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A Tumultuous End to April for my Orioles and Columbia Lions

The Orioles' first visit to NYC in 2017 was certainly eventful. The Friday and Sunday games will be ones remembered forever.

The weekend could have been a total washout and a sweep by the insanely hot Yankees who rallied from 9-1 and 11-4 deficits on Friday night to win 14-11 in 10 innings. Facing another devastating late inning loss on Sunday, the O's managed to hold on and win in eleven innings, 7-4.

On Friday night Kevin Gausman pitched four shutout innings in his first sustained good outing of the year and the Birds roared to a 9-1 lead. Mark Trumbo, MLB"S home run leader last year, contributed a grand slam, his first HR since he won on Opening Day with an extra-inning blast.

Two homers by powerhouse Yankee rookie right fielder Aaron Judge brought the Bronx Bombers closer at 9-4. The Orioles quickly responded to make it 11-4 as the game entered the bottom of the 7th.

After a dinky infield single, Bird manager Buck Showalter lifted Gausman for journeyman lefty reliever and former Yankee Vidal Nuno. It says here that Gausman's pitch count wasn't enormous and I wouldn't have lifted him. Of course, then there wouldn't have such drama.

Nuno showed why he has bounced from many teams by giving up a grand slam to Jacoby Ellsbury - the first ever for the former Bosox center fielder and the 100th of his career. Ellsbury may have an untradeable bloated contract but he is off to a good start as a veteran presence on a team that trends young.

It was now 11-8. Reliable Oriole relievers Mychal Givens and Darren O'Day restored order until the bottom of the 9th. The Oriole farm system gets a lot of criticism for its failure to produce many major leaguers but Givens is a great success story and tribute to Oriole player developers.

A former high draft pick/shortstop who never mastered hitting, Givens was converted to a hard-throwing semi-sidearmer. He is extremely effective against righthanded hitters and getting better against lefty batters. He also fields his position with the aplomb of a former shortstop.

On Friday night temporary closer Brad Brach was not up to the occasion. A local boy from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, Brach committed the cardinal sin of walking the leadoff batter. Before long Yankee second baseman and former Cubs shortstop Starlin Castro belted a long HR to tie the game at 11-11.

Once the Orioles went down 1-2-3 in the 10th against Yankee closer Aroldis Chapman, I knew the game was probably over.

Yet being a baseball addict, I watched on my TV as rookie Jayson Aquino (being groomed as a starter) walked two in a row. After a strikeout of Chase Headley, a new Yankee the veteran Matt Holliday homered deep into right center for the victory.

After the game, Nuno and Aquino were optioned to the minor leagues and might not be back for a while esp. Nuno. Aquino is still a possible fifth starter for an extremely thin Orioles starting staff.

Saturday's day game was the one I attended in person and it fulfilled my worst expectations. Amazingly inconsistent Ubaldo Jimenez gave up two HRs to Yankee leadoff hitter Brett Gardner in the first two innings and it was quickly 5-0.

The game then followed the pattern that imperious Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert loved. Score a bunch of runs in the first inning and pull slowly ahead. Final score was 12-4 and it was never really a contest.

To give you a sense of the bad omens for the Orioles on Saturday, Chase Headley pulled a Manny Machado on Machado. The Orioles hot corner master smoked a ball down the left field line with double written all over it. (A cliche but a nice one IMHO).
Headley dove to his right and speared it as Machado looked on in astonishment.

There was a brief moment of hope when it was only 7-2 in top of the sixth with two men in scoring position and two out. Birds backup catcher Caleb Joseph was facing Yankee reliever Adam Warren. A single could make it 7-4, so I dreamed.

It was a great competitive AB for Joseph who fouled off a couple of pitches while bringing the count to 3-2. Alas, he struck out. His quest for his first RBI since 2015 had to wait.

Once the Yankees immediately answered those runs with a two-run HR by Yankee backup catcher Austin Romine, it was time to beat the crowd and head home.

A tip of the cap to Romine. Like Joseph he is a longtime minor leaguer in the same organization for his whole career. He is performing wonderfully on both sides of the ball during starting catcher's Gary Sanchez stint on the DL.

And though I missed it, I was glad that the final two runs on this desultory day came on Joseph's HR in the 9th No longer must he answer questions about his RBI dearth.

I did not expect Sunday's 7-4 Oriole 11 inning win. Especially after they blew a two-run lead in the bottom of the 9th. It was a game that lasted over four and a half hours and featured an ejection of Showalter on a disputed 9th inning balk call.

When he brought in closer Chapman for the 10th inning, Yankee skipper Joe Girardi moved reliever Bryan Mitchell to first base from the mound. The strategy backfired when Mitchell returned to the mound to give up the 3 decisive 11th inning runs with Trumbo delivering the tie-breaking RBI.

How fitting that Logan Verrett in his first appearance as an Oriole won the game with two shutout innings of relief. The former Met reliever had just been called up from Triple A the night before.

By contrast with the bizarre weekend drama in the Bronx, the Columbia Lions put on almost a clinical display of baseball Saturday in Philadelphia. They needed to sweep the Quakers to force a playoff after splitting two games in New York on Friday.

Sweep they did, coming from behind in each game. There were heroes galore but special mention must be given to slugging senior second baseman Kyle Bartelman and sophomore righthander Ian Burns who earned the second game victory with nearly 5 innings of shutout relief.

The one-game playoff will be this Saturday May 6 at 1p at Robertson Field at Satow Stadium in the Baker Field complex west of Broadway on 218th Street. We'll see if the Lions can repeat their amazing success in elimination games.

Yale awaits the following weekend in New Haven in the best-of-three series that will determine the Ivy League participant in the NCAA baseball tournament beginning on May 30.

That's all for now - always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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“Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner” and Happier Stories + News of My Activities in Late April

I really want to focus on this blog about the late rush towards the top of my Columbia Lions in the Ivy League baseball race. And the Orioles’ fine start to their season.
But I have to get this off my chest first.

The headline of a Buster Olney story on espn.com this weekend read: “Giants Wise Not To Punish Underpaid Bumgarner”. If you haven’t heard, SF Giants’ star southpaw hurt his shoulder seriously in a dirt-bike accident incurred on the team’s day-off in Denver. He will be out until early summer.

Yet I am sick and tired of sportswriters and pundits referring to any millionaire ballplayer as “underpaid”. Bumgarner has the security of a long-term contract through 2019 even though his annual reported salary of $12 million is only a little more than one-third of the money than the Dodgers’ ace Clayton Kershaw is reportedly making - $32=$33 million a year.

Even at a "paltry" $12 million a year Bumgarner is not going to the poor house any time soon.

Leaving aside the question of whether he should have been punished - it all depends on whether his contract prohibited such dangerous activity in season as well as out of season - Bumgarner’s action was dumb and reckless. It does not augur well for the Giants’ season to lose your ace until the early summer at best.

Now to happier baseball news. Let’s start with the late season surge of my Columbia Lions in the Gehrig Division of the Ivy League. They have won five league games in a row - six overall - including this past weekend’s two doubleheader sweep of defending Gehrig champion Princeton.

I had hoped to see a full doubleheader at Princeton’s sunken diamond Bill Clarke Field on Saturday, but unexpected rains limited the first game to only four innings plus one out in top of 5th. Columbia, behind solid pitching by junior co-captain Ty Wiest and surprising home run power from senior center fielder Shane Adams and sophomore shortstop Joe Engel, had a 8-2 lead when the day’s activities were suspended.

In much better weather on Sunday, Columbia was able to complete a sweep (without yours truly in attendance). They finished the first game with a resounding 15-2 victory and overcame an early 3-0 deficit to win the second game 21-5. Meanwhile in Ithaca, perennial contender Penn took three out of four from host Cornell.

With one weekend to go in regular season Penn leads Columbia by 2 games, Cornell by 3, and Princeton by 4. So the division title will be decided by two big doubleheaders between the Lions and the Quakers.

The first one starts Friday at 1pm at Columbia’s Satow Stadium just north of football’s Kraft Field in the Baker Field complex west of 218th Street and Broadway in Manhattan. The final two games of the regular season will start at 1pm Sat. at Penn’s Meiklejohn Field on the Philadelphia campus.

Those traveling to these games on New Jersey Transit or Amtrak should still expect delays. Train transit remains less than ideal on the north Jersey corridor.

Meanwhile, Yale took a giant step forward towards representing the Rolfe Division in the playoff by sweeping Dartmouth on Sunday and splitting on Monday. So the powerful Elis have clinched a tie for the half-pennant. They need only one victory over Brown or one Dartmouth loss to clinch their second straight Rolfe flag.
If there is no Penn-Columbia playoff, the best-of-three championship series will start at historic Yale Field the first weekend in May.

As a Columbia alum, it has been great to see my young Lions coalesce into a winning outfit at the right time of the season. Shortstop Joe Engel has become steady in the field and is showing surprising pop - he had never hit a homer in his college career until last week when he belted his first at Fordham and his second at Princeton.

Two of the Columbia co-captains have become potent sluggers in the middle of the lineup: junior third baseman Randell Kanemaru and second baseman Kyle Bartelman are delivering big hits. So are the emerging sophomore first baseman Chandler Bengtson and freshman phenom DH-LF-IBman Liam McGill.

Those Penn games should provide stirring competition because the Quakers are real hot, too. They pounded Princeton four times in a row with their big bats and used their good moundsmen and timely hitting to win the series at Cornell.

On the pro front, I am happy with the Orioles’ 13-5 start. Despite the loss of semi-ace Chris Tillman to shoulder discomfort - he may return to the rotation in early May - they are getting surprisingly good starting pitching with Dylan Bundy looking like the ace-in-waiting they have dreamed of for years.

Their other former number one draft choice, Opening Day starter Kevin Gausman has not stepped up as hoped but he tends to be a slow starter, this blogger says hopefully. And the Oriole bullpen has been outstanding even with star closer Zach Britton on the DL with forearm issues.

Brad Brach, from Freehold NJ and Monmouth University, has filled in admirably. His four straight saves (through the 6-3 come-from-behind home victory overTB on Mon Apr 24) were achieved by a TOTAL of 44 pitches. The Birds make their first trip to Yankee Stadium in 2017 this coming weekend and I’ll be sure to share some thoughts on that series next time.

Before I go, I have two appearances ahead, one in print and one in person, to share with you, dear readers.

**Starting Wed Apr 26, check out the National Pastime Museum website - tnpmuseum.com - for a piece I wrote on silent film legend Buster Keaton’s love of baseball.

**On Sunday afternoon Apr 30, I will be on a panel discussing Josh Gibson and Negro league baseball after a performance of Richard Jones’ play “Josh: The Black Babe Ruth.” The play starts at 3p and the panel starts immediately thereafter around 445pm. Location: Theater for the New City, 1st Avenue and E. 10th Street in Manhattan’s East Village.

Always remember: Take it easy but take it.
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