investigated for several relationships with under-age women in his homeland of the Dominican Republic. Earlier in the season, he had been briefly suspended by the team for behavior not worthy of "a good teammate."
One wonders what was in the minds of Rays management when they signed Franco a couple of years ago to a 11-year contract reportedly worth upwards of $200 million. I guess the red flags about his questionable behavior faded when they considered what other owners might pay one day on the open market for his transcendent on-field talents.
In spite of these distractions, the Rays have regained the winning touch that saw them begin the year with 13 straight wins and a 30-11 record. Not the Detroit Tigers 35-5 of 1984 on their way to a wire-to-wire World Series win but quite impressive. They are now 30 games over .500 and for me a MVP-candidate in corner infielder Yandy Diaz.
Fortunately, the crazy-quilt so-called "balanced" schedule at least allows for a big head-to-head matchup of Rays at Orioles Th Sept 14-Su Sept 17. The inconsistent Red Sox, recently swept at home by defending World Series champ Houston and only 4 games over .500, will have a large say in how the AL East turns out. They play Tampa 5 times and the Birds 7, including the last 4 games of the season at Camden Yards.
Winning the division will not just be a psychological prize, especially for the Orioles who haven't been in the playoffs since 2016. It gives the victor almost a week's rest by avoiding the best-of-three wild card round. There is an argument that a team can get rusty with too much time off, but for me the ability to heal minor injuries and to set up one's pitching rotation are the great positives.
The drama in the AL West is even greater than in the AL East because barring a total collapse, the Rays and Orioles should make the playoffs. Before games of F Sep 1, Seattle and Houston were virtually tied although Houston had one more win and one more loss. Texas was one full game behind Seattle.
For the sake of drama, I'm hoping that Texas with formidable hitting but questionable pitching stays relevant into the last 10 days of the season because the Rangers and Mariners play each other 7 times in last 10 days of regular season, the final 4 in Seattle. Houston might have the edge overall because they are the only team that still plays the 2 worst teams in baseball record-wise, the Royals and the Athletics.
In the AL Central, the Twins had a chance to bury the Guardians this past week, but they couldn't do it
Minnesota is only four games over .500 but Cleveland is still 6 games under. The NL Central is not much better but at least the Brewers have been playing much better baseball.
They are 15 games over .500, but did lose a chance on Wed Aug 30 to win a series in Chicago against the surprising Cubs. They couldn't do it and their divisional lead in only 3 games.
In the other NL divisioins, the Braves and Dodgers are running away with their division titles. But the race for the 3 Wild Cards is appropriately wild. The Phillies with the same record as Milwaukee, 74-59, has a 3 game lead on the Cubs. The third wild card at this juncture is being tightly contested among the Giants who are 1 lost game ahead of the Diamondbacks, 2 lost games ahead of the Reds, and 3 lost games ahead of the Marlins.
A wise person once described the MLB season as really 4 seasons: spring training, April through August, September, and the playoffs. We are entering September now and as the late legendary Mets announcer Bob Murphy used to say, "Fasten your seat belts!"
Before I conclude this post, here are some sports-related movies coming up on TCM Turner Classic Movie
Tu Sept 5 features these boxing classics:
1145A "The Champ" (1931) - King Vidor directs irrepressible Wallace Beery and young Jackie Cooper
6P "The Prizefighter & The Lady" (1933) - W.S. "Woody" Van Dyke directs Myrna Loy and heavyweight
boxers Max Baer and Primo Carnera
Wed Sep 6 for night owls or more likely for those can record them:
215A "Knute Rockne All American" (1940) with Pat O'Brien in title role and Ronald Reagan as the Gipper
400A "Jim Thorpe All American" (1952) with Burt Lancaster in title role, the underappreciated Charles Bickford as Pop Warner, and directed by Michael Curtiz
The next two have no real sports connection but wanted to list them:
Th Sep 7 10p "It Happened In Brooklyn" (1947) with Frank Sinatra, Jimmy Durante, Kathryn Grayson and the introduction for first time of Sammy Cahn's classic "Time After Time" - not much on baseball except likely brief shots of Ebbets Field - also of interest to Noir fans: Gloria Grahame as a nurse!
F Sep 8 10A "The Petrified Forest" (1936) directed by Archie Mayo from Robert Sherwood's play, a real classic with Humphrey Bogart as the outlaw Duke Mantee, Bette Davis the poems of Villon-reading waitress, and Leslie Howard as the disconsolate writer with a vague desire to see the Pacific Ocean and drown in it
F Sep 8 11:15P "Boys Town" (1938) Norman Taurog directs Spencer Tracy as Father Flanagan and Mickey Rooney as one of his charges.
And happily Eddie Muller's "Noir Alley" returns before Labor Day
Su Sep 3 12 M/repeated 10A "The Secret Fury" (1950) Mel Ferrer directs Robert Ryan and Claudette Colbert and keep eyes open for Vivian Vance before she inhabited Ethel Mertz!
Su Sep 10 Alfred Hitchcock's "The Wrong Man" (1956) with Henry Fonda in title role
That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it, and stay positive test negative.