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!