Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Bob Melvin, 1991 Donruss #335

It's past my bedtime, and I'm glued to the American League Wild Card Game on my television. In the bottom of the ninth, Bob Melvin's Athletics are trying to close out a 7-6 win over Jeremy Guthrie's Royals. I have no real stakes in this game, but I can't stop watching. The playoffs have just begun. I might be a wreck by the time the weekend gets here...

Monday, September 29, 2014

Mike Devereaux, 1991 Stadium Club #555

"Good evening, and welcome to 'The Mike Devereaux Show'! Tonight we have two special guests who will be sitting down to chat with Devo: Sam Horn and Leo Gomez! It's sure to be a fantastic show, and...what's that? Tonight's episode has been cancelled due to total lack of interest. Well, that's too bad. Thanks for tuning in anyway!"

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Mickey Tettleton, 1989 Score #358

162 games are in the books, and the playoff matchups are set. Here in Baltimore, we'll be hosting the Detroit Tigers on Thursday in the American League Division Series. People are going to go gaga over the guys from the Motor City because they have big names in their starting rotation: Max Scherzer, David Price, Justin Verlander. That's great, but Chris Tillman, Wei-Yin Chen, Bud Norris, and Miguel Gonzalez are all having quite good seasons in their own right. Detroit beat the O's five times in six meetings this season, but those games were all in April, and each team moved in a different direction as the year wore on. The Orioles were the club that left their division rivals in the dust, finishing 96-66 and  wrapping up the AL East crown with 11 games left to play. The Tigers frittered away a seven-game lead in the Central on two separate occasions, and had to wait until today's regular season finale to pop the champagne. I like our chances.

To put it another way, the Birds gave away Mickey Tettleton to the Tigers in January 1991. There won't be any more gifts this October.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Cal Ripken Jr., 2009 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions Preview #GCP-11

I visited my parents this evening, and my father suggested that I've been "mailing it in" with some of my recent blog posts. Can you believe that? I mean, if I were giving less than a full effort, I would probably just grab the first Cal Ripken card I could find for tonight's entry, since I have hundreds of cards of the Iron Man. It doesn't take a lot of heavy lifting to spit out a few thoughts about the Iron Man.

If I were really on auto-pilot, I would deflect attention from myself by pointing out that the Orioles have been sleepwalking through the past week, losing series to the inferior Red Sox and Blue Jays and splitting with the zombified Yankees. They've been firmly locked into the second division champion seed in the American League for a while, so they're resting key players and giving significant field time to the Steve Clevengers and Alexi Casillas and Evan Meeks of the world, to ensure that they've got a reasonably healthy 25-man roster when the ALDS begins on Thursday. I don't blame them, but it doesn't inspire many wise words from yours truly.

Or maybe I could talk about the slapdash portrait of Cal Junior on this five-year-old Upper Deck card. It's meant to depict the youthful O's shortstop circa 1983, when he was the AL MVP and helped lead Baltimore to their third World Series crown. Yet number 8 looks haggard - deep bags under his eyes, heavy creases lining his face. He bears a stronger resemblance to Sir Anthony Hopkins than to Ripken. Also, what kind of baseball field is that? From the angle of the picture and the curvature of the infield dirt, it looks like Cal's playing second base.

So yeah...everyone's a critic.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Vintage Fridays: Dave McNally, 1966 Topps #193

On this date in 1962, Dave McNally took the mound as a major leaguer for the first time, making a late-season start in the opener of a doubleheader for the seventh-place Orioles against the visiting ninth-place Athletics. In other words, the few fans in attendance at Memorial Stadium had no reason to expect that they were witnessing something special. The O's scratched out a pair of second-inning runs off of Kansas City starter Bill Fischer, but couldn't muster anything else against him in seven innings. Luckily, the rookie Baltimore pitcher didn't need much support from his offense. After a few bumps in the early innings, McNally found his groove. A fourth-inning single by Ed Charles gave the A's runners on first and second with one out. From that point onward, Dave retired the last 17 batters he faced. Jerry Adair tacked on a solo home run off of Johnny Wyatt in the eighth inning to provide the final margin. 3-0 Orioles, as Dave McNally announced his presence with a two-hit, three-walk shutout. It was the first of 181 wins and 33 shutouts that the Montana native collected in orange and black. He's still the winningest lefty in team history, and also ranks first among O's southpaws in strikeouts and shutouts.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

B. J. Surhoff, 1996 Score Select #133

In exactly one week, I will be at Oriole Park at Camden Yards, watching Chris Tillman and the Orioles do their best to win the first game of the American League Division Series. Their opponent is not set in stone yet, but it's probably going to be the Detroit Tigers. Until then, I'll try to wait patiently.

One thing I can do to pass the time is search the video library on MLB.com. A few nights ago, I went searching for 1990s Orioles highlights. There were a few clips from Game One of the 1996 ALDS, the first postseason game in Baltimore in 13 years and the first ever at Camden Yards. It's a nice glimpse of the exciting atmosphere, and it should rekindle some warm memories for O's fans.

The Wild Card-winning Birds outslugged the Indians 10-4, adding four home runs to their record-setting regular season total of 257. Brady Anderson kept up his improbable season with a leadoff home run off of Charles Nagy in the bottom of the first, only for Manny Ramirez to answer with his on leadoff blast against David Wells in the next half-inning. B. J. Surhoff's rebuttal came in the bottom of the second, a go-ahead solo shot to right-center field. The Orioles kept up the pressure in the third inning, with Rafael Palmeiro and Cal Ripken each adding a run-scoring hit. Wells gave both runs right back, and then things cooled off for a few innings.

In the bottom of the sixth, Baltimore chased Nagy with two walks sandwiched around a single. Alan Embree came out of the Tribe bullpen and got Roberto Alomar to hit a shallow fly ball for the second out, but Chris Hoiles tagged and scored the fifth run for the home team. Embree plunked Palmeiro to re-load the bases and gave way to Paul Shuey. Bobby Bonilla worked the count full and then launched Shuey's sixth pitch onto the flag court for a game-breaking grand slam. The Indians pushed across a single run in their next at-bat to end Wells' day, but the O's bullpen wriggled out of further trouble. Terry Mathews, of all people, coaxed an inning-ending groundout from Albert Belle with runners on second and third. Surhoff capped the scoring after the seventh-inning stretch with his second homer of the game, another solo shot. Randy Myers closed out the game with a stress-free perfect ninth inning, and the Orioles were on their way to a surprising four-game series win over the defending American League champs.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Tippy Martinez, 1983 Topps #631

The Orioles pretty well had their way with the Yankees in 1976. Aside from pilfering Tippy Martinez, Scott McGregor, and Rick Dempsey from New York in a single trade, Baltimore also won the season series between the two teams, 13-5. The O's hadn't done so much damage to the Yanks in any season since, but today's 9-5 win was their 13th in 18 meetings in 2014. What's more, it officially eliminated Derek Jeter and company from postseason contention. For the second straight October, the Yankees will be spectators. That hasn't happened since 1992-1993, back when Buck Showalter was still toiling to restore winning baseball in the Bronx. (We'll forgive him for his youthful indiscretions.)

As you might remember, the Yankees knocked the Orioles out of the playoffs in 1996 and in 2012. The successes of 2014 don't quite make up for that, but we'll just see where October takes us.

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.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Earl Weaver, 2004 Maryland Lottery #40

With Toronto's 10-inning loss to the Rays this afternoon, the magic number is an Earl Weaver-esque four. The Orioles have battled to a stalemate with the Yankees through six innings, so we could still get into Harold Baines (or Curt Blefary, or Bobby Grich, pick your preference) territory before the Jays come to town tomorrow. No matter how you slice it, the O's can clinch at Camden Yards if they take care of business this week. I have tickets to Tuesday and Wednesday's games, and I am more excited than I can say.

In unrelated news, today I celebrated one year of marriage. So far, so good!

Saturday, September 13, 2014

Rick Dempsey, 1982 Donruss #77

Rick Dempsey turned 65 today, and I'm grateful that he finally stopped dying his hair and mustache so dark.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Vintage Fridays: Brooks Robinson, 1961 Topps #10

Just like that, the magic number is five. All it took was the Orioles' first doubleheader sweep of the Yankees in three decades, and a 1-0 Rays win over the Blue Jays. The O's have won 10 of 13 against New York this year, and held them to a single run in 20 innings today. Some time in the next week, they're really going to clinch.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Oriole Park at Camden Yards, 2009 Topps Orioles Team Set #BAL15

I'll be here tomorrow. Of course, now there's a rooftop bar, a statue courtyard in the picnic area, and a lot more fans in the stands, but Oriole Park at Camden Yards remains the same ballpark that the baseball world loved when it opened 22 years ago. Tampa Bay choked away leads to the Yankees last night and tonight, so it'll take a four-game sweep this weekend for the O's to eliminate New York from the A. L. East race. That's no easy task, even though the Birds clearly have the better team in 2014. But they have to start somewhere, and I'm going to see my first doubleheader tomorrow, so maybe the groundwork will be laid.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Cal Ripken Jr., 1995 Leaf Opening Day #6


The O's did indeed hold off Boston last night, 4-1. They completed the sweep and clinched a season series win against the Red Sox with a 10-6 win today that featured 10 different players scoring the Orioles' runs, as well as five and a third perfect innings from starter Wei-Yin Chen. Joe Saunders tried to make a nine-run lead disappear in the ninth, but Darren O'Day earned an unexpected save to bail him out. Elsewhere, the Yankees lost 4-3 to the Rays last night and fell back to third place, with Toronto leapfrogging them with a 9-2 win over the Cubs. Toronto's played two more games, however, so they are even with the Yanks when it comes to the magic number calculations. This evening, the Rays have blown a four-run lead over New York; it's tied 4-4 at the moment. The Blue Jays are whipping up on the Cubbies again, so it looks like we'll stay put with Cal Ripken for the time being. Tomorrow's a deserved day off for the Orioles before Friday's doubleheader against the fading Yankees. So it'll be more scoreboard watching for Birdland.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Adam Jones, 2011 Topps Orioles Team Seat #BAL2

If I have any sense - which is debatable - I will be in bed by the time tonight's Orioles game is over. So the magic number countdown will resume tomorrow, and it will be a good one if current trends hold. The Yankees are trailing the Rays in the seventh inning right now, and the O's are holding a 4-1 sixth-inning lead over Boston. Three Baltimore home runs have accounted for the team's offense. The first two were from Alejandro de Aza, which is unexpected. The third was an absolute moon shot over the Green Monster by Adam Jones, which is somewhat more expected. This particular four-bagger was number 25 of the season for Adam, making him the first outfielder in Oriole history with four consecutive 25-homer seasons. Oh, and either a Birds win or a Yankee loss would reduce the magic number to 10, so maybe I got the jump on the countdown anyhow. I'd still like to skip right to nine, but I'm doing my best to jam the brakes.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Luis Aparicio, 2003 Fleer Tradition #67

The magic number is 11. The division lead is 10. The Orioles are 19-9 over the past three years in Fenway Park. The last time any American League East team other than the Yankees or Red Sox had a double-digit lead in the division, the Tigers were running roughshod in 1984. (That was also the year that Little Looie Aparicio was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame.) The last time an Orioles team had a lead this large, it was 1979. I wasn't alive then, and nobody on the current Baltimore roster was alive, either. Please don't wake me just yet.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Mike Devereaux, 1989 Topps Traded #23T

It's Mike Devereaux Time! The magic number is 12, thanks to Nelson Cruz outslugging the Rays, 7-5, in 11 innings. Kansas City did the Orioles another solid, shutting out the Yankees on Derek Jeter Day and scraping across a symbolic two unearned runs. So the cushion is still nine and a half as the Birds fly north to Boston. The best-case scenario would involve the O's clinching the division next Saturday at home vs. the Yankees. Of course, I'm not expecting them to sweep the Red Sox, then come back home and take the first three against New York after a Tampa Bay sweep of the Yanks. But it would be sweet.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Mike Bordick, 2002 Topps #153

The magic number for the Orioles is 14, thanks to the Yankees' 1-0 loss to Big Game James Shields and the Royals. Of course, the O's were also shut out last night, with Alex Cobb, Brad Boxberger, and Jake McGee flummoxing them in Tampa. They're still having a devil of a time scoring runs against the notoriously stingy Rays; it's 2-1 Tampa Bay in the top of the sixth as I type these words. Come on, guys...I want to see a clincher during the next homestand.

It would be fitting if Mike Bordick were in the broadcast booth for MASN whenever the Orioles do clinch. In 1997, he joined the team as the starting shortstop, moving Cal Ripken back to third base full-time. That year, Baltimore spent every day of the regular season atop the American League East, topping the Yankees with a 98-64 record.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Vintage Fridays: Davey Johnson, 1970 Topps #45

Orioles Magic (Magic Magic Magic Magic) Number: 15.

It would be 14, but our old pal Koji Uehara seems to be running on fumes these days. I was scoreboard watching all night on Thursday from my perch in Section 340 of Camden Yards, and I looked on in horror as a 4-3 ninth-inning lead for the Red Sox turned into a 5-4 walkoff loss. I overheard the gory details from a similarly aggravated fan sitting behind me; his smartphone delivered the bad news of a game-tying home run by the declining Mark Teixeira followed by a game-winning blast by Padres castoff Chase Headley. It just served as a reminder that the Orioles will have to do it themselves.

Last night's win over Cincinnati provided more white-knuckle moments than I expected following the home team's two-out, six-run outburst in the first inning. The heavy lifting done by Nelson Cruz (career-high 37th home run and counting), our own Padres castoff Nick Hundley (Earl Weaver Special), and Jonathan Schoop (fourth-inning solo homer, his third in as many games) was cancelled out by a four-run Reds rally against Brad Brach and Tommy Hunter in the top of the seventh. I sat in the humidity and stewed as home plate umpire Sean Barber's strike zone seemed to shrink to the size of a postage stamp. I tried not to revert to past bad behaviors like vocally venting my frustrations at the Oriole players and personnel, but I may have said a few things in the heat of the moment. Still, I saved my true vitriol for Barber, who got his own subtle shout-out from Buck Showalter in the latter's postgame remarks. But all was forgotten just a half-inning later, as J. J. Hardy sliced a bases-loaded single to left field with two outs to put the Birds back on top, 9-7. Hunter pitched around a leadoff double in the eighth, and Britton shrugged off a two-strike, two-out single from the irritatingly good Devin Mesoraco (4-for-4, 2B, HR, 4 RBI) to notch his 33rd save and a sweep of Cincy. That's a 9-2 homestand for the Orioles and an 82-57 record. As Andy of High Heat Stats tweeted last night, the O's now officially have three straight full winning seasons for the first time since 1983-1985. They were also above .500 from 1992-1994, but the last of those three years was cut off at 112 games thanks to the players' strike. Now it's off to Tampa, and three more cracks at a Rays team that the Birds have handled pretty well this season.

It was nice visiting with you, Davey, but I hope the Orioles can zero in on Steve Barber tonight.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Scott McGregor, 1982 Fleer #172

On Twitter, on team blogs, in the local mainstream media, you can't avoid the Orioles' magic number. As of this writing, it's a Scott McGregor special: 16. Any combination of Oriole wins and Yankee losses adding up to 16, and Baltimore has its first American League East title since 1997. That's pre-Clinton impeachment, pre-Rays (hell, pre-Devil Rays), pre-Google. I have to confess that I've been keeping tabs on the Orioles' magic number for several weeks now. Ever since the team first opened up a sizable lead in the American League East with their early August surge, I've been mentally crossing games off of the schedule with impatience. They've finally reached the top, I thought. Just let them play keep-away from the Yanks, Jays, and Rays. Can't we fast-forward through these last 40-50 games?

I feel like I've been sounding some variation on this theme for much of the past three seasons, but this is alien territory for me. The O's did not play a single meaningful game in September for 14 years. The Orioles were overpaid, over-the-hill losers in 1998. They were anonymous, nosediving losers in 2002 (4-32 after August 23!). They were regressing-to-the-mean, malcontent losers in 2005. They were overmatched, laughingstock losers all through the Dave Trembley years of 2007, 2008, and 2009...he was gone by the summer of 2010, replaced by Buck Showalter (following the near-endless interim tenure of Juan Samuel) and leaving behind a gruesome 21-59 aggregate record in September.

Rooting for the Orioles seemed futile and hopeless more often than not in the first dozen years of this century, but never moreso than in September. Winter and spring brought pie-in-the-sky, best-case-scenario daydreams. The first half of the season was a small enough sample size for even the most wretched and raw clubs to scrape together a few good weeks here and there and maintain respectability. But by the season's final month, the grind of 130-plus games seemed to beat both fan and team into submission. Five months of constant travel, accumulated aches and pains, and the ascendancy of superior competitors took their toll. The lack of roster depth in the Birds' organization would be laid bare, night after ugly night. With school in session and football in season, crowds dwindled away to nothing. I'd turn on a game, or more rarely drag myself out to Camden Yards, and watch faceless scrubs get pounded by all comers. It just seemed inevitable.

Here is a non-comprehensive list of players who appeared in Baltimore's starting lineup in the team's season finales from 1998 through 2011: Lyle Mouton, Eugene Kingsale (twice!), Jesse Garcia, Mike Figga, Fernando Lunar, Rick Bauer (also twice!), John Stephens, Carlos Mendez, Jack Cust, Jose Morban, Eric DuBose, Bernie Castro, Walter Young, Sal Fasano, Fernando Tatis (this was 2006, not 1999), Chris Gomez, Brandon Fahey (God help us, also twice!), Raul Chavez, Tike Redman, Luis Hernandez, Scott Moore, J. R. House, Freddie Bynum, Brian Burres, Michael Aubrey, Lou Montanez, Jeff Fiorentino, Felix Pie, Josh Bell, Alfredo Simon.

If that was hard to read, imagine how hard those games must have been to watch. It might seem unfair to include 2011 (by way of starting pitcher Alfredo Simon), but the warm and fuzzy end results don't change the fact that the desiccated corpse of Vlad Guerrero batted cleanup that night.

2012 will always be the ultimate "is this really happening?" season for O's fans. That team wasn't expected to be adequate, much less a 93-win postseason entrant. But that team also needed every one of its 20 September and October wins to squeak by the Rays and the Angels...all of that just for the privilege of playing a sudden-death elimination game on the road against Yu Darvish and the powerful Rangers. There was no time to catch your breath, no chance to look ahead and count down and make plans.

So here we are. 81 wins (that number alone was unreachable for years). 57 losses. Nine and a half games up. 24 left to play. 16 away from clinching the division. Two back of the Angels for the league's best record, and with it home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. I'm as superstitious as the next baseball fan. I worry about jinxes and overconfidence and setting myself up for disappointment. But if you can't enjoy the tale that these standings tell, what hope is there for you? So I'll keep hoping, projecting, dreaming, and counting down.


Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Jim Palmer, 2014 Topps Archives #25

Jim Palmer threw 53 complete game shutouts in his career, so it was sort of old-hat for him. But tonight Miguel Gonzalez got the first shutout of his own young career, dispatching the Reds on 117 pitches (83 strikes). He tied a season high with eight strikeouts and allowed one walk and four singles. It was the team's second shutout by a starter in this amazing season, following Chris Tillman's five-hitter at Kansas City on May 16. This is the first time in a decade that the O's have had multiple complete-game shutouts in one season. Back in 2004, there were four: Sidney Ponson had two, and Rodrigo Lopez and Daniel Cabrera had one each. If you ever need a refresher, look at those names and realize that the Orioles of Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette are a major league caliber team.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

J. J. Hardy, 2013 Topps Heritage #221

I guess the Orioles don't mind it when I go on vacation. A month ago, I had a two-week adventure in Ireland with my wife. The O's were three games up in the American League East when we left. They went 10-4 in the interim and had a six-game cushion by the time we unpacked. This time, we just snuck in a long weekend getaway to the family cottage in Northeastern Pennsylvania. Nonetheless, the Birds did their part and took three out of four from the Twins while we were away. Their division lead is back up to 8.5 games, and there are 26 left to play. Of course, it would be nice if the Orioles would stop hurting themselves. Steve Pearce and J. J. Hardy both came out games in the Minnesota series with aches and pains; Pearce strained an abdominal muscle on his right side, and Hardy had some back spasms. Both are day-to-day. I know Buck Showalter and company don't do things the easy way, but I'd rather not try to wrap up an ALDS berth with an infield of Davis, Schoop, Flaherty, and Paredes.