Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Eddie Murray, 1981 Fleer Star Stickers #117

Hey! I actually have a relevant Eddie Murray story to go along with the obligatory card of #33. Last night, my sister and I arrived at Oriole Park at Camden Yards at about 6:00. I was meeting an old friend for a beer at Pickles, so Liz decided to go straight into the park. As she was crossing Washington Boulevard, who should pass by her on a golf cart but Eddie himself. He said hello as he rode by, presumably en route to the on-field pregame ceremony for Brooks Robinson. Then, the O's went out and pulled out a big 4-3 win over Boston, propelling the team once again into a first-place tie with the Yankees. With a win and an Angels loss this afternoon, the Orioles would clinch a postseason berth. What a strange thing to type. Don't wake me, please.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Eddie Murray, 1997 Score Highlight Zone #18

I feel kind of silly posting an Eddie Murray card on Brooks Robinson's statue day, but I just want to keep a good thing going. The Orioles have 90 wins, a magic number of 3, and, for the first time since June, a positive run differential for the season. They also set a new team record for home runs at home last night, with Ryan Flaherty's game-breaking grand slam serving as an appropriate #122. If all goes well today and tomorrow, they could even clinch their first postseason berth in 15 years in front of the home crowd tomorrow. My only regret is that I won't be in attendance for tomorrow's regular season home finale, as I already had other plans. But I'll make up for it by being especially loud at Camden Yards during tonight's sold-out game. I'm looking forward to seeing Steve Johnson get another well-deserved start, as he tries to further upstage his old man by running his record to 5-0 on the season. This is my 17th O's game of 2012, and with a little luck I'll make it to 20 or more with a few October contests. That's just another number related to this year's Birds that I did not anticipate way back in April. I've been very fortunate.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Eddie Murray, 1979 Topps #640

It has been suggested to me by a trusted advisor that I should keep the good vibes going by posting Eddie Murray cards for the foreseeable future. Wednesday's card coincided with a 12-2 blowout win and a team-record-tying seven home runs. Yesterday brought another Eddie post, losses by three of the four teams whose postseason hopes are intertwined with ours (Yankees, A's, and Angels...but those darn Rays won again), and hey, the Ravens even won an ugly, rain-soaked home game. Tonight the Orioles kick off their final home series of the regular season against the Red Sox. That's the fourth-place Red Sox, some of whom undoubtedly remember having their postseason hopes dashed right here at Camden Yards one year ago tonight. I'm sure they'd dearly like to flip the script, although it's just as likely that many of them just want to go home after an often-miserable six month season. But there's no time for the O's to let their guard down. Chris Tillman tries to further establish his bonafides, with first pitch at 7:05. I'll be watching...and I suspect that Eddie will too.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Eddie Murray, 1985 Topps #701

So when I posted an Eddie Murray card yesterday, I had no clue that the O's would go out and tie a team record by hitting seven home runs in a game, which they'd previously done on May 17, 1967 and again on August 26, 1985. Wouldn't you just know that Eddie blasted three of those seven home runs in the latter game?

I'm going to break from routine and just mention some of my favorite moments from last night's game bullet-point style:

  • The scattered few Orioles fans that punctuated the "O!" whenever it cropped up in the singing of "O Canada". I love this town.
  • As the Blue Jays took the field, I told my sister that their second baseman (Omar Vizquel) made his big league debut when she was four years old. That was 1989, folks.
  • Tracking Nate McLouth's leadoff home run in the bottom of the first inning as it soared toward us in Section 92. I saw Toronto center fielder Colby Rasmus track it to the fence, but I never actually saw it land. The roar of the crowd was the only indication I had that it was gone.
  • Standing on the flag court atop the right field scoreboard after getting a beer and looking up at the orange Orioles flag, second only to the navy blue Yankees flag. Listen to those footsteps.
  • Meeting my girlfriend at the Eutaw Street gate in the fourth inning so that I could pass her ticket through the bars. (She had a previous engagement and had to arrive late.) It all seemed so clandestine.
  • The fifth-inning home run barrage: 42-year-old Jim Thome's first Camden Yards tater as an Oriole (he'd hit 18 as a visitor), 20-year-old Manny Machado's go-ahead solo shot into the Birds' bullpen, and the ensuing trivia tidbits. Thome is now the oldest Oriole to ever leave the yard, squeaking past Tim Raines the Elder. Thome and Machado are the second-oldest teammates to ever go deep in one inning, trailing only Julio Franco (age 46) and current Blue Jay Kelly Johnson (age 23), who performed their feat for the Braves on June 14, 2005...against Buck Showalter's Rangers.
  • Whoops, I forgot about Chris Davis! Despite two poor at-bats against Toronto starter Carlos Villanueva, I was confident in the slugger/emergency reliever when he batted in the bottom of the fifth with two outs, two on, and the O's leading 3-2. Villanueva seemed to be gassed, and Davis had homered off of him twice in another memorable game just last month. My sister declared that she would forgive Chris for his defensive lapses in right field in the previous half-inning if only he'd hit a game-breaking home run in this situation...and he did just that, turning on an 0-2 pitch with malice aforethought and sending the ball to the opposite end of our seating section. 6-2.
  • The Orioles went for the jugular and added a two-run homer each in the sixth, seventh, and eighth innings (Mark Reynolds, and Davis and Machado once more each) to arrive at a 12-2 final. I remember the last of those sending the fans into a particular frenzy. That led to...
  • L. J. Hoes' first major league at-bat. Baltimore's third-round pick in 2008 is a Washington, DC native who grew up rooting for the O's. "Little Jerome" was named the organization's 2012 Minor League Player of the Year earlier in the week, and he was greeted with chants of "Let's Go Hoes". The rookie outfielder grounded out to shortstop, but made it a close play and received a standing ovation from a good portion of the crowd.
Who told the Orioles that baseball could be a joyful experience?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Eddie Murray, 1988 Fleer #567

Alright, enough futzing around with the lesser lights of the 1990s Orioles. The 2012 team has hit a mini-skid at a very inopportune time, so I'm coming out with guns blazing. Steady Eddie it is! May he watch over the Orioles with his intense brown eyes and guide their way with his powerful, crushinating hands. If the mystical spectre of Eddie Murray Classic isn't enough to bless the O's with swift reflexes and prodigious power, then maybe their self-appointed good luck charm will give them a boost. I'll be there with orange on tonight, camped out in the bleachers on Eutaw Street. The finish line is so close now!

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mike Figga, 1999 Fleer Tradition Update #U-124

I'm an odd sort sometimes. This is another of the cards that I just ordered through Check Out My Cards, and it's a big thrill to finally own it. Why? Because of the relative obscurity of Mike Figga. The guy was a fungible backup catcher, a former 44th-round draft pick who debuted with the Yankees at age 26 in 1997 and played a grand total of 5 games over three seasons with New York before the Orioles claimed him off of waivers in June of 1999. Somehow he became Baltimore's #2 catcher with a bullet, carrying Charles Johnson's water for a total of 41 games (26 starts). He wore my favorite number (13), he had a funny name...and I have no recollection of his appearance in a quarter of all O's games in the 1999 season. I guess I really tuned out baseball in high school. I didn't miss much here: a batting line of .221/.236/.302 with a home run, 5 RBI, and 4 doubles in 91 plate appearances. One would assume that Figga was a real defensive whiz with offensive stats like that, but in 246 innings he threw out 24% of would-be base stealers (7-of-29) and committed 5 errors and a couple of passed balls. There were also 13 wild pitches on #13's watch. By comparison, starter Charles Johnson had as many errors in his 1,093 innings caught, and also gunned down 38% of opposing runners.

Mike Figga never played in the major leagues again after 1999, but kicked around the minors through the 2004 season. After age 30, he spent most of his time in the independent leagues, wearing the uniforms of teams like the Puebla Pericos and the Lincoln Saltdogs.

But for three months, he was a Baltimore Oriole. That's all the incentive I need to add his card to my sprawling collection.

Monday, September 24, 2012

Jeff Reboulet, 1998 Pacific Online Red #99

I'm going to have to go back to the drawing board to figure out where to take the Coveted Cluster want list posted on the left side of this page. You see, I had some gift moneys for amazon.com, and I happened to see that Check Out My Cards is now partnered with Amazon. So for giggles, I searched for all 11 of those elusive players. I now have nine of those bad boys, including former Randy Johnson killer Jeff Reboulet. The utility infielder faced the Big Unit 66 times in his career, 21 more plate appearances than he had against any other pitcher. In those meetings, Jeff batted .273/.375/.436 with 2 home runs and 5 RBI. Those numbers may seem somewhat pedestrian, but note that Reboulet had an overall OPS of .649 with 20 home runs in a dozen big league seasons. The only other pitcher he took deep twice was Ricky Bones, who joined Jeff on the 1999 Orioles roster. It's also worth mentioning that Reboulet started Game 4 of the 1997 ALDS against Johnson, and battled to a full count before driving another home run deep to left field in Camden Yards. It was a crucial opening blow in an eventual series-clinching 3-1 victory.

I came up empty on Josh Bell and Heathcliff Slocumb in my COMC/Amazon spree, but I found some goodies for cheap. (There may even be an autographed and serial-numbered card in the mix.) Anyway, I'll figure out something to do to refill my most-wanted list. A team collector's work is never done.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Arthur Rhodes, 1992 Stadium Club #641

I always wondered how these photo shoots played out.

"Hey, Arthur, do you know what a baseball is?"

"Sure do! Why, here's one now!"

"Perfect! I think we're done here."

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Gregg Olson, 1994 Topps #723

Did You Know? Nearly two full decades after throwing his last pitch for the team, Gregg Olson is still the Orioles' all-time leader with 160 career saves. But he never topped 40 saves in a single season, peaking with 37 in 1990. Current O's closer Jim Johnson blew by that mark in mid-August, and last night he broke Randy Myers' single-season club record by recording his 46th save. Dirty Jim is already seventh on Baltimore's career saves leaderboard in just his second year as closer. Today he extended his own record with save #47 of 2012, the 68th of his career. (He got it in a 12-inning, 9-6 win over Boston. 16 straight W's in extras. Ho hum.) Next up on the career leaderboard is Eddie Watt, with 74. Watt's not likely to be caught this year, but he should look over his shoulder anyhow.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Bobby Adams, 1956 Topps #287

I'm in the middle of another massive, onerous attempt to organize my ever-mushrooming card collection. Since I last got all of my little cardboard ducks in a row a year or two ago, I've let things go to seed again, as several boxes' worth of Orioles cards have been carelessly filled and pushed aside instead of being merged with the already-chronologically-organized portion of my team collection. Then there's the reams of 1980s and 1990s cards I acquired earlier this year, which were mostly mixed together. I've sorted them on a box-by-box basis, but still need to do a mass sorting and cataloguing. I'm weary just thinking of it, but at least I have a few free binders to make things easier and more enjoyable. One of my first aims is to create a binder for my fledgling 1956 Topps set. I never made it a point to collect this set, which is nearly as old as my parents and undoubtedly a bigger challenge than any other I've targeted. But when I spot some especially affordable '50s cards in a bin at a hobby shop or card show, I always find myself gravitating to the iconic design of the 1956 set: the horizontal layout, the head-and-shoulders portrait, the panoramic on-field scene in the background, and of course the cartoon panels on the card back. I'll pick up a handful here, a dozen there...after a few years of this unfocused gathering, I've accumulated 62 of the 340 total cards in the set, a cool 18%. To think I did it without breaking a sweat!

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Adam Jones, 2009 Upper Deck #33

I'm sure that you're all tired of seeing Adam Jones on this blog, but he's having a hell of a year. Besides, the patchwork nature of this year's Orioles team doesn't leave me with many options for current players. There's no such thing as a Nate McLouth or even a Wei-Yin Chen O's card just yet. (Get off your monopoly-having ass, Topps!)

Anyway, before I so rudely interrupted myself, I was going to tell you that Adam Jones hit another game-winning home run last night, this time a two-run shot in the top of the 11th to seal a 3-1 victory over the Mariners and a series sweep. That's a 15-2 mark in extra innings; a full 10% of the team's games played in 2012 have resulted in an extra-innings win. Dr. Jones himself has set a major league record with four home runs in the 11th inning or later. Last night's clout was also his team-leading 30th of the year, making him the sixth Oriole outfielder to reach that mark in a single season. The other five are familiar names: Boog Powell (39 in 1964), Frank Robinson (49 in 1966, 30 in 1967, and 32 in 1969), Ken Singleton (32 in 1979), Brady Anderson (50 in 1996), and Albert Belle (37 in 1999). While other key players like Nick Markakis, Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds, and (sigh) Brian Roberts have missed significant time with injuries, Adam has also been 100% reliable, as he is currently the only American League player to participate in each and every one of his team's games. I hope he slept in when the Orioles arrived in Boston, because he's earned it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Paul Blair, 1994 Upper Deck All-Time Heroes #197

If this season was 500 games long, I think the Orioles would still find ways to surprise me. I hit "publish" on last night's blog post at 11:26, when the O's were trailing the Mariners 2-0. Shortly thereafter, I called it a night. Wei-Yin Chen was battling, but clearly didn't have his best stuff. Meanwhile, anybody not named Nate McLouth couldn't touch Seattle starter Erasmo Ramirez, a 22-year-old Nicaraguan rookie whom I had previously confused with ex-Phillies pitcher Elizardo Ramirez. The way the Birds were swinging the bat, I didn't have high hopes, but I certainly knew that a two-run deficit was not insurmountable, especially for this year's team. When my alarm sounded at 6:00 this morning, I clambered out of bed and picked up my phone from the dresser as a reflex. I checked the notifications and found that Chris Davis had come through in the ninth inning with a game-tying two-run single, but there was no indication of a final score. "Maybe they're still playing," I thought facetiously. I had no idea how close that was to the truth.

Not only did the O's and M's play extra innings, they played an entire extra game: 18 frames total. The game took 5 hours and 44 minutes, making it the fifth-longest contest in team history. The Orioles pushed across the winning runs on a Taylor Teagarden single (giving him seven RBI and six hits on the season) and a Mark Reynolds fielder's choice grounder with the bases loaded. Jim Johnson, the 16th pitcher used in the game, nailed down his 44th save with a perfect outing, bringing the 4-2 Baltimore victory to a merciful end at 12:54 local time...3:54 AM back here on the east coast. In addition to the 16 pitchers, managers Buck Showalter and Eric Wedge combined to use 32 position players. Seattle completely turned over its infield configuration, and Buck used four different second basemen (Robert Andino, Ryan Flaherty, Steve Tolleson, and Omar Quintanilla). The O's briefly forced another first-place tie with the Yankees, held strong with a three-game cushion for the second wild card, and reduced their magic number for postseason play to a clean dozen thanks to their unfathomable 14th straight extra-innings win.

Oh, and after the game, the Birds announced that they were boosting their exhausted bullpen by calling up 19-year-old phenom Dylan Bundy, who would be the first teenager to make his major league debut for the O's since fellow first-round draft pick Mike Adamson took the mound 45 years ago. Bundy and 20-year-old infielder Manny Machado could give the 2012 team their most precocious duo since Paul Blair and Frank Bertaina both landed in Charm City at age 20 in 1964. I won't even attempt to guess what the Orioles will do next.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Steve Barber, 2004 Maryland Lottery #2

Who better than #13 to celebrate the fact that the Orioles a) have a magic number to clinch a postseason berth and b) that number is, of course, 13. Any combination of O's wins and Angels losses adding up to 13 will officially put Baltimore in the playoffs. At the moment, the Birds are down 2-0 to the Mariners, but it's early yet. Let's go!

Monday, September 17, 2012

Mychal Givens, 2011 Bowman Chrome #BCP50

If at first you don't succeed...try, try again. The Orioles had high hopes for Mychal Givens when they drafted him with their second-round pick (54th overall) out of Plant High School in Tampa back in 2008. Though many teams projected him as a pitcher, which probably had something to do with the 97 mph fastball he featured as a teenager, the O's developed him as a shortstop. This Bowman card touts his .854 OPS in 2010, but fails to mention the small sample size of 102 plate appearances. Two years later, he still hasn't made it past low-single-A Delmarva. In 2012, Mychal posted a paltry .635 OPS with the Shorebirds, and committed 25 errors in 89 games at shortstop.

On the heels of Givens' subpar season, the Orioles have announced that he will return to the mound in 2013. At 22, he should still have plenty of oomph in his right arm, as well as enough time left in his career to refine his pitching technique. Best of luck to Mychal as he attempts a reverse Adam Loewen.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Friday, September 14, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Jim Palmer, 1977 Topps #600

Just as the Orioles are starting a road trip today, so am I. Of course, I'm not headed to such far-flung locales as Oakland, Seattle and Boston. My itinerary includes Chestertown and two Eastons (Maryland and Pennsylvania). I'm taking part in a reading and roundtable discussion for my alma mater's student writer's union. The piece I'm reading is a personal essay I wrote back in 2008 about my ongoing war with "sprickets", the scourge of my old apartment in Columbia. I'll be staying overnight, which will make tomorrow's drive to Easton (MD) much easier. That's where my friends Mike and Kimmy will be getting married. It certainly looks like they've picked a beautiful Saturday afternoon for their nuptials. I'll come back home tomorrow evening for a breather before driving to Easton (PA, near Allentown) Sunday morning for the final day of Chikara Pro Wrestling's King of Trios tournament. It's a smaller independent organization that runs out of the Mid-Atlantic, and it was founded by Mike Quackenbush. I had the pleasure of making Mike's acquaintance when we both wrote for a wrestling humor and opinions website in the early 2000's. But I've never seen one of his shows, which feature cartoonish characters (even by pro wrestling standards) and high-flying feats of athleticism. There's also a meetup for followers of the With Leather sports blog, which will give me the opportunity to put faces with some of the names that I've been sharing my guilty pleasure with every Monday night on that site's WWE RAW discussion threads. I'll probably be collapsing back into my own bed around midnight Sunday night/Monday morning. No rest for the wicked, you know.

In the meantime, I'll leave you with a little extracurricular reading. Max (aka Jacobmrley) is one of the wittiest collectors/bloggers that I've interacted with in my travels in the sportscardblogosphere. If you're not already reading his Starting Nine blog, you best hop to it. His latest post throws a little love the Orioles' way, and shows off his nine-card mini-collections of Mike Mussina, Cal Ripken, Jr., Eddie Murray, Brooks and Frank Robinson, and Jim Palmer. Spoiler alert: the above card of Palmer in his orange finery makes the cut. So happy reading, and I'll check in (however briefly) tomorrow!

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Hayden Penn, 2005 Topps Updates and Highlights #UH

Today, it finally happened. The Orioles won their 81st game of the season, clinching their first non-losing year since (all together now) 1997. Yep, with their next win, the Birds will officially have their first winning team of the millennium. The wonderful thing is that such a modest milestone seems secondary and nearly inconsequential now. No, the goalposts have moved, and the O's have legitimate postseason hopes. Their 14-inning war of attrition with the Rays this afternoon (and early evening) gave Baltimore a sweep over their closest pursuer in the race for the American League's second wild card spot, but simultaneously afforded them a share of first place in the East with the sputtering Yankees. The regular season is getting shorter and shorter, and there are only 19 more games to cross off of the schedule. They're doing it without a true "ace" starting pitcher, and they're doing it without Brian Roberts, Nolan Reimold, and now without Nick Markakis. I love rooting for this team.

But on such a grand occasion, as I sprinkle dirt upon the grave of the 14-year losing skid, I find myself wanting to toast not only those suffering and star-crossed cornerstones who have been reduced to spectators, but to each and every one of the overmatched players who defined an era of infamy in Charm City.

So here's to Vladimir Guerrero, Sammy Sosa, Steve Trachsel, and the rest of the has-beens.

Here's to Matt Riley, Hayden Penn, Ryan Minor, and their failed prospect brethren.

Raise a glass to Sidney Ponson, Eric DuBose, Julio Lugo, and their criminal ilk.

Tip your hat to Danys Baez, Jorge Julio, Mike Timlin, and all of the bullpen arsonists.

Bow to Brandon Fahey, Rick Bauer, Brian Burres, and the other roster fillers.

It's been a hell of a ride, with the emphasis squarely on "hell". We're hopping off now.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

J. J. Hardy, 2012 Topps Opening Day #41

Another night, another win, another first-place tie. My sister and I took advantage of the 1992 throwback discount to score a pair of $8 left field box seats in section 72 tonight. From that vantage point, we were treated to the J. J. Hardy Show. The Orioles shortstop went 4-for-5 with 3 runs scored, a double, a pair of home runs (numbers 20 and 21 on the season), and 5 RBI to secure a 9-2 win over the Rays. Chris Davis also went deep, which means that I've been on hand for 10 of his homers in 2012. As I intimated, not only did the O's give themselves some breathing room over Tampa Bay (now two games back), but they once again pulled even with the Yankees atop the A. L. East. As we were crossing the street, the crowd at Pickles Pub began to cheer and shout; Jacoby Ellsbury had just singled in the winning run for the lowly Red Sox in a 4-3 walkoff win over New York. I wanted to high-five everyone I saw. As my sister pointed out, we're all a little slap-happy. Something wonderful and weird is happening.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Tommy Davis, 2001 Upper Deck Decades: 1970s #18

It's funny; with the Orioles still in the playoff hunt, it seems too early to be football season. But the O's have the night off, which is convenient since the Ravens played their first game tonight. In honor of my second-favorite local sports team and their 44-13 blowout win over the Bengals, here's a retro card that features purple borders and the sublime Tommy Davis. Tommy is following through on his sweet swing...well, they blew up the photo, so you can't really see his swing, but you know what I mean. There's also something amusing about those tiny numbers that the Birds wore on the backs of their jerseys in the mid-1970s...on bigger guys like Lee May or Tim Stoddard, they gave the appearance of an ill-fitting children's replica. Of course, I might not say that to their faces...

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Nick Markakis, 2012 Topps Gold Rush

Let's all give a big sarcastic thanks to CC Sabathia, who broke Nick Markakis' left thumb with an errant pitch in last night's Orioles win over the Yankees. As a result, one of the leaders of the O's offense will miss about six weeks. That means that Nick won't be back until the Birds are deep in the playoffs, assuming that they make it there without him. The right fielder was having his best season since 2008, with a slash line of .298/.363/.471 and 28 doubles in 104 games. He already had surgery earlier this summer to repair a broken hamate bone in his right wrist, missing six weeks while he healed from that injury. His hot bat coincided with his return in July, at which point manager Buck Showalter moved him from third to first in the batting order. In 54 games atop the O's lineup, Markakis batted .335/.390/.489 to give the team its first true leadoff hitter since Brian Roberts was beset by his own injuries. If the Orioles maintain their current delicate hold on a postseason berth, they will do it with a great degree of difficulty.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1994 Score Burger King #9

I managed to find a card that comes close to matching the pose of Cal Ripken, Jr.'s newly-unveiled Orioles Legends statue at Camden Yards. It's a great depiction of Cal's surprising agility at shortstop, as you see him lunging to his right to stab a hard ground ball on the hop. Later in his career, the Hall of Famer and Maryland native developed a reputation for having a flair for the dramatic, hitting home runs in his streak-tying and streak-setting games, and doing the same thing on the first pitch he saw in his final All-Star Game in 2001. With Ripken in the ballpark on his latest special night, the O's channeled his penchant for coming up big when the spotlight shone brightest this past Thursday night.

Thanks in part to Junior's statue ceremony, the game was sold out in advance. I was excited to be a part of a capacity crowd for the first time since Opening Day, but dreading the possibility of that crowd being full of Yankee fans. That dread gave way to irritation as it took me more than an hour to navigate the rush hour traffic downtown. By the time my sister and I got into the stadium, the on-field ceremony was already underway. Though I didn't get to see it, I'm glad that Brooks Robinson is finally feeling well enough to make it back onto the field for this kind of thing.

As we took our seats in section 340, high above the backstop, I took stock of my neighbors for the evening. Only a few scattered fans in navy blue caps and pinstriped jerseys, and none of them looking like they would spend the night taunting the hometown fans if things went the way of New York. With the O's taking the field to a loud roar, I scanned the rest of the ballpark. There were bright orange shirts all the way around, and just a few lonely navy blue-clad fans sprinkled around. With the Orioles' stakes higher than they've been in a decade and a half, the Baltimore fans took back Camden Yards. The cheers were loud and spontaneous as Jason Hammel breezed through his first inning of work since July with three ground balls. That kind of positive buzz persisted all night, and the volume increased every time a Birds' pitcher got two strikes on a Yankee batter.

We really came unglued in the bottom of the first, as the O's offense gave rookie starter David Phelps a rude welcome to Charm City. After retiring Nick Markakis on a bang-bang ground ball to second base, the New York starter surrendered four consecutive hits, with Matt Wieters' three-run homer capping the outburst and giving the Orioles a nearly-instant 4-0 lead. As Wieters disappeared into the home dugout, the loud ovation suddenly transformed into the first of the night's many chants of "YAN-KEES SUCK! YAN-KEES SUCK!". I didn't join in, because maybe I'm maturing or some crap. But I will admit that my heart felt near bursting. It was sweet, sweet music to me.

The game proceeded without much drama until Hammel was struck on his pitching elbow by a Robinson Cano line drive to open the fourth inning. Nobody seemed to believe that he'd remain in the game, especially considering that the ball that deflected off of his arm caromed all of the way out to shallow left field. But after being examined by trainer Brian Ebel and manager Buck Showalter, the tall right-hander took a few practice throws and felt strong enough to continue. He ultimately allowed a run on a Curtis Granderson single, but Robert Andino got it right back with a solo home run to deep center field in the bottom of the inning. Mark Reynolds joined the big fly party by smoking a liner to left field to lead off the fifth, his seventh home run in as many games and his fifth in that span against the Yankees.

The score stayed put at 6-1 until the top of the eighth, when Oriole Park was reduced to a stunned murmur as the Bronx Bombers tied the game with a two-out, five-run rally against Randy Wolf and a troublingly wild Pedro Strop. It was discouraging to see the game slip from the Birds' control with only four outs left to get. But the crowd rose to its feet once again to urge on Darren O'Day, who finally secured that crucial last out of the inning by coaxing a popup to second base from Derek Jeter, stranding a pair of runners on base. With the contest already chugging toward 10:00, I had uneasy visions of extra innings on my mind.

I needn't have worried. Leading off against New York setup man David Robertson, Adam Jones battled back from an 0-2 count and answered a high and tight pitch that sent him diving for cover. Jones  turned around on Robertson's very next pitch and lashed the ball to deep left-center field. As it sailed over the wall, we all came unglued. The O's took a 7-6 lead on Adam's 100th career home run with the team. Looking rattled, Robertson gave up an 0-2 single to Matt Wieters and had to face Yankee Killer Mark Reynolds. The resurgent first baseman worked the count full and then blasted the ball to left field for his second homer of the game, giving him three multi-homer games against the Yanks in a week. Only one other player ever accomplished that feat in a full season against the Bombers, and it was Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg in 1938. 9-6, and Camden Yards was deafening as Joe Girardi got back to playing Bullpen Roulette. He brought in southpaw Boone Logan for the platoon advantage against lefty Chris Davis. Naturally, Davis crushed Logan's first offering to the back of the flag court in right field for the team's third round-tripper of the inning and their season-best sixth of the night. From 6-6 to 10-6 in a rapid burst of power. Girardi summoned Derek Lowe to get through the inning without further damage done, but the horse was already out of the barn.

Jim Johnson strode in from the bullpen to protect a four-run lead. He wouldn't earn a save, but he did get three crucial outs to close out the most important game of his career to date. He worked around a ground-ball single without much difficulty, slamming the door by striking out Eric Chavez on three straight pitches. When the home plate umpire punched out Chavez to make it final, there was one more roar, 46,298 voices as one. The Orioles were back atop the American League East, tied with those Yankees. There were 3 games left in the series and 25 more in the season, but the fans emptying out into the Baltimore night were jubilant. There were "LET'S GO O'S!" and "YAN-KEES SUCK!" chants still ringing through the stadium and out into the streets. They're back.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Vintage Fridays: Pete Richert, 1968 Topps #354

I owe you a first-hand account of the dizzying highs and lows of last night's raucous 10-6 win over the Yankees. However, I am tired and grouchy tonight, so I leave you to stare in puzzlement at the misshapen clump of brown that passes for Pete Richert's hair. Somehow he seems to have a textbook flattop with wild, wayward locks sticking out from the sides. It's like he has hat hair, but only at the temples. What is this? Couldn't the photographer have said something? Maybe Pete just didn't give a flying fig. Good night, all.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Cal Ripken, Jr., 1995 Star Cal Ripken, Jr. #80

Congratulations to Cal Ripken, Jr., (or is that Cal, Ripken, and Jr.?) who celebrates the 16th anniversary of surpassing Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games played. He (and the Orioles) will be marking the occasion by unveiling his bronze statue in the center field picnic area. Though dodgy weather has tamped down the crowds for the previous Orioles Legends games, there should be no such problems tonight. With the first-place Yankees in town, and the O's just one game off the pace with a four-game weekend series at hand, this Thursday night showdown is already a sellout. The Birds should get a boost from a returning Jason Hammel, the club's surprising ace who was sidelined this summer with knee surgery. Let's go O's!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Eric Davis, 1998 Upper Deck #424

I remember spending those uneasy early months of the 2012 season comparing and contrasting this year's Orioles with the fluky but ultimately doomed 2005 and 2008 versions. With 27 games left to play, the "What the Buck?" O's have already blown past the full-season win totals of those two lamentable clubs and are now being measured against the 1997 Wire-to-Wire squad...as in, "The Orioles have not been in first place in the American League East in September since 1997". Sure, that's a long time. But just how long has it been?

-In September 1997, I was starting my sophomore year of high school. I couldn't drive a car, hadn't even had a summer job or grown my first goofy goatee. I looked a little something like this:

-Hell, my younger sister was 12. She has now been married for nearly three years.

-The single-season home run record was still held by Roger Maris, who hit 61 in 1961.

-Not one member of that 1997 Orioles team is still active in the major leagues. Two (Roberto Alomar and Cal Ripken, Jr.) have been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. Two others (Danny Clyburn and Terry Mathews) are deceased.

-The Baltimore Ravens were kicking off their second season in Charm City, the final season of pro football at Memorial Stadium. Vinny Testaverde was the quarterback, Ted Marchibroda was the head coach, and they played in the now-defunct AFC Central Division along with the Tennessee Oilers.

-Here are a few items from the headlines: The deaths of Princess Diana and Mother Teresa, El Ni┼ło, Mike Tyson biting off Evander Holyfield's ear, Steve Jobs' return to Apple Computers.

So yeah, that's what 15 years looks like in the rear view. Sure, the Orioles could still run off the rails; they are one of eight teams in a scrum for five playoff spots and their September schedule offers lots of stiff competition. But no matter what happens over the next four weeks, it's September 5 and the supposed doormats from Baltimore are tied with the Yankees atop the American League East, and both are tied with Oakland for the second-best record in the league. Nothing can take away the memory of this moment in time.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wally Moon, 1990 Sportsprint Frederick Keys #1

When it comes to my Orioles-specific card collection, I'm usually unenthused about minor league cards. The designs are frequently dull, primitive, or just plain ugly. The players are often obscure, bordering on anonymous. In short, they're not true O's cards in my mind. There's a cognitive dissonance in seeing Suns, Keys, Baysox, or Red Wings logos and uniforms scattered throughout my team collection. It's like they got in on a technicality.

But there are exceptions to the rule. Until I put together a post on Wally Moon for my 1965 Topps blog, I never knew that the former Cardinals and Dodgers outfielder had managed in the Baltimore organization. I thought it was pretty cool that the two-time All-Star, Gold Glover, and National League Rookie of the Year had ties to my favorite team, and with this card, I have tangible proof. Checking back on my January 2009 summary of Wally's achievements, I can see that he steered the Keys to the Carolina League championship in the 1990 season during which this card was issued. So the card is also a reminder of past glory for some baby Birds, only a handful of whom went on to much major league success (Ricky Gutierrez, Arthur Rhodes, and Anthony Telford move to the head of the class).

As I look at this card, I only have one regret: Wally's distinctive unibrow has lightened with age and is also obscured by shadows. Rats!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Mark Reynolds, 2011 Topps Chrome Orange Refractor #129

I did not get to see the Orioles win three of four games over the long weekend, since I was busy traversing the interstates of Eastern Pennsylvania, canoeing, sitting by a lakeside fire, and so forth. No complaints there, especially since the O's used some solid pitching, timely hitting, and even the occasional spectacular defensive play to draw within a single game of the Yankees for the American League East lead. They're peaking at the right time, particularly Mark Reynolds, who had a pair of home runs in each of the Birds' two wins against New York and made some surprisingly deft plays at first base to save errors for his infield mates. The unprecedented good fortune keeps accumulating for the most enjoyable Orioles team of my adult life, as they won three separate series in the Bronx for the first time since 1976, when Reggie Jackson wore orange and black and some early-season games featured Tippy Martinez and Rick Dempsey in navy pinstripes. In yesterday's 8-3 comeback win over the Yankees, Randy Wolf earned the victory in his club debut with 3.1 innings of emergency relief of Chris Tillman, who left after 3 innings with elbow discomfort. When the O's picked the 36-year-old lefty Wolf off of the scrap heap last week, it didn't seem to be a good fit. So naturally he was right there when the team needed him. That's how things go in 2012.