This is turning into a week for rookies of an advanced age. Last night, the Orioles turned to a guy who was roughly Plan G for the open spot in their threadbare starting rotation: Chris Waters. Waters was a 2000 draft pick of the Atlanta Braves, a lefty whose career was sidetracked by injuries in 2004. He didn't even sniff Triple-A until 2007, and after a 5-0 start at AA Bowie this season, he had some pretty ugly overall numbers at AAA Norfolk (5.70 ERA). Yet this was the man chosen to start a road game against the team with the best record in the major leagues. It's bizarrely fitting that Waters, who turns 28 in two weeks, would debut with eight innings of one-hit ball, combining with George Sherrill for the Birds' first shutout since April. It was like the perfect storm: Chris turned in the best first start for an Oriole since Bob Milacki in 1988, and only six pitchers in the past 50 years have debuted with an eight-plus inning, one-hit performance.
Today's long-time-coming moment belonged to Lou Montanez, an outfielder recalled in the midst of a Triple Crown campaign at AA Bowie. He's taken Adam Jones' roster spot, a bittersweet development. (Jones broke a bone in his foot and his very fine season may be over.) Montanez, like Waters, was drafted eight years ago and has barely played at AAA, much less the majors. At 26 years old, it's now or never for Lou. Faced with trying to top Waters' first impression, the native of Puerto Rico clubbed a home run in his very first at bat this afternoon. He later singled and scored on a Nick Markakis longball. Montanez is the first position player in O's history to go deep in his first MLB at-bat. (Pitcher Buster Narum managed the feat in May of 1963.) The next Orioles rookie to join the team has one heck of an act to follow!
I followed the game discussion at Camden Chat, and with a minor-league veteran making the start, it's only right that the name of Jeff Manto was mentioned. The former third baseman logged so much time riding buses, the Indians' AAA Buffalo Bisons club actually retired his jersey number (#30). He was a multiple-time minor league MVP, but by the time he fell into a starting role with the 1995 Orioles, he was a 30-year-old with barely 200 big league at-bats to his name. He went on a brief home run tear, including tying a league record with roundtrippers in four consecutive at-bats. That summer, I made my first (and to date, only) trip to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York, and Manto's bat was on display. He ended the year with 17 home runs, more than half of his career total of 31. "Super Manto" came and went in just one year, but nearly fifteen years later, he hasn't been forgotten. I'd love to see Chris Waters and Lou Montanez prove that they're late bloomers, rather than flashes in the pan. They'll have a shot in the coming days and weeks.