Orioles Card "O" the Day

An intersection of two of my passions: baseball cards and the Baltimore Orioles. Updated daily?

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Nelson Cruz, 2014 Topps #453

With his fifth-inning solo shot off of Brandon McCarthy tonight, Nelson Cruz is the sixth player in Orioles history to hit 40 home runs in one season. He follows in the footsteps of Chris Davis, Rafael Palmeiro, Brady Anderson, Frank Robinson, and Jim Gentile. 107 RBI, 138 OPS+ (entering tonight's game). That, my friends, is eight million dollars well spent.

Monday, September 22, 2014

John Lowenstein, 1981 Donruss #235

You never know when and where you're going to run into a fellow Orioles fan. I spent this past weekend in Easton, PA (outside of Allentown), taking in Chikara Pro Wrestling's King of Trios event. It was three days and nearly nine hours of independent, family-friendly wrestling, highlighted by a 16-team tournament to crown the best three-man tag team. I spent some time catching up with long-distance friends and meeting new folks. On Saturday afternoon, Chikara held a fan conclave, which gave fans a chance to meet their favorite wrestlers, shop for merchandise, play board games and video games, and participate in trivia contests. There was even a talent show.

As I was wandering around the gymnasium where the conclave was held, I noticed Chikara ring announcer Gavin Loudspeaker making the rounds. He's just as dynamic a personality as the wrestlers themselves; he pops up at the beginning of each show in tight leather pants and a vest, usually accented by a bright, colorful scarf. He runs laps around ringside, greeting fans and jumping up on the ringside seats to whip the crowd into a frenzy before the matches begin. Anyhow, Gavin was dressed more casually than usual on Saturday afternoon, and his black Orioles tee caught my attention. When he had a free moment, I approached him and struck up a conversation. I told him that I'd been able to attend the team's division-clinching win last Tuesday, and that I already had my playoff tickets reserved. He actually came out from behind his table and gave me a hug. It turns out that Mr. Loudspeaker (which is most probably not his real name) is a lifelong O's fan, and he was at Memorial Stadium to see the team's Game Two win over the Phillies in the 1983 World Series. He was about 10 years old at the time, and was thrilled to see his team succeed on the largest stage possible. He would've seen John Lowenstein go 3-for-4 with a double and a solo homer in support of Mike Boddicker, who limited the Phillies to three hits in a complete-game effort.
There's a photo of Gavin and yours truly. As a postscript, he also performed an original song as an opener for the fan talent show. It consisted largely of the ring announcer strumming his guitar and continually repeating a refrain that the Orioles were going to the World Series. I hope he's right, and I hope I see him there.

Friday, September 19, 2014

Vintage Fridays: Jack Fisher, 1962 Topps #203

Whoever owned this card before me really wants you to know that "Fat Jack" Fisher was traded to the Giants in December of 1962. He was sent west with Jimmie Coker and Billy Hoeft in exchange for Mike McCormick, Stu Miller, and John Orsino. I almost wish that the card doctor had gone a step further and scrawled an interlocking "SF" on top the bird on Jack's cap. Maybe he or she could've scribbled "GIANTS" over the orange Orioles insignia on his jersey. There's no point in doing anything halfway.

I'm taking a powder for the weekend, but I'll be back on Monday. I always am.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Vladimir Guerrero, 2012 Topps #424

If you want to put the Orioles' amazing 2014 season in perspective, take a look at the box score from the O's-Angels game of September 18, 2011 - three years ago today. The Birds fell to 62-89 with an 11-2 loss to the Halos. Rookie Matt Angle, who hasn't sniffed the big leagues since, batted leadoff. Vlad Guerrero, who seemed like he was 36 years old going on 50, was the cleanup hitter. He actually drove in both Baltimore runs with the final triple and home run of his career. Josh Bell, the failed third base prospect, was in the six-hole. He's playing in South Korea now. The bottom third of the order was no masterpiece, either: Robert Andino at second base, rookie Kyle Hudson in left field, and catcher Craig Tatum. This was a team playing out the string, with six players in the lineup who are no longer major leaguers (some of whom really weren't even then). Then there were the motley half-dozen pitchers who came and went in that game: starter Alfredo Simon and relievers Brad Bergesen, Zach Phillips, Jason Berken, JoJo Reyes, and Jeremy Accardo. Only Simon is still playing in MLB, having had a surprising resurgence in Cincinnati. Paid attendance was 27,471 at Camden Yards, and I'm sure the actual number of butts in the seats was many fewer than that.

From 62-89 to 92-60 in three years. It'll make you shake your head.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Tommy Hunter, 2012 Topps Orioles Team Set #BALT10

In a season full of unlikely outcomes, it only makes sense that I passed through the gates of Oriole Park at Camden Yards early yesterday evening with every confidence that the team would win and clinch the American League East division crown for the first time since ER and Seinfeld were prime time TV staples. This despite the fact that the team was trotting out Ubaldo Jimenez for his first appearance since he bombed out of a mop-up relief appearance on August 31. Toronto's starting pitcher was none other than Drew Hutchison, who had flummoxed the O's in each of his previous six starts against them. It was a "reverse lock", I told my sister, only half-joking. Any matchup that seemed that lopsided couldn't turn out the way that everyone expected. Not in baseball...not for this team.

There was a palpable energy in the ballpark long before the first pitch was thrown. 35,297 fans filled Oriole Park to three-quarters capacity, quite a strong showing for a Tuesday night game in mid-September against a so-so Blue Jay squad. The Baltimore faithful bought over 10,000 walkup tickets in the 21 hours between Monday's final out and Tuesday's potential clincher. Everyone was yearning to celebrate, especially since the home-clincher scenario hadn't played out in Charm City in 45 years. On Twitter and Facebook, handfuls of my friends and acquaintances also acknowledged their own presence at the game. I saw friend and fellow card collector Ed out on Eutaw Street, trying to give away his extra seats. On the first-level concourse, my sister and I ran into our cousin, her father, and their significant others. More than any other game I've ever attended, this one put the "small" in "Smalltimore". We took our customary seats in Section 340, high above home plate with an excellent view of the entire field. As the lineups were introduced, Jose Reyes was lustily booed for inciting the Monday night fracas that led to Caleb Joseph ducking out of the way of a head-seeking Marcus Stroman fastball. I knew it would be a good, loud, engaged crowd; rarely do you hear loud fan response during pregame activities. Everyone in the Orioles' starting ten received a strong ovation, even the much-maligned Ubaldo. We were determined to wipe the slate clean and provide encouragement. A good performance in this high-stakes game, and much would be forgiven. The fan feedback continued through both national anthems, with loud cries of "O!" punctuating those interjections in "O, Canada" as well as "The Star-Spangled Banner". Baltimore was ready.

Jimenez, however, did not seem ready. Whether it was nerves, rust, or the familiar mechanical problems that have marked his rough first season in Birdland, the O's starter put the team in an early hole. It took him 30 pitches to dispatch the Jays in the first inning, with a Jose Bautista walk and an Edwin Encarnacion double plating that first Toronto run and leading to displeased murmurs from the crowd. The momentum seemed to swing as Ubaldo rallied to strike out Adam Lind and Danny Valencia, and the good vibes were flowing again when Steve Pearce solved Hutchison with a two-out, three-run homer to right-center field in the bottom of the inning (coincidentally, his first-ever opposite-field shot in the majors). We cheered and clapped rhythmically as the Orioles' bargain-basement hero crossed home plate after his Earl Weaver special. It didn't seem like three runs would be enough, but it was a good start.

The top-of-the-first murmurs devolved into groans and scattered boos as Ubaldo's control completely abandoned him in the second inning. Three walks and a Reyes single sliced the Oriole lead to 3-2, and the O's righthander was approaching 60 pitches with the bases loaded, two outs, and the dangerous Encarnacion standing at bat. T. J. McFarland hurried to get ready in the bullpen, but Jimenez got EE to hit a harmless grounder to Jimmy Paredes at third base, and the lefty reliever sat back down. He wouldn't be needed until the sixth inning, because somehow our starting pitcher retired the last ten batters he faced and bowed out with 97 total pitches thrown. I had gone from restraining myself against my baser instincts to complain and boo to giving the man a standing ovation and joining in the fledgling chants of "U-BAL-DO!". Yet another surprise from the 2014 Orioles.

Meanwhile, substitute third baseman Paredes powered a solo homer just out of the reach of left fielder Kevin Pillar in the bottom of the second inning to push the advantage back to two runs at 4-2, but the O's bats went quiet for a while afterward. Since neither team was scoring, I maintained a good deal of confidence, but I felt anxious knowing that a walk and a big swing could tie the game. As each defensive inning came to a close, I turned to my sister and updated the outs-to-go countdown. Eighteen...fifteen...twelve...when there were ten outs remaining, I began counting down one-by-one on my fingers, much to the mingled amusement and annoyance of Liz.

The atmosphere became decidedly more celebratory after the seventh-inning stretch. (Thank God I'm a Country Boy!) Hutchison finally ran out of gas, allowing a Paredes single that took a bad hop on second baseman Ryan Goins. Ryan Flaherty hit a comebacker and the Jays pitcher hastily went for the out at second, throwing the ball wildly into center field. With runners on the corners, Nick Hundley struck out, but Toronto manager John Gibbons called for the bullpen. Reliever Aaron Loup's first pitch drilled Nick Markakis between the shoulder blades, much to the anger and dismay of everyone in orange and black. Nick shook it off and took his base, bringing up late-season acquisition Alejandro de Aza with the bases loaded. After working the count full, de Aza roped a line drive down the first base line and into the right field corner for a bases-clearing triple. 7-2, and suddenly victory was a near-certainty.

Darren O'Day, who was serenaded with the trademark "O-Dayyyyyy, O-Daaaaayyyyyy O-Daaaaayyyyy O-Daaaaaaaaayyyyyyy" chant both during and after his work on the mound (in my experience, the fans usually wait until he's done pitching) aimed a breaking ball squarely at Bautista's rear end in the top of the eighth inning, settling the score for Caleb Joseph and Markakis and earning warnings to both teams from the home plate umpire. He then got back to work, teaming with Andrew Miller to strike out the side. The O's loaded the bases again in the bottom of the eighth and settled for a Hundley sac fly that pushed the lead to 8-2. I tried to savor every moment, taking measured sips of my Natty Boh tallboy can so that I'd still have something left to drink after the final out was recorded. A family in the front row of our section had a clinching-themed banner and an oversized bottle of champagne made of cardboard and aluminum foil, complete with white balloons as bubbles. Speaking of balloons, black and orange ones started appearing in the section below us, as if conjured out of thin air.

Tommy Hunter shuffled in from the Orioles 'pen to get the last three outs. We rose to our feet, cameras and cell phones at the ready to record a historical moment. Valencia grounded a ball to Flaherty, now playing third base, on the first pitch.

One out.

John Mayberry, Jr. looped a ball into shallow right field, out of the reach of Steve Pearce. Delayed gratification.

Pinch hitter Dalton Pompey hit it down the left field line, and de Aza ranged over to make the grab.

Two outs. The noise swelled. The chants of "Let's Go O's!", which had been peppered throughout the game, took on an inevitable, fevered pitch.

Ryan Goins fell behind 1-2, then topped a Hunter pitch over first base. Pearce scooped it up, jogged forward, and stepped on the bag.

Bedlam. Balloons. Streamers. Fireworks. "2014 AL East Division Champions" in bold capital letters on the scoreboard. The players, coaches, staff, and families raced onto the field. The rest of us jumped, clapped, raised our hands to the air, screamed, cheered, hooted, embraced.

And that was just the beginning of the celebration.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Nick Markakis, 2008 Topps Year In Review #YR174

They did it. They really did it. The Orioles pounded the Blue Jays, 8-2, for their 91st win of the season. Their ninth win in the last ten games. The win that clinched their status as 2014 American League East Champions. The O's are on top of the East for the first time since 1997, and it's the first time they've celebrated a clinch with a home victory since 1969. I was there, and the celebration was still going when I reluctantly left at 11:00 PM. Crappy iPhone photos and game recap tomorrow. For now, I'm just thrilled for Nick Markakis, who endured six seasons of losing at the beginning of his career, only to be sidelined with a broken wrist when the Birds finally reached the postseason in 2012. (Thanks, CC Sabathia.) Now, he finally gets to participate in playoff baseball. I love this team. I love this season.

Monday, September 15, 2014

Brian Roberts, 2008 Topps Finest #104

And then there was one.

Last night's 3-2 walkoff win over the Yankees chopped the magic number to three, and tonight's contentious 5-2 victory over the Blue Jays knocked it down to one. The Orioles will take the field at 7:05 tomorrow evening with a chance to sew up their first American League East division crown since 1997. The Yankees have officially been eliminated with another low-scoring walkoff loss tonight, as Tampa Bay eked out a 1-0 win in the bottom of the ninth. That 1997 date keeps cropping up; that was also the last time that the O's finished ahead of New York in the standings. Tonight's winning pitcher was Wei-Yin Chen, whose record improves to a sterling 16-4. He is now the team's winningest lefthander since Jimmy Key in...1997.

A friend who is a Yankee fan (no, those are not mutually exclusive terms) was venting his frustrations on Twitter last night as manager Joe Girardi called upon a noticeably weary David Robertson to face the Birds for the third straight day. Robertson allowed doubles to three of the four Baltimore batters that he faced (Nelson Cruz, Steve Pearce, and Kelly Johnson) in blowing the save before an ESPN viewing audience. My friend noted that the Yankees were five games out of the wild card as of last night, and they've had an exceptionally poor season series against the Orioles. It's 11-4 in favor of the O's with four games remaining between the two in the Bronx next week. If the Yanks indeed miss out on the postseason, the Orioles will take their fair share of credit. It's been a long time coming.