Saturday, September 29, 2007

Reason to Believe: Orioles 10, Yankees 9

From week to week, the baseball landscape changes dramatically. It is a cruel game because of its colossal endlessness across a 162-game season. Today's star is tomorrow's goat. On any given day, any team can win, even the bad ones. Every once in awhile it comes down to pride. They are boys again, playing little league. Last night, the Orioles refused to die and defeated the Yankees 10-9 in extra innings. Let's forget that the Yankees had clinched a playoff spot. Remember, they want to win pennants. That is what they set out to do every year--not just qualify--win the division. The AL east was on the line last night and they had come back to life after being pronounced dead in late June to make a run for the pennant. Jeter's single in a driving rain storm during a game that the umpires somehow overlooked the need to delay was and still is the set piece ready to be cued up with the Vangelis background music if the Yankees win it all. The Orioles have played them tough--have given them all they could handle all year--and will have a winning record regardless of the next two games.

Down three runs against the great Rivera in the ninth, they came back to tie it last night. Driving home late, I had no intention of tuning in but the game was on when the car sprang to life and I didn't turn it off. Bases loaded, two outs, and Jay Payton delivered a bases-clearing triple against Mariano. Game tied. With a jubilant September moon illumining the Potomac, Derek Jeter doubled to start the tenth. Here we go again. With one out, the Orioles loaded the bases by walking A-Rod and Matsui. Molina and Giambi popped up.

The Red Sox and a handful of fans in Fenway were watching with great interest. The pennant, one they had nearly relinquished to the bombers, hung in the balance.

Tike Redman sliced a one-out double into the left field corner. A wild pitch put him on third. "Now he has a multitiude of ways to score," Joe Angel said. The Yankees then walked Markakis and Tejada. Kevin Millar struck out. It was up to Melvin Mora. Melvin, in one of the most beautiful plays of the year, executed a perfect drag bunt down the third base line with two strikes to win the game.

New England erupted in celebration.

What could this team have been this year if the pitching had held up, if players like Gibbons and Hernandez continued to progress, and Tejada and Mora had remained true to form? As bad as they have been, the baseball gods have spared them the ultimate embarassment in 2007. They have had an awful time of it but their indiscretions may soon be eclipsed by the biggest collapse ever undertaken by the New York Mets.

Monday, September 17, 2007

Maybe Next Decade: The Markakis Years

Here is a picture my friend John Wells took of Cal's Cooperstown induction ceremony. The lawn is rife with Oriole fans in every direction. They are waiting for Cal to appear. Once could imagine this very same group of people surrounding Camden Yards, demanding a winning team.

Perhaps the next ten years will be more productive ones for the Baltimore Orioles. The last ten will be remembered for some of the worst relief pitching known to man, a rash of untimely hitting, and steroid abuse. We have the greatest ballpark in the major leagues and we've populated it with a revolving door of marginal and lackluster talent.

Over the past ten years, several moments have stood out. Cal retired and was inducted into the Hall of Fame. Mussina left for the Yankees. There was the Jack Cust belly-flop toward homeplate and the Todd Williams intentional walk that turned into a game winning hit by Miguel Cabrera. Armando Benitez beaned the Yankees. Sydney Ponson was more like a "monsoon" when it came to giving up runs and attacking tourists in Aruba. The Orioles acquired Miguel Tejada and have placed the burden of winning on his shoulders.

The team on the field and the front office have presented a very bad example for the city and its young people to follow and emulate. Ten year old children have never known a winning season. It's hard to fathom that players would rather play baseball in places like Detroit than in Baltimore. It boggles the mind that the organization would refuse to put the city's name on the jersey just to spite the fans. There is no accountability for the bad decisions that have been made.

We lack three essential elements for winning: 1.) Talent 2.) Integrity and 3.) Desire. Games were lost outright, thrown away, and blown by every conceivable method. This year we were no-hit, lost 30-3, and gave up five runs on Mother's Day. 2007 will likely be remembered as the season the Oriole ship hit bottom. The worst season ever. The only players who deserve to wear the uniform are: Bedard, Roberts, Guthrie, and Nick Markakis.

One future bright spot on this year's team is Markakis. He's hit over 20 homeruns and driven in 100 rbi. He has 11 outfield assists. The Markakis era is underway and it figures to be a prominent one for him. He can't do it alone.

On the Sunday afternoon of Cal's induction ceremony, Camden Yards was packed to watch the Orioles play the Yankees. Most of the fans in attendance were Yankee fans. I wondered how many of the large contingent of Oriole fans in Cooperstown that day were there to pay homage to their hero and not to the current collection of players on the field. How many of those fans have give up on Peter Angelos and his ineptitude?

Its not easy being a fan.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Fenway South and Chin Music

I attended Friday night's loss to the Red Sox and witnessed Daniel Cabrera's meltdown. The melee that wasn't turned into the game that wasn't if you follow the Orioles. The team was lifeless and the fans reluctant to cheer with the boisterous Red Sox crowd expecting victory. The "Let's Go Red Sox" cheer during the "melee" was thought to be in poor taste by some. They have every right to make their point--they have earned it. They have an impressive team and one that wins with regularity. We do not. Our park has become a "preferred" destination for the opposition.

Cabrera and his fragile psyche must go. The incident reminded me of Armando Benitez throwing at the Yankees a few years back. It's time for him to move on. We don't need another hard-thrower who can't field his position or control his pitches and emotions. He was shown up for sure by Coco Crisp who goaded him into a costly balk but headhunting was not an appopriate response in this instance and never should be.

A few years back in the mid-nineties, Ben McDonald straightened things out with the Yankees. In an earlier game that year, Tim Leary had broken the wrist of Oriole catcher Chris Hoiles. Leary was also discovered to have been doctoring the ball that night when sandpaper fell out of his glove. I watched Ben McDonald hit Matt Nokes in the head at Yankee Stadium. Catchers are sometimes the target because they relay the signals, I guess. The ball knocked his helmet off and sent Nokes face down into the dirt where he lay for several minutes. Nokes received a concussion and McDonald struck out nine of the next twelve Yankee hitters after a shaky start. The Orioles won the game. McDonald backed up his actions. He delivered a message on behalf of the ball club and let his pitching take over from there.

Before we can take back the yard, we need players who possess character and talent.
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