Saturday, May 26, 2012

Orioles beat Royals: Section 96. Row 12. Seat 14.

We're entering the part of the season when I could spend every night on Eutaw Street. Last night was no exception  as I sat in right center, at the still point of the Camden Yards universe and watched the Orioles solve Bruce Chen en route to a 8-2 win.

It was a great vantage point that allowed me to watch seeing-eye singles and doubles in the gap coming toward me.

This past week, the Birds dropped two of three to the Red Sox--but there were more important developments than wins and losses. Brian Roberts began his rehab assignment in Bowie and with the week coming to a close, various sources reported that Adam Jones had received a new contract.

Wednesday's finale against the Bosox, the end of a 20-games in 20-days stretch featured Luis Exposito (.059), Ryan Flaherty (.206) and Nick Johnson (.206) in the starting line-up. Johnson hit two home runs.

Last night, Jason Hammel pitched very well for six innings and the Orioles unlocked the secrets of Bruce Chen's wizardry in the 5th, putting up five runs to lead 6-0. In the inning, something happened I've never seen before. Avery and Andino were both caught in run downs and both somehow avoided the tag at second. Markakis doubled to the wall and Jones singled him in. Nick is swinging a hot and patient bat right now.

In the bleachers, fans heckled Royal right fielder Jeff Francoeur throughout the whole game. "Frenchy" as he is called responded with a two-run homer. It was a raucous orange-clad crowd that filled most of the stadium but not the mezzanine.

It's Memorial Day weekend and we are in first place. 11,000 walk-ups attended last night's contest. Get out to Camden Yards--there is no better place to see the game being played.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Two Game Losing Streak

The Orioles lost to the Nats (9-3) on Sunday and to the Red Sox (8-6) last night after leading in both games early.

Both the Red Sox and the Nationals are good teams who can score runs and who know the Orioles can no longer be overlooked.

Baseball is a methodical and punishing one-day-at-a-time game over the long haul.

With some lingering injuries and a starting pitching rotation that has some chinks in its armor, the Orioles will need to weather the storm. Help is on the way in the form of pitcher Zach Britton and Nolan Reimold but this is something all teams will go through.  Their ultimate success will depend on who is down on the farm ready to contribute.
The Red Sox and the Yankees will not dwell in the cellar all season.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Orioles Drop Nats Again, 6-4

The Orioles have been in the same position as the Nats were tonight many times over the last decade.

Down early by a large number of runs against a good team and we start to come back only to run into the buzz saw of the opponent's relievers and not quite get the job done.  The Nats had their chances tonight, but no cigar.

We lost this game many times over the past 14 years but tonight we were the team that wouldn't give in--that closed out the Nationals who had cut the lead to one. We now have a difficult assortment of relievers for the other team solve--different styles and strengths--some side-arm, some junk, some heat, some Strop.

Make no mistake, Washington does not in any way resemble Oriole teams of the recent past. They are talented, young, and hungry like we are---but the Orioles have been a little better these last two nights.

Adam Jones homered. Nick Markakis followed suit and the Orioles led 6-0.  Hammel was untouchable early and then ran out of gas. We slid by on Ayala and Patton. The Nationals came all the way back but we shut the door, 6-5. We have not given away many games this year. Johnson recorded his 15th save and the Orioles are 27-14.

What makes this group different from Oriole teams with losing records over the last 14 years?

There is a blueprint that Buck Showalter is quietly following. This team is very much like his Yankee teams and those of Joe Torre who succeeded him.

Adam Jones resembles a young Bernie Williams. Nick Markakis possesses the quiet competitive fury of Paul O'Neill.  Jim Johnson is emerging as a definitive closer similar to the rise of Mariano Rivera.

Those Yankees didn't have a Matt Wieters or anything close. Showalter won a lot of games with guys like Mike Gallego and Luis Polonia--role players who can get the job done. So did Earl Weaver.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Orioles Edge Nats, 2-1

It was a nail biter for the first of three against the cross-parkway rivals in the nation's capitol. I really wish they would have moved the Nationals Park-style Hilton with a cherry-red logo over there so we could still glimpse the Bromo Tower but I digress.

Sure, they have Davey Johnson as manager and that kind of hurts but this is shaping up as one of the best places to be this summer for baseball action.

Each team has exciting young players who are impacting the game. The Nats have Harper, Strasburgh, Desond, Espinosa and Zimmerman. We have Jones, Hardy, Markakis and Wieters. Each team had the best record in baseball going in. Meaningful baseball games are being played in May.

The Oriole starting pitchers and relief corps won tonight's extra-inning affair. Arrieta's one mistake to Ian Desmond tied the score at 1-1 and it looked like the Nats had gained momentum but the Orioles kept grinding as Buck likes to say and a towering drive by Nick Markakis in the 11th gave us the lead for good.

I remember the Senators growing up and the feelings of injustice I felt when they were moved to Texas. It my first taste of sports teams moving that got catastrophically worse when the Colts left. I liked Toby Harrah and Frank Howard and the Senators never posed much of a threat to the Orioles but I was closer to them than any other team. It was sad to see them go.

I knew many O's fans when I lived in DC who converted to the Nats. I wonder if they are switching back now--or adopting both teams.  It doesn't get any better than Showalter and Johnson going head to head.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Orioles win 24th game in 15 innings

I put the kids to bed hours ago, when the Royals looked to be threatening to break the scoreless tie.  I had a bad feeling about the inning and the game.  Kansas City has been playing well and they took a 2-0 lead. 

I returned after tucking in my daughter to the radio feed and listened as we clawed our way back into the game. There is nothing like baseball on the radio. Joe Angel's voice broke the silence of an ocean side townhouse with the rest of my family asleep and I hung on every word.  It's mainly backdrop for reading time unless things get interesting--and they did.

A couple of doubles in the eighth cut the lead to 2-1. But the Royals added an insurance run to go up 3-1. Betemit homered in the ninth to get us within a run and, with two outs and the crowd on their feet ready to celebrate a Royal victory, J..J. Hardy singled in the tying run from second. Flaherty slid in underneath the tag.

The Orioles needed six more innings to break the tie. The relievers put the clamps on the Royals and Adam Jones blasted a home run to left in the 15th.  Jim Johnson shut them down but not without putting a runner on--making it interesting.

Kevin Gregg and Dana Eveland stifled the Royal hitters, and they did the same to us.

We're playing like we have a chance to win every game. We're playing like Buck's Yankees of the early 90s or the Orioles in the 70s. You don't know exactly who is going to make it happen--but you get the sense that someone will.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Chen Defeats Yankees and Their Fans, 5-2

Few things in life give me as much pleasure as watching the Orioles beat the Yankees. It doesn't happen often enough and frankly it shouldn't happen with the talent level that the Bronx Bombers put on the field--even with a revitalized Oriole team, the Yanks have a few more weapons.

But it happened tonight, despite a Yankee fan interfering with a ball that ended up being a home run by Curtis Granderson and could possibly have been caught.  It might have also changed the complexion of the game if the Orioles hadn't pitched well and made a couple of sharp double plays to seal the victory. The play wasn't reviewed--but it should not be tolerated.

There was the Jeffrey Maier incident in the playoffs in 1996 and one a few years before that with Ben McDonald on the hill and Mark McLemore in right. I was at Yankee Stadium that day and had a clear view of the fan reaching over to deny McLemore the chance to make the catch on a Mattingly blast. Yanks win 2-1 on that play. A few weeks ago, interference was called and it hurt Tampa Bay when a person wearing a Yankee jersey interfered with a Yankee outfielder reducing a Ray home run to a double.

I don't attend baseball games to make plays but to watch my favorite sport. I'm not interested in altering the outcome.

It wasn't enough to deter the Taiwanese phenom Wei-Yin Chen from winning his 4th game. Adam Jones continues his monstrous season with his 11th home run and J.J. Hardy slammed a double to extend the lead.

The message boards lit up today with posts about the Yankees getting more than their fair share of calls during this series. Usually, the umps are dismal for both sides and this year is no exception but a scenario exists that would suggest that baseball needs the Yankees to excel.

They are baseball's bank--the Goldman Sachs of the major leagues. If you include the YES Network, the Yankees are worth $5 billion. A bad Yankee team significantly tilts the scales of revenues for the entire game. A bad Yankee team denies your city a solid stretch of revenues when they come to town with their glove-wielding, entitled fans. Baseball can't exist on Dodgers and Red Sox fans alone. The game desperately needs the Yankees to do well--because as the largest bank in baseball--they cannot fail.

I would like to think they are Derek Jeter's team but more and more to me they are a dispassionate collection of smug and arrogant athletes personified by Alex Rodriguez. As for the baseball side of it, there is plenty to admire in their pursuit of winning but they are store bought and boring.

And remember, it was a baby-faced behemoth from Baltimore that put them on the map.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Pitching, Home Runs and No Defense

I was driving down to Topsail Island yesterday and trying to find a signal for the finale against the Rays.  Two North Carolina towns carry the O's: Washington and Goldsboro. Driving through Mt. Olive--known for its pickles--I could barely hear through the static as the Rays took a 7-1 lead.

It was dead for the next twenty miles or so and when the signal came back I learned Wieters had just hit a home run to cut the lead to 7-4.  It was only the bottom of the 6th and we had a chance. My wife pulled up the "game tracker" from ESPN--something akin to baseball's version of digital pinball.

Poultry farms rolled past on Rt. 117 and suddenly it was 7-6. Then 8-6 Rays. Then 9-6.

On the beach, I received the final verdict, Orioles lose 9-8. It was Wieters with a chance to win the game. He hit a hard grounder to third that nearly found the outfield grass.

Today, I sprang for the web radio option.

With the Yankees in town for the first of two games tonight, the Orioles jumped out to a 2-0 lead and after a booted double play ball, trailed 3-2 against Ivan Nova whose breaking pitch dives like the bonzai pipeline. Another mishandled grounder allowed the Yankees to tie it 5-5 and Texeira homered to give them a 7-5 lead.

The Yankees have way too much talent to be gifted outs--especially two double play grounders--and they made the Orioles pay as they usually do.

The most exciting thing that's happened to the O's in years is Xavier Avery who was called up yesterday. He can fly and has doubled and tripled tonight.

The young pitchers have been somewhat erratic and the defense shaky in key situations--with 35 errors already. More than 20 roster moves have been made thus far.

How long can pitching, home runs and sloppy defense keep you in the win column? We'll see.

There's no point in having any long-term expectations.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Wieters is Carlton Fisk

The Orioles have defeated the Rays in the first two games of a series that is being played for first place in the division and they have the chance to sweep Tampa Bay tomorrow. The town is energized by the Orioles. Driving around the city today, I saw many fans wearing the orange and black. There is nothing better than an Oriole summer when the team plays well and this year is shaping up that way.

Looking ready for retirement or the scrap heap, Nick Johnson rose from the dead and homered on Friday night to give the Orioles the lead and even stole a base in the 4-3 victory. The Orioles sent Dana Eveland to the mound, a Houdini junk-baller who narrowly escaped having any Ray batter hitting one of his pitches to Cleveland.

There was one play that changed the game last night and it will not be forgotten for a long time.

Eveland was in trouble and gave up a bases loaded double that hit the wall just above Markakis' glove. Nick grabbed it on a bounce and hit the relay man, Robert Andino who threw a perfect strike to the plate.

Sean Rodriguez arrived with the ball and pummeled Matt Wieters with his forearm to the neck and jaw in a violent collision. When the dust cleared and Wieters, bleeding from his lip and ear, nonchalantly held up the ball--Rodriguez was out. It evoked memories of Pete Rose taking out catcher Ray Fosse in an all-star game in the seventies. The collision changed the complexion of the game and may have legitimized the season as anything but a fluke.

Wieter stood up and was examined by Showalter and Bancell's before going back to his position behind the plate. He is becoming the cornerstone of the Orioles just as Carlton Fisk anchored the Red Sox and the White Sox.

Tonight, the game was a sloppy, error-filled affair with the Orioles once again prevailing, 5-3. Steve Tolleson who recently arrived from AAA Norfolk ripped a double and Bill Hall, a Saturday call-up, hit a home run. These guys look like the Orioles of old. Tolleson wears Paul Blair's number (6) and reminds me of Rich Dauer. It doesn't matter, this is the quintessence of the Oriole way--whomever steps in, produces.     

They've committed more errors, struck out more than any other team, and have hit the most home runs. It's May 12th and they are in first place. I can't wait until tomorrow's game.

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Texas Chainsaw Masscare

The Orioles have been brutalized by the Rangers in the first two games of the series by a combined score of 24-6.

The Rangers may be the best team in baseball. The Yankees are good, maybe even great. The Rays are also very talented, but the Rangers have it all.

They came within a fly ball out of winning the World Series last year and they are making teams pay for not sealing the deal.  They play with the intensity of their principal owner, Nolan Ryan who has tossed out pitch counts and other things in favor of hard-nosed smash-mouth baseball.

Josh Hamilton hit four runs last night. The last person to do that against the Orioles was Rocky Colavito in 1959. Their pitcher, Neftali Feliz hurled 98 mile-an-hour heat at the Birds hitters.
The Orioles have returned to earth. 

Sunday, May 06, 2012

The Best Record in Baseball

The 2012 Orioles won their 19th baseball game today against the Red Sox and have the best record in baseball at 19-9.

Number 19 is a symbolic number for Baltimoreans. John Unitas wore it. Dave McNally hurled fastballs with it on his back, and today Chris Davis, number nineteen, the Oriole first baseman found himself on the mound pitching the 16 and 17th innings.

After striking out 5 times and hitting into a double play, he won the 19th game of the year as a pitcher.

It was a strange game. With a 5-0 lead, you might have thought you could have turned it off. But 14 years of losing are still on the tongue and you know that Tommy Hunter in a shoebox like Fenway is one pitch away from giving up four runs or more. He pitches to contact and the park's small dimensions make it more challenging to keep the ball in the park.

It was 5-5 and then stayed 6-6 for a long time, from the 8th inning until the 17th. With Davis on the mound, the Red Sox had a chance to win it in the sixteenth but an Adam Jones relay throw to J.J. Hardy to Wieters cut down Marlon Byrd trying to score.

The Sox sent in outfielder Darnell McDonald to pitch. It was the first time since 1925 that two position players were pressed into service as pitchers.

It was Jones again who clubbed a batting practice pitch over the green monster. He did something similar on Saturday off of Aaron Cook. It went all the way out of Fenway. Frank Robinson hit a ball out of Memorial Stadium the day my brother was baptized, May 8th, 1966. On Saturday, my daughter received her first holy communion.

The most impressive thing to me is that neither team wanted to lose the game and ended up playing twelve extra innings in the series.

Adam Jones looks like a young Frank Robinson, J..J. Hardy, a young Davey Johnson, and Buck Showalter--Earl Weaver.

Fear the cartoon Bird.

Saturday, May 05, 2012

Oriole Alchemy

The Orioles defeated the Red Sox last night 6-4 in 13 innings. They'd just finished beating the Yankees 2 out of 3 in New York.

With 25 games in the books, they have a 17-9 record.

Over the last 14 seasons, there have been few instances of optimism--but this year feels different.

They overcame errors early in the game and deficits to knot the score at 4 in the 7th. It was the bullpen that outlasted the Red Sox for seven scoreless innings. In previous seasons, the bullpen demoralized the team with ugly losses in the first two months of the year.

The 2012 Orioles resemble the teams of the 70s--not many superstars--but a potent mixture of players and scrap metal that work well together.

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