Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Friday, September 30, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Mike Torrez, 1976 Topps #25

It’s been 44 hours since the fateful events of Wednesday night/early Thursday morning sent me reeling into a euphoria that I’ve struggled to describe. How do you put a pure emotional high into words? Here goes.

I’ve spent the entire month of September watching the hated Boston Red Sox collapse like a futon from Ikea, acknowledging the improbability of the Tampa Bay Rays making up the entire nine-game deficit in a manner of weeks. Still, I hoped against hope. Tampa Bay won six out of seven games in their last two series vs. the Sox to close the gap to a scant two games with ten left to play. I felt a sense of sad recognition whenever I read an article or blog post that doused cold water on the entire scenario by restating some form of the following sentiment: “Just look at the schedule. The Rays play seven of their last ten games against the Yankees, while Boston gets seven games against the lowly Orioles.” After a while, I started wondering if there had been an official name change. Introducing your Baltimore Lowly Orioles!

I understood. 14 straight losing seasons, most of them attributable in some way to repeated high-profile failures against those very Red Sox, the team with the $160 million payroll and a pair of recent World Series wins and an entire nationwide conglomerate of diehard, self-important fans and obnoxious, entitled bandwagoners. The Birds have won the season series against the Fenway hordes only once since 1997: they squeaked by at 10-9 in 2004, when the O’s were at their least terrible (78-84) and the Sox were on the verge of their first title since 1918. Things have been really ugly since 2006: 34-74 against Boston, including a putrid 2-16 mark in 2009. The lowlights have been many: no-hitters by the washed-up Hideo Nomo and the still-green Clay Buchholz, pitching meltdowns like the Mother’s Day Massacre and this turd from Mike Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg’s greatest hits, you name it. When you take it all into account, and add in a healthy dose of anger and embarrassment from listening to raucous cheers and chants of “LET’S GO RED SOX!” and “PAPI! PAPI!” every time the BoSox travel to Camden Yards, I can only say that I’ve never wanted so badly for the Orioles to win a set of games that had no real bearing on their own fortunes.

To my amazement, it happened. The Birds played good September ball in general, posting their only winning month of the season and winning or splitting series against a host of postseason contenders: Yankees, Rays, Red Sox, Tigers, and Angels. They took three out of four in a series at Boston, highlighted by Jeremy Guthrie's first-ever win in Fenway and a pair of late-inning comebacks. That set the stage for this week's conclusion to the regular season, with the O's and Sox splitting the first two games in Baltimore and Tampa Bay winning both Monday and Tuesday's games against a Yankee team that had already clinched the best record in the American League. There was a tie atop the Wild Card standings, and it all came down to Wednesday's games. In one fell swoop, it would be possible for the Orioles to singlehandedly knock the Red Sox out of the playoffs.

I made a last-minute attempt to find someone to go to the final game with me, and when I came up short I decided to save a few bucks and stay home. I couldn't shake the nagging feeling that the worst would happen, with the Rays losing to the Yankees and the Red Sox beating the Birds and celebrating on our turf. The pitching matchup of Jon Lester (14-0 in 17 previous career starts against the O's) vs. Alfredo Simon (who, you may recall, was in a Dominican prison six months ago) didn't do much to help. My pessimism persisted as Simon labored through an abbreviated outing, allowing 9 base runners in 4.1 innings. Although the score was only 3-2 in favor of Boston, I'd seen this sort of game play out before. It was only a matter of time before the visitors broke through against a mostly anonymous Baltimore bullpen, and the Oriole hitters were doing little with the precious few chances they had to reach Lester. I checked the score of the Rays game. Not only were they down 7-0, but most of the damage had been done by Mark Teixeira. This was a nightmare.

There was some good news in the bottom of the seventh, as Alfredo Aceves took to the mound in relief of Lester. Aceves has been very effective as the Sox' long reliever this year, but anyone would have been preferable to Lester. That thought would have to wait, as a heavy thunderstorm brought on a rain delay before Aceves could even throw his first pitch. The Yankees and Rays were being televised on ESPN, but there wasn't much point in watching that hopeless spectacle, so I switched to the MLB Network's studio show with its live look-ins at all three games with postseason implications (Phillies-Braves and Cardinals-Astros as well). I called my parents to let them know that I hadn't gone to the game after all, and it was probably just as well. After all, it had been an ugly slog even before the rains came. Who knew how late I would have been out on a work night if I had been at Camden Yards. As I spoke to my mother, MLBN looked in at Tropicana Field, where a bases-loaded walk and hit batter had brought the Rays to within 7-2 in the eighth inning. I sarcastically mentioned that Tampa Bay was mounting a comeback. A few moments later, I looked up and it was 7-3. Evan Longoria was batting with two men on base, but there were now two outs. Before I could process the situation, he launched a monster home run to left field to make it 7-6! When Johnny Damon finally popped out to end the inning and stranded the tying run on second base, I thought the home team had missed their best chance. But they'd gotten most of the way there, and they certainly wouldn't be facing Mariano Rivera in the ninth. I figured I'd stick with that game until the tarp came off in Charm City.

New York couldn't score in the ninth, so Tampa Bay had three outs to work with against Cory Wade. Ben Zobrist and Casey Kotchman made two quick outs, leaving it up to pinch hitter Dan Johnson, who hadn't had a hit in the majors since April. Five pitches into the at-bat, the count was 2-and-2 and Johnson (and Tampa Bay) was down to his last strike. He hit a bullet down the right field line that struck the foul pole - home run! Tie game! Unbelievable. I was pumping my fist from the couch, and ready to watch the Rays put it away in extra innings. The Yankees had only Scott Proctor available in relief, and he was/is pretty awful. But the game ground on through the tenth and eleventh innings with no resolution. The Rays announcers were keeping tabs on the Orioles and Red Sox, and noted that the game had resumed and that Alfredo Aceves had hit two of the first three batters he'd faced. So I jumped back to MASN, only to see another chance wasted. Robert Andino whiffed and J. J. Hardy grounded out weakly, and the O's were running out of time.

Flipping between games now, I didn't see Pedro Strop get bailed out when an Adam Jones to Hardy to Matt Wieters relay cut down Marco Scutaro at the plate. It was still a one-run game, and the Sox had made their third out on the bases. Now I flicked back and saw setup man Daniel Bard on the mound for Boston. Like most Boston pitchers, he'd had a rough September, so I figured the Orioles might have a chance. Vlad Guerrero and Wieters hit the ball hard, but right at Red Sox outfielders. 1-2-3 inning, and on to the ninth. Back to Tampa Bay, and still nothing resolved there. I saved myself the aggravation of an unusually rocky outing by Jim Johnson, who put runners on the corners with nobody out and escaped by inducing a three-foot nubber by David Ortiz and a double play off the bat of rookie catcher Ryan Lavarnaway. I did come back for the O's last ups against Boston's aggressively dopey closer Jonathan Papelbon. Between his frat-boy fist pumps, his stupid open-mouthed fish face between pitches, and his spastic Riverdance in previous postgame celebrations, I can safely say that there is no Red Sox player I despise more than "Paps". (Well, maybe Pedroia.) I heard Gary Thorne and Jim Palmer talking about Boston's perfect record in 2011 with a ninth-inning lead, but I had seen the Birds reach Papelbon for a run and work him for 28 pitches the night before. I felt that he was vulnerable.

For a few minutes, Papelbon made me look stupid. He struck out Adam Jones swinging on a pitch around the ankles, and then got Mark Reynolds fanning through a few letters-high fastballs. Chris Davis was up next, and if there was anyone on the team more likely to strike out than Jones and Reynolds, it would have been Davis. Fortunately I didn't have to watch the ESPN telecast, on which Rick Sutcliffe was apparently blathering about how he could just tell by the intense look in Papelbon's eyes that he was not going to lose the game for Boston. That's expert analysis right there. Anyway, I began typing out a snarky comment on Twitter predicting the Davis whiff, but before I could even complete the thought he turned on the first pitch and rocketed a double to right field. That brought up Nolan Reimold, someone whom I actually trusted with the fate of the O's. But he took a couple balls and then swung right through a couple more (what else?) fastballs, and now the Orioles, like Tampa Bay and Dan Johnson earlier, were down to their last strike. I wondered aloud in frustration whether anyone on the team could catch up to a fastball when they knew it was coming. Nolan shut me up with a drive that one-hopped the right-center field fence for a ground rule double. Pinch runner Kyle Hudson scored the tying run, and now Robert Andino had a chance to further his legend as a Red Sox killer.

Yep, Robert Andino. The light-hitting infielder who had been acquired a few years ago for failed prospect Hayden Penn, hit .222/.274/.288 in 2009, and was buried in the organizational doghouse in 2010, was looking to cap a surprisingly decent season. With Brian Roberts once again out of commission for much of 2011, Andino played on a near-daily basis and hit .263/.327/.344 with solid defense. So he was a damned sight better than Julio Lugo, basically. He had also delivered a pair of game-winning hits in September against Boston - a three-run double off of Papelbon on the 20th and a three-run inside-the-park homer off of Josh Beckett on Monday. Robert didn't build the suspense for long on this occasion, lining a 1-1 pitch to medium left field. Carl Crawford, who you might remember as the homegrown Rays star who was lured to Boston with a $142 million contract this year, lunged and could not field the ball cleanly! Reimold raced home ahead of the throw and...this part of the story is for Gary Thorne to tell.

I was elated, once again gesturing wildly at the TV and grinning like a doofus. Moments before the walkoff hit, Thorne and Palmer mentioned that Evan Longoria was batting in the bottom of the twelfth in Tampa, so I planned to switch back to that game...but I just couldn't turn away from the joyous mob scene on the field in Baltimore. Andino, still full of adrenaline, came striding out of the dogpile sneering and telling the Sox and their fans to go home. (He may have used a few other, less charitable words.) While I was reveling in the rarest of the rare - a thrilling and meaningful Oriole win in September - Thorne declared that Longoria had just won the game and the wild card with a one-out solo homer off of Scott Proctor. It happened three minutes after Reimold crossed the plate, a serendipitous confluence made possible by a thunderstorm in the Mid-Atlantic and extra innings in Florida. The Lowly Orioles were instrumental in an historic season-ending collapse by the Red Sox, and it was good.

The games ended a few minutes after midnight, but in my excitement I couldn't force myself off to bed until 1:30. In the interim I followed the ongoing postgame commentary on Twitter, Camden Chat, ESPN, and MLBN. I was awash in schadenfreude as I watched video of Boston blowhard Dan Shaughnessy declaring mid-rain delay that the Red Sox' season would NOT end on Wednesday night. I watched Papelbon stammer and stare in the locker room as media members asked him insightful questions like, "How do you feel?" and, "You had to think you had it after you got the first two batters out". I laughed as I saw footage of MLBN analysts Harold Reynolds and Dan Plesac's on-set, off-air reactions to the Andino single and Longoria homer. It was all glorious.

The only way it could have been better is if the Orioles were the ones headed to the Division Series.

P. S.: Why did I choose a Mike Torrez card for this post? Oh, no reason.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Reggie Jackson and Adam Jones, 2011 Topps Diamond Duos #DD-JJ

I was going to talk about the exhilarating joy and schadenfreude that I felt in watching last night's near-simultaneous walkoff wins by the Orioles and Rays, but I need to let my thoughts marinate for a bit longer. Besides, I just have to show off this great card that I picked up at the card show last Saturday. Topps finally got the hint: people want to see Reggie in orange and black. The contrast between Jackson's loping power swing and Adam Jones' more streamlined, vertical swing is interesting to see. It might seem like any parallels drawn between these two would be a little lopsided in favor of the larger-than-life Hall of Famer with 563 career home runs, but Jonesy has a few feathers in his cap that Reggie can't match. "The Straw That Stirs the Drink" never won a Gold Glove, as Adam did in 2009. Jackson also didn't earn Most Valuable Oriole honors in his lone season in Baltimore, whereas Jones was just voted as the 2011 MVO by the local media. It was a very close race, with J. J. Hardy finishing second by a single vote. Matt Wieters (who would have been my choice) was the third-place vote-getter. Adam earned his kudos by setting career highs of 26 doubles, 25 home runs, 83 RBI, 12 stolen bases, a .466 slugging percentage, a 114 OPS+, and 16 outfield assists. Next year, maybe he'll even get his own candy bar.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

J. J. Hardy, 2011 Topps Heritage #339

Well, there's nothing but an ongoing rain delay and two and one-half innings separating the Orioles from another long, lonely offseason. But even if the O's fall to Boston tonight, you certainly can't blame J. J. Hardy. In what looks like the masterstroke of Andy MacPhail's tenure, the general manager pried Hardy away from the Twins for Jim Hoey and Brett Jacobson. With a two-run homer tonight, the shortstop extended his career-high total to 30 roundtrippers and matched his personal best of 80 RBI. He's also walked and hit his 27th double, only 4 shy of his top total. He's pretty smooth with the glove, too. I can only imagine what he would have done if he hadn't missed a month with an oblique injury. Either way, I'm glad that the Birds signed him to a contract extension in midseason. J. J. is one of the few guys I would absolutely not want to be without in 2012.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Dwight Evans, 1991 Score Rookie/Traded #62T

In an attempt to keep the spoileriffic good times rolling, I give you Dwight Evans, one of the greatest right fielders in Red Sox history. Yet they just cast him aside at age 39, despite the fact that he had produced a 103 OPS+ in 1990 and was one season removed from batting .285/.397/.463 (136 OPS+) with 100 RBI. So the Orioles took him in, and he rewarded them with a .393 on-base percentage in 1991, which turned out to be his farewell season. Now they seek to avenge dear Dewey, and Kevin Millar, and Fred Lynn, and all of the other Beantown castaways who found shelter in Charm City. There shall be no playoffs for you, Sawx Nation!

All kidding aside, it's been a blast watching the O's play with energy and fire and more-than-occasional competence, taking 10 out of 15 from a host of contenders down the stretch. They won three of four at Fenway Park (or as we like to call it, Camden North) last week, and their Monday night 6-3 win over that goatee-wearing fat-faced punk Josh Beckett was responsible for the Red Sox dropping into a tie for the wild card lead with the resurgent Rays. The spoilin' Birds have two more chances to bury Boston, the first coming tonight against our old chum Erik Bedard. He couldn't make it out of the third inning in his last start against Baltimore. To quote Adam Jones, LEGGO!

Monday, September 26, 2011

Pedro Florimon, Jr., 2010 Bowman Prospects #BP25

September can be an odd time for baseball, what with expanded major league rosters allowing teams to stock their benches and bullpens with prospects and minor league veterans alike, most wearing unusual uniform numbers in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. If you've been following the Orioles or another perennial loser in recent history, there's a good chance that you've mentally checked out by the time the season's final month rolls around. Suddenly you're looking up at the television and saying:

-"Who the heck is Chris Lambert?"

-"Ye gods, when did they sign Victor Zambrano, and why?"

-"Wait, they called up Pedro Florimon?"

That last thought crossed my mind yesterday afternoon, though I didn't say it out loud. I wouldn't want my cats to think I was weird or something. Pedro Florimon, Jr. is the son of Pedro Florimon, Sr., who is severely lacking in web presence. Pedro Junior signed with the Orioles as a teenager in 2004 and played rookie-level pro ball in his native Dominican Republic for a few years before splitting the 2006 season between Bluefield and Aberdeen. He hit .293 overall that year, the only full season in which he's topped .267. Overall, he's batted .247/.322/.354 in the minors, which has made the 24-year-old's inclusion on the 40-man roster for the last year a cause for consternation among some diehard O's fans. On September 6, shortly after active roster capacity expanded from 25 to 40, the Birds promoted Florimon to the majors. He was the only middle infielder they recalled, but they haven't been keen on penciling him into the lineup ahead of J. J. Hardy for obvious reasons.

Heading into yesterday afternoon's series finale in Detroit, Pedro had appeared in three whole games, starting once and going 0-for-5 overall with a sac bunt and four strikeouts. But Buck Showalter decided to sit all of his starters except for Vladimir Guerrero, Robert Andino, and Nolan Reimold, and so the rookie was in there at shortstop batting eighth. Even though the Orioles lost 10-6, Florimon should remember the game fondly. In the fifth inning, he hit a one-out double off of Brad Penny to drive in the team's first two runs of the game. He promptly scored the tying run on a Craig Tatum single. In the span of a few minutes, the young infielder had collected his first big league hit, extra-base hit, runs batted in, and run scored. In his next plate appearance, he walked - another first.

Sorry I forgot that you were on the roster, Pedro. Hope the veterans treated you to a nice dinner after you got back to Baltimore last night.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Mark Reynolds, 2011 Topps Diamond #378

Yesterday I was finally able to get my hands on some long-overdue cards of the newer Orioles: Mark Reynolds, J. J. Hardy, Vladimir Guerrero. Sure, Reynolds is cheesily Photoshopped into an O's uniform here, with some telltale orange socks (the Birds wear black) and a Diamondbacks letter font on the back of his jersey. But this shiny parallel card is just so mesmerizing that I'm willing to forgive it. As it stands, Mark has given the Orioles just about what they should have expected: low average (.222), lots of strikeouts (a league-leading and team-record 190), a fair amount of walks (72), and a metric ton of home runs (37). With three games left to play, Reynolds has already hit the most homers by an Oriole since Albert Belle left the yard 37 times in 1999. It's part of a group effort that has seen Baltimore hitters swat 186 home runs, fourth-most in the American League and 51 more than their tenth-ranked total in 2010. It's not always fun watching this team, but it's rarely dull watching Mark Reynolds play.

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Vladimir Guerrero, 2011 Topps Gypsy Queen #36

In short, today's trip to the Philly card show was a rousing success. I spent every last dollar that I walked in with, and not a penny more. I spent a few bucks on this year's Orioles cards, including those mind-blowingly awesome Diamond parallels from the Topps flagship set. Among my O's purchases was the card you see above, which allows me to properly pay tribute to Vlad Guerrero on the day that he ties Julio Franco for the most career hits by a Dominican-born player with his 2,586th base knock. He might not be able to hit for much power any more, but that takes nothing away from his remarkable career. I also gobbled up a bunch of 1970s commons from a dealer with a dime box, knocking some 1972 Topps set needs in the process. Another table had 1950s cards at a deep discount, so I tackled some of my 1959 Topps needs for a buck a piece and also laid my hands on a few beautiful 1953 Topps for three to five dollars each. On my way out I also relieved a dealer of a wax box of 1992 Topps for $11, because I'm hoping to finally put that set to bed and I always like to have some packs to rip. I was in and out in three hours with the help of my sister, who surprised me by agreeing to come along. She was a big help in searching boxes for specific cards and keeping tabs on my want lists while I hunted. (Full disclosure: for her invaluable assistance, she was rewarded with a post-show trip to the King of Prussia Mall. That place is so huge and sprawling, I'm surprised we found our way out.)

Now comes the fun part: taking inventory of my new cards and storing them in their binders. No sarcasm intended; I really do like this stuff. You may have noticed.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Milt Pappas, 1964 Topps Giants #5

It's like Christmas Eve up in here. Tomorrow morning I'm journeying up to King of Prussia, PA for the fall installment of the Philly Card Show. I've been waiting for this since March, and when I finally set foot on the convention floor, I expect the experience to be roughly akin to Homer Simpson frolicking through the Land of Chocolate...or maybe the MacManus brothers shopping at the weapons cache in Boondock Saints. I've been saving my money like a good boy, and I'm ready to splurge. The five-page want list is printed, so let's do this thing. My chief aim is to put a dent in some of the vintage sets I'm collecting and to maybe finish off my 2010 Topps Update Series with help from the dime boxes. But if I see any nifty oddballs like this postcard-sized Milt Pappas card, I'll wander off the beaten path to pick them up...if the price is right.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Jim Johnson, 2009 Upper Deck O-Pee-Chee #88

At long last, in the final month of the 2011 season, Buck Showalter has tired of watching that junk-tossing galoot Kevin Gregg blowing saves. For the past few weeks, he's instead trusted the Orioles' ninth-inning leads to Jim Johnson, who is *gasp* the best reliever in the bullpen. And guess what? The sinkerballer has gotten the job done with efficiency and a decided lack of drama. Since September 7, when he pitched around a walk and a single to preserve a 5-4 11-inning win over the Yankees, Johnson is 6-for-6 in save situations. He has allowed no runs, one hit, and three walks, though oddly he hasn't recorded a strikeout. (Full disclosure: he surrendered a run in his only non-save appearance, finishing out a 6-2 win over the Angels. In that outing, he struck out a pair. Go figure.)

It's nice to not have to sweat out those last three outs of the game. I've had my fill of Doug Jones and Jorge Julio meltdowns, of George Sherrill and Kevin Gregg tightrope acts. It's heaven on earth to see the rarest of sights for an O's fan, a quick and easy ninth inning in a close game. For a reliever - any reliever - to have a series like Johnson just did in Boston is a rare and beautiful thing. In helping the Birds secure their first series win at Fenway since 2003, J.J. saved all three Oriole wins. He eight of the nine batters he faced; Jacoby Ellsbury reached on catcher's interference on an 0-2 pitch on Tuesday night and was immediately wiped out by a Dustin Pedroia double play grounder. In fact, all nine outs recorded by Johnson came on grounders, which tells you just how well his stuff is working right now. He disposed of the Red Sox on 27 pitches total over those three games, allowing him to work without a night off in between.

There's been a lot of talk about moving Jim Johnson to the starting rotation in 2012, and considering the strides he's made as a pitcher in the past few years, the Orioles would be foolish not to try it. After all, a pitcher with Johnson's talents can provide more value in 160 innings than he can in 70 or 90. Besides, we all know that the O's never seem to be able to find enough starters. But I can think of worse things than giving him the ball for those late, high-leverage innings.

*Of course it would figure that by the time I posted this, Kevin Gregg was called upon in the ninth inning of tonight's 6-5 win over the Tigers, and got the save with a 1-2-3 inning. I remain confident that Jim Johnson would have been in there if he hadn't worked three straight days in Boston.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Boog Powell, 1999 Fleer Sports Illustrated Greats of the Game #26

If you follow the Orioles closely enough, you'll learn not to doubt the memory of Jim Palmer. On tonight's MASN telecast, Mark Reynolds hit a towering home run over the Green Monster at Fenway Park, his 35th longball of the year. This prompted the O's Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster to recall a game in which Boog Powell hit not one, not two, but three home runs over the 37-foot left field wall. Just to satisfy my curiosity, I bopped on over to Baseball Reference. With a couple clicks of the mouse, I found the game in question: August 15, 1966, a Monday night affair between the first-place Orioles and ninth-place Red Sox.

Boog's first clout came with two outs and nobody on in the fourth inning, and it broke a scoreless tie between starters Jim Lonborg and Dave McNally. McNally continued blanking Boston until the sixth, when Tony Conigliaro's two-run homer put Boston ahead 2-1. Powell gave the Birds new life with another solo shot off Lonborg in the ninth, ultimately sending the game to extra innings. It stayed tied at two apiece until the eleventh frame. John Wyatt relieved Lonborg and walked Frank Robinson. Brooksie came up next and lined out to right, and then Boog capped his excellent night with a two-run homer, which provided the winning margin as Dick Hall wriggled out of a bases-loaded situation for the save. It was a 4-2 final, with all four Baltimore runs coming via Boog Powell homers. There's a statistic known as Win Probability Added, or WPA - it assigns values to each at-bat in a game. Boog's WPA for this game was 0.920, which essentially means that he was 92% responsible for the O's winning that game! I can certainly see why a feat like that would stick in Jim Palmer's memory.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Rafael Palmeiro, 1994 Upper Deck #340

How much detail is too much? Does this photo make you feel like you're part of batting practice? Or are you just distracted by the sunlight glistening off of Rafael Palmeiro's chin stubble? Doesn't it contrast nicely with the inky blackness of his nostrils?

Monday, September 19, 2011

Andy Etchebarren, 1991 Crown/Coca-Cola All-Time Orioles #124

I owe a debt of thanks to reader OriolePhan, who brought attention to the fact that Andy Etchebarren has the York Revolution in the Atlantic League's Freedom Division Championship Series, which starts Wednesday. Some marketing genius with the Revs dubbed Etch "The Most Interesting Manager in the World", and to that end they've posted three video parodies of the Dos Equis beer ads. Check out Andy's takes on being interesting, on the Lancaster Barnstormers' mascot Cylo, and on the Bridgeport Bluefish. As you can see, Etch is a man of precious few words, but he makes them count.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Nolan Reimold, 2010 Topps #653

Surprisingly, the Orioles listened to my pleas and delivered a win on Friday night. It was an all-to-rare laugher, and I was glad to witness it along with my sister and a few thousand die-hards. The official paid attendance was a bit over 24,000, but I can assure you that a good number of them were dressed as empty seats. Anyway, Elizabeth and I got to our perch in the upper deck behind home plate just in time to see Capitals star Alex Ovechkin throw out the first pitch, a high, outside floater. My sis is hockey-crazed, so she even wore her red Brooks Laich jersey and carried a posterboard with a happy birthday message for Ovi.

It was a cool and still 65 degrees at first pitch, and I'll admit that I didn't harbor high hopes when I saw that Tommy Hunter vs. Dan Haren was the pitching matchup. Though Hunter, acquired from Texas in the Koji Uehara trade, kept the Angels off the board for the first three innings, the O's were blanked in their first two tries against Haren. But the O's scraped together a rally in the home half of the third. Nolan Reimold, only inserted into the lineup when Adam Jones' balky thumb kept him out, led off with a walk, stole second, and scored on a Robert Andino single. Itty-bitty leadoff hitter Matt Angle, who my sister dubbed "Beaker" for his resemblance to the narrow-headed Muppet, bunted Andino to second. After a wild pitch moved the runner to third, J. J. Hardy made it 2-0 with a run-scoring grounder.

Tiring of small ball, the Birds set off some fireworks in the fifth. Mark Reynolds led off the inning with a no-doubter home run to left field, his 33rd of the season. Andino and Angle reached base, and both scored on a double by Hardy. It was 5-0, and in spite of myself I felt like the lead was safe.

For once, the Orioles weren't content to sit on a lead. The very next inning, Chris Davis singled and Reynolds doubled to chase Haren from the game. Rookie Tyler Chatwood had a rocky introduction to the game, hurling a wild pitch to plate Davis with the sixth Baltimore run. Reimold added to Chatwood's pain with a fly ball that scraped over the left field fence to make it 8-0. It was the 11th of the season, in just Nolan's 77th game. The Halos bullpen settled down after that, but it was too little too late.

Meanwhile, Hunter pitched his best game yet as an Oriole. The big righthander matched his season high with seven innings, allowing no runs on seven hits and two walks while striking out five. He was ably relieved in the eighth inning by Willie Eyre, who in turn was less ably relieved in the ninth by that goggle-wearing yutz Kevin Gregg. Though watching the so-called closer cough off three runs to the Angels' second-teamers (seven of the nine Anaheim starters were subbed out in the seventh) caused the game to end on a frustrating note, there was actually something perversely entertaining about booing and jeering him as he stumbled along.

So not a bad deal all in all. I got to spend a beautiful and leisurely evening with my favorite sibling watching our Birds stomp on the postseason hopes of the visiting team.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Manny Machado, 2011 Bowman's Brightest #BBR19

Well, at least there's one team in the Orioles farm system that knows what it's like to win. Last night the Single-A Frederick Keys topped the Kinston Indians 11-3 to win the Carolina League's Mills Cup Championship, taking the best-of-five series three games to one.

Led by shortstop Manny Machado and second baseman Jonathan Schoop, the two top offensive prospects in the organization, the club had the best record in the league in 2011, going 80-59. It was also the best mark in the 23-year-history of the Keys. In the first round of the playoffs they outlasted the Potomac Nationals, three games to two. Then they dropped the opener against Kinston before running off three straight victories. Last night's rout was an unusual game. After falling behind 2-0 in the first two innings, Frederick exploded for 11 runs in the top of the third to bury the Indians. They took advantage of three Kinston errors and the exclamation point was provided by Machado's three-run homer. The O's first-round pick in the 2010 draft had four RBI total in the inning and seven for the series, helping him capture MVP honors. He batted .344 in postseason play, and Schoop compiled a .314 average. The Keys waited out a pair of hour-plus rain delays on the evening to bring home the fourth championship in franchise history and the first for any O's affiliate since the 2007 Frederick squad won it all.

Friday, September 16, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Jesse Jefferson, 1975 Topps #539

Well, this sucks. Last Thursday, former Orioles pitcher Jesse Jefferson died after a bout with prostate cancer. He was 62.

The O's drafted the right-hander out of Carver High School in Midlothian, VA in 1968. The most notable player taken by the club in that year's draft was Al Bumbry, who was selected in the 11th round. But Jefferson had some notable moments in his brief Oriole career. As I mentioned in a June 2010 blog post, he held the Red Sox to a single run in a ten-inning complete game win at Fenway Park in his big league debut in 1973. All in all, he went 6-5 with a 4.11 ERA as a rookie, notching three complete game wins. The others were a five-hit, two-run, nine-strikeout effort against Boston on August 3, and a two-run, eight-strikeout performance at Detroit on September 18. Jesse appeared in 20 games (primarily in relief) for Baltimore in 1974, compiling a 4.40 ERA while walking 38 batters and striking out just 31. The following June, he was traded to the White Sox for Tony Muser. He would go on to have a 9-year career in the majors, also spending time with the Blue Jays, Pirates, and Angels. Though his ERA was an unimpressive 4.81 overall, he can still place some of the blame for his abysmal 39-81 won-lost record on the three-plus seasons he spent for the brand-new and cellar-dwelling Toronto teams of the late 1970s. While with the Jays, he recorded his only career save, preserving the sixth of an eventual 176 career wins for longtime ace Dave Stieb on September 2, 1979.

Rest in peace, Jesse.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

George Sherrill, 2009 Upper Deck #37

Yet another disheartening side effect of the Orioles sustained residence in the basement of the American League: baseball card photos showing a beautiful yet sparsely populated Oriole Park at Camden Yards. I'm going to tomorrow night's series opener against the Angels. It might be my last visit of the 2011 season, and it's supposed to be cool and brisk, which will be a nice change of pace. Baseball gods willing, the Birds will send me and 15,000 to 20,000 of my closest friends home for the weekend on a high note.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Dennis Martinez, 1983 Donruss #231

It seems incredible, but it's been 35 years since Dennis Martinez made his major league debut with the Orioles. On September 14, 1976, the skinny righthander made baseball history by becoming the first Nicaraguan-born player in MLB. It was a baptism by fire, as Earl Weaver summoned Dennis from the bullpen with one out in the fourth inning and runners on first and second. The visiting Tigers had bolted out to a 6-0 lead in the first 3 innings against Ross Grimsley and Dave Pagan, but the O's came right back with 5 runs in the bottom of the third; Doug DeCinces' 3-run homer was the key blow. With the Birds having new life, Weaver didn't hesitate to yank Pagan after Alex Johnson's single bumped the score to 7-5. The 21-year-old Martinez announced himself with back-to-back strikeouts of Mickey Stanley and Bill Freehan to strand both inherited runners.

Baltimore's rookie pitcher looked like a veteran, as he scattered four hits and a walk in five and two-thirds shutout innings, sparing the rest of the bullpen. But Detroit reliever Dave Lemanczyk also quieted the O's bats after the DeCinces blast, keeping them off the board in the middle innings. The Orioles finally woke back up in the bottom of the seventh, with back-to-back doubles by Reggie Jackson and Lee May chasing Lemanczyk. New Tiger hurler John Hiller couldn't blunt the rally, as Ken Singleton coaxed a walk and DeCinces bunted for a hit to load the bases. Brooks Robinson, batting for first baseman Tony Muser, tied the game with a run-scoring groundout, and Mark Belanger drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly to right fielder Rusty Staub. Staub's wild throw from foul territory allowed DeCinces to score an insurance run.

Martinez seized the opportunity to earn his first career win by tossing a perfect ninth inning, coaxing three straight ground ball outs. The O's were victorious by a 9-7 margin, their sixth win in a row and the first of 245 wins in the remarkable 23-year major league journey of "El Presidente".

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Erik Bedard, 2006 Bowman Heritage #124

Ah, the spoiler role. The last refuge of the damned as another baseball season churns to a finish. But this year, there's potential for some real fun.

Twelve days ago, we were staring at the depressing inevitability of another postseason featuring both the Yankees and the Red Sox. Boston had opened up a 9.5 game cushion over the Rays in the wild card standings. However, Tampa Bay got hot at the same time that the Sawx got hurt. The walking wounded in Beantown include three-fifths of their preferred starting rotation (who would've figured that Erik Bedard would come up lame?), Kevin Youkilis, and now David Ortiz. Dustin Pedroia is scuffling, and so is our old pal Matt Albers (as Jonah Keri hilariously put it, he came to a sudden, painful realization: "Oh, shit, I'm Matt Albers!"). In less than 2 weeks, the gap has been narrowed to 3 games with 16 games remaining for each team. Despite the comparative health of their respective rosters and all the fun talk of momentum, the reality is this: the Rays need help. They've got seven games upcoming against the Yankees. The Red Sox, as Keri and many others have pointed out, have seven games left against those poor, cobbled-together, playing-out-the-string Orioles.

I might be getting carried away, but the O's hold the fate of those hated Red Sox in their hands. Sure, they've been ground into hamburger with dismaying regularity in their head-to-head matchups in recent memory, but anything can happen in a couple of short series. Hell, the Birds have split their eight games against the Yankees since August 26. After years of loudmouth Boston fans jamming into Camden Yards and arrogantly referring to our beautiful stadium as "Fenway South", I can't think of anything sweeter than sending that big-spending, four-hour-game-causing bunch of bozos home empty-handed in October. I also wouldn't be heartbroken if Baltimore dropped the ongoing three-game set against the Rays, but I won't go so far as to root against them. A proper ass-whipping of the Sawx will do just fine, thanks.

Monday, September 12, 2011

B.J. Surhoff, 1997 Skybox Metal Universe #9

You know what they say: some days you're on top of the world, and some days you're trapped in the middle of an etched-foil nuclear reaction. Who says that? I don't know...probably whichever paint-huffing loonies designed Metal Universe.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Brook Fordyce, 2002 Fleer Tradition #193

Here you can see a rare understated design touch by Fleer. In the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on New York, Washington, D.C., and Shanksville, PA, a small American flag icon was added to the bottom right corner of the 2002 Fleer Tradition cards. With today marking the tenth anniversary of that awful day, many words, images, and gestures have put out there. I don't have anything much to say, so I just hope that everyone reading this had a chance to spend time with loved ones this weekend, and that you all remembered not to take the people and things that you hold dear for granted.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Kevin Millwood, 2010 Topps Allen and Ginter Mini #

Fun fact: Kevin Millwood is actually pitching in the major leagues right about now. Even after losing 16 of his 20 decisions in Baltimore in 2010, and logging some mediocre innings at AAA this year for both the Yankees and the Red Sox, the former Oriole landed in the right place at the right time. The Rockies traded their best pitcher, and their next-best pitcher got injured, so they had some need for a 36-year-old veteran to gobble innings like so many potato chips. So after drifting around minor league stadiums for the first four months of this season, Ol' Kev touched down in Denver and has made six starts thus far. As an added bonus, he's...not terrible. A pair of wins, a pair of losses, and a 3.79 ERA. Once again, we have proof that a few usable tendons are all you need to be a passable pitcher in the National League. For the cherry on top, Millwood hit a home run against Arizona starter Joe Saunders in his most recent start this past Wednesday. It was his third career home run, and his first in nearly a decade. Can't predict ball.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Rick Dempsey, 1978 Topps #367

Let's do a little This Date In Orioles History, mmmhmmm. On September 9, 1979, the O's continued plowing through the American League en route to their first World Series since 1971. Rick Dempsey had only one hit in five trips to the plate, but he made it count. The Dipper's grand slam capped a 6-run sixth inning, helping fuel a 16-4 rout of the third-place Red Sox at Fenway Park. Through the fourth inning, it was actually a tightly-contested game. Baltimore's Steve Stone and Boston's Mike Torrez had each allowed a home run, with Gary Roenicke's two-run shot giving the Birds a one-run advantage. Jim Rice went deep for the Sox with the bases empty.

But in the fifth inning, the first four Orioles hit safely to chase Torrez, with Rich Dauer singling in a pair of runs. Allen Ripley offered little relief for the home team, allowing three more runners to score before buckling down and retiring the side. Terry Crowley's two-run double put the O's up 7-1, but they were just getting started. Al Bumbry led off the sixth with a home run, and a Dauer single and a two-out double by Doug DeCinces prompted Ripley's exit. Boston manager Don Zimmer ordered new pitcher Joel Finch to intentionally walk Crowley to load the bases, but the move backfired as Roenicke followed with an unintentional free pass to push across the ninth Baltimore run. That brought Dempsey to the plate, he of the low-.240s batting average and 5 home runs. When Rick reached the seats, it was the first grand slam of his career; he would hit only one more, and that would have to wait until 1986. 13-1, Orioles.

The BoSox tried to make it respectable in the bottom of the seventh, loading the bases to bring about Stone's exit. Big Tim Stoddard did some damage to the starter's ERA, allowing all three inherited runners to score on a Rick Burleson walk and a two-run single by Fred Lynn. But Rice followed with a double-play grounder, and Boston did not threaten again. The Birds, however, tacked on a run in the eighth on a Roenicke single (giving him four RBI on the day) and a pair on run-scoring hits by Ken Singleton and Eddie Murray in the ninth. Stoddard finished out the game, sealing the 94th win against just 46 losses for the O's. Stone earned his tenth win and would finish 11-7. A year later, he figured a few things out and boosted his record to 25-7. The blowout win was the seventh in a row for the Birds, and put them a season-best 12.5 games ahead of second-place Milwaukee. They finished 102-57 and disposed of the Angels in the ALCS, but ran into some sort of black and gold nightmare in the World Series. Yuck.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Adam Loewen, 2007 Upper Deck #59

If you keep tabs on this sort of thing (which I highly doubt), you'll realize that it's been two and a half years since I last posted an Adam Loewen card. That's unsurprising, since he last played in the big leagues back in 2008. After his 52nd arm injury in about 4 years, the former #1 pick realized that he might not be built for that whole pitching thing and tried to start over as an outfielder/first baseman. The Orioles supported him, but when they dropped him from the 40-man roster to return him to the minors, the Blue Jays snatched up the native Canadian. I didn't think he'd resurface in the major leagues, particularly after he hit .246/.351/.412 as a 26-year at AA New Hampshire in 2010. But this year, Adam took advantage of the hitter-friendly ballparks of the AAA Pacific Coast League to put up a line of .306/.377/.508 with 46 doubles, 17 homers, and 85 RBI at Las Vegas. The leaguewide average in the PCL was .286/.359/.448, so it's still not likely that Loewen will stick as a hitter in MLB, but he's achieved a lot just by taking the field for Toronto. The Jays promoted him after the big league rosters expanded on September 1, and gave him a start in right field against Boston last night. In his first game since July 6, 2008, he went 1-for-3 with a hit-by-pitch and a run scored in an 11-10 Toronto victory. Even if you think it was a bum deal for the O's, it's still a pretty cool story.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tony Tarasco, 1996 Fleer Orioles #17

I'm sure you've all been waiting for my level-headed, well-considered, and erudite response to the controversial home run hit by Francisco Cervelli in last night's rain-soaked Orioles-Yankees game. I've given the matter lots of careful thought, and I am of the following opinion:

AAAAAAAAUUUUUGGGGHHHHHHHH! DEAR GOD, IT HAPPENED AGAIN! What in the bloody Hell have I done to deserve half a lifetime of torment like this? Why did it have to be Orioles-Yankees again, and couldn't the O's at least come back to win this one? They're 55-85, throw them a damned bone! Damn you, Jeffrey Maier Jeffrey Maier Jeffrey MaierrrrrrrrraaaaaAAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGGHHHHHH!

If anyone needs me, I'll be grinding my teeth into dust.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Eddie Murray and Cal Ripken, Jr., 1988 Topps #51

What time is it? Time to celebrate the two greatest Orioles of the past quarter-century. 16 years ago today, Cal Ripken, Jr. played in his 2,131st consecutive game, breaking Lou Gehrig's hallowed record. A year later, Eddie Murray celebrated his return to Baltimore by taking Tigers starter Felipe Lira deep for his 500th career home run. A decade earlier, the teammates posed for this card, which could double as the poster for a buddy cop film. Steady Eddie and the Iron Man are nothin' to mess with.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Derrek Lee, 2011 Topps Stickers #7

See? This is what happens when my Monday off is interrupted because of my own absent-mindedness. Tuesdays are trash days, which means that I change the cat litter on Monday nights. Naturally, I didn't think about this all weekend, so I had to run out at 8:00 tonight to pick up a fresh box of litter from Target. While I was there, I scoped out the card aisle at Target and didn't see anything I particularly felt like buying. But I've seen other collectors grabbing up Topps' spanking new sticker books, so I figured it was a harmless use of $6 ($2 for the book, $4 for 4 packs of 8 stickers). I had hoped to pull a J. J. Hardy or even a Mark Reynolds sticker, but the already-departed D-Lee was the only Oriole I found. Oh well. I like this product more than most of the dross that Topps is foisting upon us these days. It's cheap, uncomplicated, and free of inserts and gimmickry. The design even borrows from 1993 Donruss, one of the nicest-looking sets of that fallen brand. I'd say that it's been nearly 20 years since I last had a sticker book, and in a way it's reassuring to know that I've still got about a 95% chance of affixing the stickers to their pages incorrectly. It's hard to fit them precisely in those little boxes, you know?

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Rhyne Hughes, 2010 Bowman Draft #BDP97

Distinctive traits of one John Rhyne Hughes:

1. He is the only "Rhyne" in MLB history, except for Depression-era infielder Hal Rhyne. But I'm not counting last names. Ryne Sandberg and Ryne Duren spelled it differently, of course.

2. He shares a birthday (September 9, 1983) with pitcher Edwin Jackson. Other 9/9 birthdays include Hall of Famers Waite Hoyt, Frankie Frisch, and Frank Chance, as well as Mike Hampton, Todd Zeile, and Hugh "Losing Pitcher" Mulcahy.

3. Hughes spent parts of the 2007-2009 seasons with Tampa Bay's AA affiliate, the Montgomery Biscuits. The Biscuits have the most fantastic logo I have ever seen.

4. When the O's promoted Rhyne to the majors for the first time last April, he broke the news himself via Facebook.

5. He garnered some attention with back-to-back multi-hit games to begin his big league career, going 4-for-9 with a double, a walk, and a pair of RBI. But he totaled only 6 hits in 12 games afterward, batting .158 (6-for-38) and earning a demotion in mid-May 2010. He hasn't been back since, and has hit .243/.320/.455 at AAA Norfolk this season.
6. But hey, he got a card in a "draft" subset six years after being drafted! That's a conversation starter, right?

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Eric Davis, 1998 Pacific Omega #30

On my Saturday afternoon away from the Internet, I give you this 1998tastic triptych with its 33% foil saturation. One assumes that the designers at Pacific were big Star Wars fans, and that they wondered what it would look like if Eric Davis and his baseball-playing contemporaries had been captured by Jabba the Hutt and frozen in carbonite. Oh, and if you think the Omega base cards are tough on the eyes, you ain't seen nothing yet: there were red-foil parallels. Only one collector ever attempted to complete the parallel set, and he soon went mad and stabbed his way through a crowded K-mart. Okay, maybe not...but you can imagine if it were so, right?

Friday, September 2, 2011

Vintage Fridays: Russ Snyder, 1962 Topps #64

You know, if I have an Orioles blog and I've written 1,300-plus posts and haven't gotten around to posting a Russ Snyder card, I expect somebody to call me on it. You guys are slacking on the job! Anyways, I'm boogeying up to Northeastern Pennsylvania in a few hours for a holiday weekend of R-and-R at the cottage, but I plucked a few cards from a pile in my living room to tide you over until I return on Monday.

We'll kick it off with a true keeper, the kind of card that is the pure essence of Vintage Fridays. You've got the timeless woodgrain border of 1962 Topps, the elegant home Orioles uniform with thin black piping, orange script and front jersey number, and the early smiling bird sleeve logo, and of course Russ Snyder showing off a classic home run swing. Russ may not have actually hit many longballs in his 7 years in Baltimore (26 total, with a season high of 9 in '62), but he was a solid contact hitter: .280 AVG as an Oriole. He led the club with a .305 mark in 1962.

Oh, I almost forgot the best part of this card! It's the rare vintage card with a photo taken within the lovely environs of 33rd Street. The grand old right-center field scoreboard at Memorial Stadium is visible over Snyder's left shoulder, with its telltale Hamm's Brewing Company advertisement on top. I know much more about this scoreboard than I did a month ago, and it's all thanks to a recent blog post at The Fleer Sticker Project. Fleerfan does a great job of sifting through photo archives and auction sites to unearth beautiful old pictures from Charm City's sporting past. In the post linked above, he offers an illustrated history of the scoreboards at Memorial Stadium. Since I never set foot in the ballpark until the late 1980s, I had no idea how cool that original scoreboard looked looming over the players at field level. You get to see a progression of local beer magnates, from Gunther (my great-grandmother's brew of choice) to Hamm's to Schaefer. Even when budgetary constraints saw the big old scoreboard replaced with a smaller model in left field in 1970, the National and National Bohemian (Natty Boh to you, hon) ads ensured that a Bawlmer flavor remained. As with most aspects of American life and culture, things went to hell in the 1980s. National head Jerry Hoffberger sold the O's, and billboards for Busch, Budweiser, and Toyota settled into place.

Say it with me: ain't the beer cold!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Mickey Tettleton, 1990 Fleer All-Star Team #12

Just because the Orioles are one loss away from clinching their fourteenth straight losing season, that doesn't mean that they're not breaking records. Just yesterday, Mark Reynolds struck out for the 161st time, topping Mickey Tettleton's 1990 total for the whiffingest effort in club history. That might not be the kind of record a player wants to own, but Reynolds has also clubbed 31 home runs. Another 4 and he'll have the best home run output by an Oriole since Albert Belle went deep 37 times in 1999. Mark can also take pride in the fact that he's likely to post his lowest strikeout total for a full big league season, even after fanning 13 times in the past 5 games. Two years ago, he set the MLB record with 223 strikeouts. So 161 - make that 164 after today's game - is child's play.

Of course, it's entirely possible that Reynolds has created the breeze that's kept temperatures milder than usual in Baltimore over the past few weeks. I'm not about to complain about that, either.