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Report from Agent 161 031 221 + In Memory of Willie Mays and Donald Sutherland (corrected version with fewer losses for Cleveland)

Blame me, Oriole fans. The Prince of Paranoia went out of character and conceived a new alter ego, Agent 161 031 221, in the wake of the Orioles' 17-5 rout of the Yankees on Thursday afternoon June 20.  That was the line score on a day the Birds scored in every inning but the 4th. 


It was my first jaunt to Yankee Stadium this season and I never expected a laugher, but once Juan Soto didn't react to Gunnar Henderson's first-pitch liner to right and it became a double, the die seemingly was cast on this very steamy afternoon.


It was a rare off-day for the Yankees' surprise ace so far, Luis Gil, who came in with a 9-1 record and a low ERA.  He was knocked out during a six-run Oriole second inning and Yankee relievers didn't fare much better.


I didn't really expect future games would be so easy.  I knew that the Astros are improving and are loaded with talent with championship pedigree and a good farm system. But I didn't expect a sweep this past weekend at Minute Maid Park, especially with our two best starters working the first two games, Grayson Rodriguez and Corbin Burnes. 


A sweep is what happened because the baseball gods are very capricious and are wary of overconfidence. Rodriguez seemed in control on Friday night with a 3-2 lead in the bottom of the 5th, but with two out and two on - both well-stroked singles on fastballs - he hung an off-speed pitch to center fielder Jake Meyers and in a twinkling it was 5-3 Astros.


This is Grayson's first full year in the majors so he remains a young pitcher, but with three Baltimore starters out for the year and longer - Kyle Bradish, John Means and Tyler Wells - Rodriguez needs to step up.  He didn't get an out in the bottom of the 6th and the rout was on. 


The Orioles did make Friday's game interesting with a barrage of 7th and 8th inning homers but that only cut the deficit to 14-11. To coin a phrase (LOL), "Close only counts in horseshoes and grenades." 


In the Sa/Su day games, Houston starters Ronel Franco, who pitched a no-hitter earlier in season, and veteran southpaw Framber Valdez simply outpitched Baltimore's ace Corbin Burnes and reclamation project Albert Suarez. 


The Astros are now only two games under .500 and just five games in lost column behind the first-place AL West Mariners. Houston has lost their share of pitchers for the season, too, notably Jose Urquiddy and Cristian Javier and are also temporarily missing powerful right fielder Kyle Tucker, but they still have a potent lineup from top to bottom. 


Next up for the Orioles at home are the Cleveland Guardians who have lost two less games than the Orioles at 49-26 and are leading the AL Central 

by 7 games in the loss column over Minnesota.  The Texas Rangers come into Baltimore the last weekend of June and they are now only 3 games

below .500 and Max Scherzer was excellent in his first start of the season on Sun Jun 23. 


There is no word but EPIDEMIC to describe what is happening to pitchers this season.  There is no easy explanation except that the reward system for amateur signings and big contracts is heavily weighted towards Velocity and Spin Rate.  Until organizations stress Pitchability and Durability, the casualty rate will go on and on.  



The timing of the passing of Willie Mays was eerily appropriate.  Mays died on Tues June 19 at the age of 93 as MLB was preparing to celebrate the Negro leagues at Rickwood Field in Birmingham, Alabama. MLBTV was covering a minor league game at Rickwood when the TV coverage was interrupted with the news of Mays' death.  Rickwood later hosted an exciting MLB game between the surging Cardinals and the sagging Giants. 


A tip of the cap to Richard Goldstein whose NY Times obituary of Mays contained a fact I didn't know.  Condoleeza Rice's mother taught Willie at Fairfield Ala. Industrial HS.  She was tolerant of some of his absences because of his baseball responsibilities.  (I knew that Condi's father was one of the recipients of Martin Luther King Jr.'s "Letter from A Birmingham Jail" - the senior Rice did not believe that educated Blacks should take part in demonstrations.) 


Another kudo to Anthony Castrovince of mlb.com for his June 12 piece, "How Hollywood Saved Rickwood Field." In a twist of remarkable irony, it turns out that when Ron Shelton was looking for a site to film his bio-pic "Cobb" in the early 1990s, he chose Rickwood Field because it dates back to 1910 during the heyday of Cobb's career. 


"Cobb" is not a great movie, marred by Shelton's reliance on sportswriter Al Stump's questionable recounting of interviews in the last year of Cobb's life.  Yet this connection made me think of something Branch Rickey said in his only book, THE AMERICAN DIAMOND:  The only player he ever saw that had a greater will to win than Jackie Robinson was Ty Cobb. 


Rickey also once uttered a potent description of Willie Mays:  "The secret to his success is the frivolity in his bloodstream."  I don't have many memories of games that Mays played as a New York Giant, but I do remember going with my father to the Polo Grounds to see pre-game fielding and batting practice at the Polo Grounds.  During every pre-game fielding drill, Mays showed off his cannon of an arm in throws to home, third, and second.


Here's one other Mays story to share.  Sometime before the pandemic, I won a raffle at a NYC Baseball Writers Association dinner.  The prize was a painting of me and my favorite NY ballplayer. I sent a photo of yours truly to artist John Pennisi and I have the result framed in my living room with a caption added by the artist.


Lee:  "Say Hey Willie, Leo says if Thomson gets on, I'm pinch-hittin' for you."

Willie: "Lee, how did you get on the field?" 


Here's also a fond farewell to actor Donald Sutherland, 88, who passed away two days after Mays on Jun 20.  He too deservedly received of a front page obit in NY Times (though understandably not nearly as large). 


I never met Sutherland but I loved his work on film including "M*A*S*H,"  "Klute," and the remake of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers". How could a sports fan like me ever forget Sutherland's character who gets so infested with the alien pods that he loses interest in the NBA finals.  (That was in early 1980s when the entertainment aspect of NBA hadn't take over, but that's another story.) 


Sutherland was a genuine baseball fan and as a native of Canada, he especially adored the Expos who entered MLB in 1969. I love the story of Sutherland on a film assignment in Europe in October 1981, spending a few hundred dollars on a phone call to North America so he could follow a radio broadcast of the Expos-Dodgers NLCS playoff.  He was a true fan and never used his celebrity to draw attention. 


That's all for now.  Next time I post i'll be an 83-year-old.  Just remembered that 1983 was the last world championship year of the Orioles.  The Prince of Paranoia doesn't really believe in omens or jinxes but I just may retire Agent 161 031 221. 


Stay positive test negative, and take it easy but take it over.




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