Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Brian Matusz, 2012 Topps Mini #84

If you need to know how far Brian Matusz has fallen, just look at yesterday's transactions. The Orioles traded the former number four overall draft pick to the last-place Braves along with a competitive balance draft pick, netting two minor league pitchers in return. Atlanta immediately designated Matusz for assignment, so they effectively paid the O's the $3 million left on the lefty's contract just to get the extra draft pick.

Brian has been something of a whipping boy for Baltimore fans, including yours truly. I may or may not have dubbed him "Sad Giraffe". But although he never lived up to his initial potential, Matusz did start off promisingly enough: 15-14 with a 4.37 ERA (97 ERA+) and 7.4 K/9 IP in 40 starts in 2009-10. Then, from late 2012 through 2015, he was a decent lefty specialist. Brian also famously held David Ortiz to four hits and one walk in 30 plate appearances, while striking him out 13 times, for a batting line of .138/.167/.241. But something about Matusz allowing 18 base runners in six innings across seven appearances this year caused Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette to lose faith in him, and now he's a free agent. Hopefully he lands on his feet elsewhere.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Matt Wieters, 2013 Panini Pinnacle #59

Can we talk about what Matt Wieters did on his 30th birthday Saturday night? Things looked pretty dire for the Orioles offensively all night, as Angels starter Matt Shoemaker and his 8.49 ERA shut them down into the eighth inning on just three hits. The O's whiffed 12 times against Shoemaker, didn't draw any walks, and put nobody on base until Wieters doubled with two outs in the fifth inning. It looked like Kevin Gausman would be saddled with a hard-luck loss after the O's righty gave up a two-out single to Yunel Escobar in the home half of the seventh for the game's only run. Angels closer Joe Smith quickly notched two outs in the top of the ninth, but the Birds clung to life as Chris Davis grounded a single through the middle of the infield and Mark Trumbo drew a full-count walk. That brought Wieters to the plate, and he jumped on the second pitch he saw from Smith. Earl Weaver Special, Orioles take a 3-1 lead, and that would be the final score despite an unusually wild performance by Zach Britton in the bottom of the ninth. It's always a special thrill to pull out a victory at the last possible moment.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Benny Ayala, 1980 Topps #262

Things you might like to know about Benny Ayala:

-His birth name is Benigno.

-He made his major league debut on August 27, 1974 with the New York Mets, and hit a home run against Astros pitcher Tom Griffin in his first career at-bat. He was the first player in Mets history - and the first native of Puerto Rico - to perform that feat.

-Benny never played more than 76 games in one season, and topped out at 191 plate appearances, reaching both milestones in 1980 with the Orioles. That year he posted a 127 OPS+ on the strength of a .265/.335/.500 batting line, as he popped 10 homers and drove in 33 runs in a limited role.

-He batted only twice in the 1983 postseason, and drove in a run in each plate appearance: in the Game Four clincher in the ALCS, he had a pinch-hit sacrifice fly in the tenth inning to bring home the Orioles' third and final run. Ayala also batted for Jim Palmer in the top of the seventh inning in Game Three of the World Series, and delivered a game-tying single against Hall of Famer Steve Carlton. He also scored the eventual winning run on an error by Phillies shortstop Ivan de Jesus.

-In recent years, Benny has focused on helping his fellow Puerto Rican ex-big leaguers as part of the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT). He helps former players to acquire pensions, health insurance, instructional jobs, and more.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brooks Robinson, 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes #178

You know what they say: you only turn 79 once.

What, you've never heard that one? Oh. Well, anyway, happy birthday, Brooksie! It's been a pleasure to have you in our lives for another year. Thank you for helping to make Baltimore the town that it is.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jon Knott, 2007 Topps Chrome Xfractor #282

This is an Xfractor, which translates to "shiny cubes amounting to a whole lot of nothing". Imagine forking out your money for a pack of Topps Chrome, pulling one of these parallels (one per three packs), and realizing that it's a 28-year-old journeyman rookie. It seems like ancient history now, but I swear I can remember there being some buzz around Jon Knott in the spring of 2007. That tells you all that you need to know about those bad old days. Knott was a corner outfielder who signed with the Padres as an undrafted free agent in 2001 after hitting 51 home runs in four years at Mississippi State University. He had cups of coffee in San Diego in 2004 and 2006, and in the latter year led the AAA Pacific Coast League with 32 homers and 113 RBI for the Portland Beavers. It was his third go-around in the league, of course. The Padres let Jon walk as a free agent that offseason, so his stock wasn't exactly high. After signing with the Orioles, Knott batted .289/.341/.579 in 41 Grapefruit League plate appearances. He had three short stints in Baltimore throughout that season, and started with a bang, bashing a pinch-hit three-run homer in his O's debut on April 17, 2007. That earned him a start in left field the next day, and he had two singles and a walk in four trips to the plate, scoring twice. But then he was sent back to AAA Norfolk until late June. He played only five games spanning his next two callups, going 0-for-10 with three walks and a sac fly. That concluded his big league career, as Knott spent 2008 in AAA with the Twins and Phillies and bounced around three professional leagues in 2009 (Atlantic, Mexican, and Pacific Coast) before calling it a career. But hey, that is one shiny card.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kevin Gregg, 2012 Topps #326

On September 14, 2012, the Orioles lost to the Athletics, 3-2. That left them with an 81-63 record, and the quest for their first winning season since 1997 was delayed for another day. Though they were tied with the Yankees for first place in the American League East, the O's were still fighting for their postseason lives. That day, the team made a wise and long-overdue move, cutting ties with failed closer Kevin Gregg. With that meathead in their rear view mirror, the Birds finished strong at 12-6 and clinched a wild card. They upended the defending AL champion Rangers in the playoffs before losing a closely-contested ALDS to New York, and haven't had another losing season in the ensuing years. There was an AL East crown and an ALCS berth in 2014, and the O's are again on top as they near the quarter mark of the 2016 season. I'm sure they owe most of this good fortune to their divorce from that meathead Gregg. After all, correlation equals causation, right?

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Leo Gomez, 1991 Fleer Ultra #16

Before Leo Gomez settled on his customary uniform number 10, he wore #11 briefly with the Orioles. In an awkward segue, 11 is also the number of chemotherapy treatments that my wife Janet has remaining. Two days ago, she had her first treatment of the second round of chemo drugs - Taxol, in this case. So far, the side effects are significantly less harsh than they were with the first combo of A-C meds (Adriamycin and Cytoxan). So hopefully she won't face too many additional hardships as we prepare for the birth of our child and those intensive early weeks of parenthood. There has been one excellent piece of news in the meantime: at Janet's pre-chemo checkup on Friday, the physician's assistant couldn't find any traces of the tumor in her breast by touch. We are winning this fight.

It's been about two and a half months since Janet was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, and I'm still trying to take stock of everything. I poured out a great deal of my thoughts in a post over at Janet's blog, and if you'd like to read that sort of thing, you can do so here. Thanks once again for your support, prayers, and positive thoughts and words.