Monday, June 17, 2013

Do They Even Watch the Game?




 (Picture from earlier this season.)


I've always tried to get some Orioles each year, even though there wasn't a lot of winning during the long, dark years from 1998-2011.   I saw some good ones -- a huge comeback win against the Blue Jays on July 4, 2003, a day so hot that I apparently almost stepped right in front of the Light Rail because my will to live was so low.  I saw a lot of bad ones:  Jack Cust, representing the tying run, falling twice between third and home; the Orioles losing despite Aubrey Huff's cycle; and many, many more.

I have the limits of what I can stand, though, and so I started to avoid games against the Yankees and Red Sox.  Not only were losses to these huge-payroll behemoths a virtual certainty, but often lovely Camden Yards would be taken over by obnoxious Yankees or Red Sox fans (and really, it's hard to tell the difference, even though they're such bitter rivals with each other.).  

In September 2011, the Orioles stopped being Boston's punching bag, winning 5 of 7 games versus the Red Sox that September, including "Game 162", to knock the Sox out of the playoffs.  Camden Yards was no longer "Fenway South", and if the Orioles' success against the Red Sox continue, we'll hopefully see ugly, decrepit Fenway Park (I kid.  Even I like Fenway, even though it's not a real stadium.) become "Camden Yards North" (I'm not kidding about that part.)

But anyway, all that aside now as I finally get to the point:  I took my wife, parents, and sister to an Orioles-Red Sox game at Camden Yards on Saturday.  The Orioles lost, the lone game they would drop in the four game series.  While there more Red Sox fans than I would have preferred at the Yard, orange vastly outnumbered red for the whole series. That was nice. However, I had two Sawx fans sitting behind me who I needed to comment on.   Meanwhile, I spent most of this game in the perfect Natty Boh induced comfort zone of straddling the line between being a jerk and not being a jerk.

The two Red Sox fans behind me were VERY surprised at the amount of boos that David Ortiz received. “We never booed Cal Ripken” they said.

At this point, I very loudly stated that “Cal Ripken was never implicated in the use of performance enhancing drugs. Cal Ripken didn’t stand there for 20 minutes and admire every home run that he ever hit. And Cal Ripken didn’t argue and whine every time a strike was called against him. Other than that, it’s exactly the same.”

Look, I get that Big Papi is their player and they're going to root for him.  And he's been a very good to great player for them for a long time.  And I'm sure he's a good guy off the field and it always seems like he's well-liked by other players in the league.  But how can they not see how he acts and understand that opposing fans don't like the guy. 

Later in the game, after the Sox fans returned from an approximately five-inning long absense, during which I speculated that they had food poisoning, and they commented negatively that Orioles fandom is known as "Birdland."  

"Yeah," I sage whispered , "Because 'Red Sox Nation' is soooo original and cool."  Unfortunately, they had the last laugh on this day, but I am more than happy with how this series, like all of the series against the Red Sox since September 2011, went.

Friday, October 05, 2012

And End to Suffering: Part 1

1997.

That's the last time the Orioles had finished a season with a winning record.  Optimism has waxed and waned many times in the years since then, though pitching prospects and steroid scandals and free agents and manager and front-office changes.  While other teams used huge payrolls to their advantages, other teams, such as the Tampa Bay (Devil) Rays and Oakland proved that with a smart front office and a great farm system, it was possible to compete.  Meanwhile, in Baltimore it seemed like the B&O Warehouse would crumble to dust before the Orioles contended again.

I was very optimistic prior to the 2011 season.  Despite playing spoiler at the end, I saw little reason that the 2012 Orioles would be better than their predecessors.  On paper, I'm still not certain that they are.

But these Orioles played a season that should be remembered forever in Baltimore, finishing 93-69 and qualifying for a one-game wildcard playoff against the Texas Rangers.  The won in explicable ways, posting a 26-7 record in one-run games and a 16-game winning streak in extra inning games that continues to this day.  Unlike the Oriole teams of the past 14 seasons, they were not a punching bag for the rest of the AL East, finishing with a 43-29 record against the division.  Their conversion of Fenway Park into "Camden Yards North", has been particularly satisfying to me, and it was a game at Fenway vs. the Red Sox earlier this year that provided me with my favorite moment of the season:

On Sunday, May 6, the Orioles were playing to complete a three-game sweep of the Red Sox.  In the 16th inning, with the score tied 6-6, the Orioles put Chris Davis, their DH that day, on the mound.  Davis had been 0-8 at the plate, but he was magical on the mound, throwing two scoreless innings with two strikeouts. With help from Adam Jones, JJ Hardy, and Matt Wieters, who gunned down Boston's winning run at the plate in the bottom of the 16th, Davis recorded the win after Adam Jones hit a 3-run homer off of Red Sox DH-turned-pitcher Darnell McDonald.  

I think that game, more than any other this season, epitomizes the 2012 Baltimore Orioles, who defied the odds all season long.  While this blog is more long-gone than Adam Jones home run, I couldn't let this magical season pass without recognizing and thanking the most fun Orioles team since 1989 and the best one since 1997.  You'll be remembered, 2012 Orioles.  Always.
 
They may indeed go into the light tonight, but they will not go quietly. May Orioles Magic last awhile longer; I am not ready for this adventure to end.


Thursday, September 29, 2011

They Still Exist

Of all the now 14 years of the Orioles streak of consecutive losing seasons, this has been one of the most disappointing. Under the leadership of Buck Showalter and behind an impressive performance by its core of young pitchers, the Orioles stormed to a strong finish at the close of 2010.

There was real reason for hope in 2011. That hope was tempered by realism -- I don't think anyone expected the Orioles to compete this season -- but a run at .500 and continued growth from the young players who needed to develop for the team to eventually -- down the road a year or two -- turn into a contender.

That didn't happen. Matusz, Britton, Arrieta, and Tillman all struggled with ineffectiveness or injury. Jeremy Guthrie, or "Guts" as he's effectively known, couldn't get any run support. Brian Roberts missed most of the year with concussion symptoms. Nick Markakis continued his inexplicable decline.

There were bright spots, such as J.J. Hardy's great season and the continued development of Matt Wieters, but not only did the O's underperform expectations for the season, it seemed as if the young nucleus of the pitching staff that looked so promising a year ago would go the way of Ainsworth, Riley, Dubose, Cabera, and so many others. The jewels of the O's farm system had been called up, they were not ready for prime time and there was little else in the farm system with hope of being a key contributor in Baltimore in the near future. There is, much more than a year ago, no end in sight to the losing.

Though the season was a clunker, the Orioles brought it to one hell of a finish last night, knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs with a two-run bottom of the ninth that along with a huge comeback by the Rays, will leave the much-hyped Red Sox sitting at home.

The Orioles were 5-2 record against Boston over the last two series and cemented their role as spoilers. As Nolan Reimold slid home after Robert Andino's soft line drive to left field, which dropped just under the glove of high-priced free agent acquisition Carl Crawford, the O's players and fans reacted as if a playoff game had just been won. Moments later, the Rays won and a historic collapse by the hated Red Sox was complete.

For years, Red Sox fans have shown up in Baltimore with their "Fenway South" signs and their "Let's go Red Sox chants" and their arrogance. Last night, they were sent home packing.

The 2011 Orioles weren't especially good at baseball by major-league standards. But they played hard for 162 games and they didn't quit. And for one night only, it seemed like Orioles Magic was back.

Thanks for the memories, guys. Whether or not they're a better team, I'll be a better fan in 2012. Contention may still be a long way off, but there's something to be said for the spoilers, too.

While the O's briefly returned to relevance, I still think a permanent return of Orioles Update is probably not in the cards. But you never know what spring training will bring...

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Smell You Later...

I'll always be an Orioles fan, but I just don't have the desire to write about this team anymore. 13 consecutive seasons of awful, going on 14, is just too long. Finding interesting ways to lose isn't interesting.

Goodnight, Orioles. Screw you, Kevin Gregg.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Undercover Orioles Fan

Undercover Orioles Fan ate some bad pizza but watched a pretty good Phillies game last night at Citizens Bank Park, but missed an even better Orioles game.

As I mentioned, on paper the matchup of James Shields vs. Chris Tillman favored the Rays. And indeed, although Shields kept the Orioles off the board for seven innings, Tillman was up to the task. Tracking on my (non-smart) phone, I noticed that Tillman had no-hit the Rays through six innings, before being pulled with 101 pitches for Jeremy Accardo, who would promptly surrender the no-hitter yet preserve the shutout on the strength of a great throw from left by Felix Pie and a block at the plate by Matt Wieters. Wieters as a hitter hasn't lived up to the hype, but his skills in calling a game and blocking the plate have been considerably lauded in his short career. Hopefully, greatness still lies ahead.

The Orioles got two runners on against Shields in the eighth, and Brian Roberts rudely greeted reliever Jake McGee with a three-run homer to give the Orioles a lead they would not surrender.

But, oh, how they would try. I'm not sure if I'm happy that I didn't see this until later, when I was sure of the result, or if I would have loved to watch it live -- when I might have had a heart attack but then would have been in Orioles Heaven (like regular Heaven, but with more orange) enjoying this moment:

Kevin Gregg -- the Orioles new and very suspect closer -- starts allowing baserunners . Sent in to hold a 3-1 lead, he gives up a single to BJ Upton, who is erased in a fielder's choice by Matt Joyce, then walking Kelly Shoppach to leave two on. He strikes out Elliot Johnson for the 2nd out. Ben Zobrist is at the plate, and he does not miss the first pitch. Crushed to deep right, this is going to tie the game, except Nick Markakis makes the play of the night (according to MLB Network's Quick Pitch) with an outstanding leaping catch at the wall that. Watch and listen to Gary Thorne freaking out here:

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=13419047

As always, I am always cautious about overestimating early season results. The Orioles still face long odds to finish above .500. But last season it took them eighteen games two get their second win. This season? Two.

Zach Britton: Finish them.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

1 Down, 161 to go.

Regretfully, I don't have time for a longer recap of yesterday's 4-1 win over the Rays. Jeremy Guthrie was dominant, and that's all you really need to know. Jim Johnson had a bit of a hiccup, giving up a solo home run in the 9th to Ben Zobrist, but then retired Johnny Damon, Evan Longoria, and Manny Ramirez to end the game. It's ok. No one knows who the closer is, anyway.

The new-look offense looked...well, kind of the same. Markakis and Roberts knocked in the runs, Vlad did contribute a single, and J.J. Hardy had a first good game as an O. To the team's credit, at first it looked like they would be completely overmatched David Price, but they hung in there and got enough runs for Guts to get the win.

Other than Guts' great performance, the big news is that Zach Britton is being called up to take Brian Matusz's place in the rotation as Matusz goes on the DL with a back injury. While this unfortunately starts the service time clock earlier than anyone not named Zach Britton would have liked, hopefully if he is the star he's projected to be, the O's will be able to get a long-term deal worked out, anyway. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves, say the ghosts of Matt Riley, Kurt Ainsworth, Eric Dubose, the Professor, and Maryann.

Tonight, Chris Tillman takes on James "Don't Call Me Jamie Anymore, You Jerks" Shields in another pitching matchup that favors the Rays on paper. I'll be watching via cell phone as I pull my "Undercover Orioles Fan" routine from the Phillies game. My baseball thoughts, as always, will be with the black and orange -- You don't need Cliff Lee when you have DERREK LEE.

Let's go O's!




Friday, April 01, 2011

Here We Go Again

Which way are the Baltimore Orioles going?

Are they taking a step toward respectability, or will this be another in a long line of disappointing seasons? Is the end in sight, or will another generation of prospects flame out without making its mark in Charm City.

The Orioles added some pieces, such as Mark Reynolds, Derrek Lee, and Vlad, in the offseason that will hopefully make this year more entertaining than the last 13 but are unlikely to be long-term solutions for the Orioles.

If you ask me, and if you're reading this, I guess you did, that's ok. I want to see this team be the perennial contender it was in the days of Weaver, halcyon days that are mostly before my time or beyond the reach of my memory. But in the short term, I feel like the string of 13 straight losing seasons has taken on a life of its own.

Obviously, I do not want to see Andy MacPhail mortgage the future -- whatever that means -- just to get to 82 wins. It's not worth trading away Zach Britton for the difference between 78 wins and 82, for example. But Lee and Vlad aren't blocking any great, or even especially promising young prospects. There was not much real risk to the Orioles in signing them, but if it helps them get to 82 -- even 81 wins, I think the reward will have been great. The beast must die.

If the O's do improve their record, however, it likely will have more to do with the growth of younger Orioles like Matt Wieters, Adam Jones, Brian Matusz, Jake Arrieta, and Chris Tillman, and (currently AAA-bound) Nolan Riemold. Will these guys take the next step?

If they do, I think this is an 82-win team. And right now, that'll do. The Orioles played well last year once Buck Showalter was hired, maintaining the best record in the division over that time. It's probably a stretch, though, to believe that they can play that well over a full season.

But, it's Opening Day, and who knows? Why not...