Orioles Card "O" the Day

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

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Andy Van Slyke, 1995 Pinnacle #396

Today is Andy Van Slyke's 56th birthday, which I learned by reading Stacey's "Bird Droppings" post this morning at Camden Chat. She also linked to this blog, which was a swell thing to do, and which gave me that little extra push to write something tonight. I guess reciprocity makes the world go 'round.

Andy was a five-time Gold Glove center fielder, a three-time All-Star, and a two-time Silver Slugger, and he did exactly zero of those things in Baltimore. It would've been hard to squeeze such accolades into his muddled 17-game swing through Charm City in early 1995. So it goes. You may feel like you've heard the Van Slyke name more recently; indeed, Andy's son Scott has been a part-time outfielder and first baseman for the Dodgers since 2012. He's batted .249/.331/.424 in 821 career plate appearances, with 27 home runs and 92 RBI.

The elder Van Slyke shares a birthday, birth year and all, with former righty reliever and storied prankster Roger McDowell, who also had a mid-30s sojourn with the Orioles in the mid-1990s. Roger finished his 12-year stint in the majors with 41 appearances out of the O's bullpen in 1996, running up a 4.25 ERA while walking 23 batters and striking out just 20. Two decades later, McDowell has returned to our city as Buck Showalter's new pitching coach after a lengthy tenure in that same role in Atlanta. He's got his work cut out for him, to say the least.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Nate Spears, 2003 Bowman Heritage Rainbow #260

I know as much about Nate Spears as most of you do. Let's see...he was in the Orioles' organization in 2003, and he had wicked hat hair.

Fine, I'll dig deeper. Nate was Baltimore's fifth-round pick in the 2003 draft out of Charlotte High School in Punta Gorda, FL. He spent three years in the low minors with the Birds, and made good contact and took some walks. In 2005, he batted .294/.349/.429 with 30 doubles as a 20-year-old with the Frederick Keys, making both the midseason and postseason Carolina League All-Star teams. In January 2006, Nate was traded to the Cubs in the Corey Patterson deal. He continued his steady, unspectacular performance, winding up with a batting line of .268/.357/.398 in a dozen minor league seasons. In an outlier year, he clubbed 20 homers and drove in 82 runs with Boston's AA Portland affiliate in 2010. He had cups of coffee in the majors with the Red Sox in September 2011 and April 2012, unfortunately going 0-for-8 in all with four strikeouts. As of the 2016 season, he'd put away his bat and glove and joined the coaching staff of Boston's Class A Greenville Drive club.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Eddie Watt, 1972 Topps #128

Fun facts about Eddie Watt:

-The youngest of four kids, he became the first member of his family to attend college when he enrolled at Iowa State Teachers College. His alma mater later became known as Northern Iowa University.

-In 1961, he was scouted by the Cardinals, White Sox, and Orioles, but the first two clubs each offered him a $350 signing bonus. The O's sweetened the pot and got him for $400.

-While splitting the 1964 season between Class A Aberdeen (S.D.) and AA Elmira, Eddie went a combined 17-2 with a 2.04 ERA.

-He made his big league debut on Opening Day of the 1966 season - April 12 - and earned the save in Baltimore's 5-4, 13-inning win at Fenway Park. The stocky righthander struck out George Scott and got a pair of groundouts from Tony Horton and Rico Petrocelli in a flawless inning of work.

-Though Watt didn't appear in the O's four-game sweep of the Dodgers in the 1966 World Series, he still earned an $11,683.04 share. In five years, he'd come a long way from a $400 bonus!

-His career-best performance in 1969 helped the Birds claim the first of three straight American League pennants: 5-2 with a team-high 16 saves and a 1.65 ERA in 71 innings.

-After Eddie's playing career ended, he managed in the Padres' farm system for four years, racking up a .524 winning percentage from 1978-1981. Later he coached in the minors for the Astros, Phillies, and Braves before retiring in 2003.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Cal Ripken Jr., 1992 Triple Play #199

Look, Cal Ripken isn't a violent man by nature. But if Kevin Maas comes in too high with a takeout slide at second base, Junior is going to linger at the bag for just a moment, gripping the ball with a little extra oomph. Maybe he'll give a passing thought to spiking that ball off of Maas' helmet, but he'll think better of it. He'll bend down, just as the Yankee first baseman moves to get up and dust himself off, and he'll challenge Maas to a friendly wrestling match in the clubhouse. He'll grin at the younger player, his icy blue eyes glinting. Always keep them guessing.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Fred Lynn, 1988 Fleer #566

So there's this thing I do on this blog (or used to, in the long-ago when I didn't have to be shamed into writing by my restless readers) where I project thoughts, fears, delusions, etc. into the minds of the players pictured on my cards. For instance, even though this photo was snapped nearly 30 years ago, I might suggest that Fred Lynn is wondering what the hell we've all done to deserve a year like 2016. By now you know my personal laundry list of difficulties over the past calendar year: my wife's breast cancer diagnosis in March at 24 weeks pregnant (coinciding with the death of her grandmother), her subsequent treatment before and after our son Finn's June birth, Finn's cleft lip repair surgery in September, the financial stress of paying two mortgages until we finally rented out our old rowhouse IN NOVEMBER...hell, since the last time I posted back in *cough* October, my car battery went kaput and various tow truck snafus stranded me in my workplace parking lot for three-plus hours...and three weeks later, Janet got hit by an elderly driver making an ill-advised left turn just a few blocks from our home, WITH Finn in the car. (They're both fine, and her car will be, with Geico picking up the tab.) So I have plenty of reasons to tell 2016 to go piss up a rope before we even start talking about climate change, or Syria, or the Zika virus, or Brexit, or the neverending roll call of public figures dying, or Donald Effing Trump.

And yet...2016 brought me this daily source of joy, wonder, and warmth.

That's one major exception that proves the rule. As I've taken to saying in recent months, thanks for the baby, 2016. Now go away and never come back.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Chris Tillman, 2016 Topps #477

I can't sit still. A do-or-die playoff game against the loathsome, obnoxious, cantankerous, preening Blue Jays is the perfect time to write my first blog post in two and a half months, right?

Hopefully I'll be back a lot sooner with my next post, but let me say that we're all doing well here at the home base. Baby Finn is splendid, Janet is healthy, and I'm not any more sleep-deprived than I was before fatherhood. Now, then...

Come on, Tilly. You've got this.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Zach Britton, 2016 Topps #63

Major League Baseball took an All-Star break, and so did I. Sure, mine lasted twice as long as theirs, but who's counting? The important thing is that Zach Britton ensured the Orioles' home field advantage in the World Series by saving the American League's 4-2 win in last Tuesday's All-Star Game. That's nothing new for the lefty, who has also nailed down each of Baltimore's last six wins. He's a perfect 29-for-29 in save opportunities in 2016 (I'm knocking on wood as I type), and has already racked up 102 saves in less than three seasons as the O's closer. In the next week or two, he should pass Tippy Martinez (105) for third on the team's all-time leaderboard. Then he'll set his sights on Jim Johnson (122), with Gregg Olson (160) still on top for now.

This 2016 Topps card is brand new to my collection, since I decided that I wanted to commemorate my son's birth with a factory set of this year's cards. I haven't sorted them all out yet, but initially I like the fairly no-frills design. The cloudy flourish in opposite corners I could do without. Full-bleed photos look so clean and neat; why mess with that? I'll also note that the first Oriole I pulled out of the box was Henry Urrutia, who appeared in all of ten games for the club in 2015. An odd choice to be featured in the set, but I still have warm fuzzies thanks to his walkoff home run against the Mets last August 19, so I'll just roll with it.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Brooks Robinson, 1992 Front Row The All-Time Great Series Brooks Robinson #3

Manny Machado still has his work cut out for him if he wants to match Brooks Robinson's 18 All-Star Game Appearances, but he was just named to his third Midsummer Classic. Not a bad start for a guy who celebrates his 24th birthday today. Next Tuesday, Manny will start at third base for the American League, having won the fan vote for the first time on the strength of his otherworldly defense at both shortstop and the hot corner and his breakout offensive numbers (.324/.380/.590, 29 2B, 19 HR, 53 RBI). He will be joined by four Orioles teammates. Matt Wieters will be a reserve catcher, having rebounded from Tommy John surgery to put up a solid .272/.323/.441 line with nine homers and 37 RBI in 60 games. Mark Trumbo's league-leading 26 home runs, four more than his total for the 2015 season, earned him a reserve outfield slot. Brad Brach, a one-time 42nd round draft pick who has posted a 0.99 ERA, 0.79 WHIP, and 10.4 K/9 IP in 45 appearances as a setup man, will be an All-Star for the first time. And of course Zach Britton, he of the 24 saves in 24 attempts in 2016 (and 0.78 ERA and WHIP, 11.2 K/9 IP, and 5.38 K/BB...) will be one of the anchors of the A.L. bullpen at Petco Park. If you would've told me five years ago that the O's would have five All-Stars, I probably would've assumed that you meant cumulatively in a five-year span. It's a new era.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Sidney Ponson, 2002 Fleer Tradition #155

Today I realized with horror that there was a common denominator in each day of the Orioles' current five-game losing streak: I have not posted a blog entry during this skid. I may be a new father, but I can squeeze out a few minutes to set this right. I realize that nine-game West Coast road trips are hellish, but these Orioles are better than this. They are not the gluttonous, underachieving, surly Orioles of Sidney Ponson vintage. They are the 2016 Orioles. The first-place, five-All-Star-having, Buck Showalter Orioles. This is just a bump in the road. Get 'em tonight.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Luke Scott, 2011 Topps Allen and Ginter #78

On Saturday, June 25, 2016, at 10:03 AM, Finn Caleb Brotzman was born. Seven pounds, seven ounces, 21 inches long. He is as healthy as can be, and his cleft lip has no palate involvement, so he'll only need one surgery to correct the lip. The 28.5 hours that crawled by between the time we checked in to labor and delivery on Friday morning and the moment that our son took his first breath the following morning were full of restlessness and anxiety. Janet and I are both still exhausted, but it was all worth it.

During our stay in labor and delivery and postpartum, we watched at least parts of all four games of the Orioles' home sweep of the Rays, so Finn's life as an O's fan is off to a charmed start. He has a motley assortment of Birdland Birthday Buddies: Luke Scott, turn-of-the-century reliever Ryan Kohlmeier, and 1977 bullpenner Dick Drago. I know you'd probably like to read several paragraphs about Dick Drago, but instead I'll distract you with baby pictures. Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Brian Roberts, 2004 Fleer Tradition #350

And then there was one. One. One sleep until we meet our baby. It's so surreal.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Eric Davis, 1998 Upper Deck #39

Just a reminder: Adam Jones is not the first lithe, power-hitting Orioles outfielder to enjoy a good wad of bubble gum. Eric Davis was blowing bubbles while Adam Jones was still in middle school.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Jonathan Schoop, 2014 Bowman Chrome #7

I might not officially be a father for another five days or so, but I had a very enjoyable first Fathers' Day today. My wonderful wife Janet treated me to a breakfast of scrambled eggs, along with apple cider donuts from Weber's Farm. Then my sister and I took our dad to Camden Yards, where the Orioles won the rubber game against the Blue Jays in a less-than-tidy three and a half hours, out-slugging Toronto in an 11-6 final. Baltimore pounded out a season-high 19 hits, including Matt Wieters' 4-for-5, four RBI performance. Three other O's had three hits apiece: Hyun-Soo Kim, Chris Davis, and Jonathan Schoop. Schoop had the most impressive hit on the day, a towering 458-foot two-run home run off of Jesse Chavez in the bottom of the seventh inning. His blast reached the recessed seating beyond the concrete walkway in the lower deck in left field, which nobody seems to recall happening before. Chris Tillman wasn't at his best, allowing a pair of two-run homers in the second inning, but he stopped the bleeding there and cleared five innings to earn his tenth win against just one loss. Oh, and my father and I got these snazzy newsboy caps, a fine promotional giveaway if there ever was one:

So Happy Fathers' Day to all of the current dads and dads-to-be out there.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Eduardo Rodriguez, 2013 Bowman Chrome Prospects #BCP207

The Orioles' starting pitching has been identified as the team's Achilles' heel since before the season began. Entering tonight's game, the team's non-Chris Tillman starters had an unsightly 5.53 ERA, leading many to lament the prospects that were traded away in midseason deals in recent years, emerging pitchers such as Zach Davies and Eduardo Rodriguez. Yeah, about that...

Tonight the O's took their hacks against Rodriguez, dealt away to Boston in July 2014 in order to bring Andrew Miller to Baltimore. The lefty turned heads last year with a 10-6 record and 3.85 ERA (111 ERA+) as a rookie last year, but started this season on the DL and made just his fourth start of the year tonight. The Orioles were not accommodating, chasing him in the fifth inning and racking up five runs on eight hits. Meanwhile, Tyler Wilson excelled. Facing a formidable Boston offense, he tossed a career-high eight shutout innings, allowing three hits and a walk and striking out six. So the Birds return home tomorrow in sole possession of first place, and they'll try to keep the surging Blue Jays at bay. As Buck Showalter would say, "Bring it on".

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Brady Anderson, 1997 Fleer Ultra #2

Countdown to Parenthood has reached nine days...or less. (Please take your time, kid.) Are we ready? Will we ever truly be ready? Probably not, but we have a pail full of clean cloth diapers and a freezer full of donated breast milk, so I guess the necessities are in place.

Huh...eight years ago, I never would have thought I'd be mentioning breast milk on this blog. It's a brave new world.

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Bobby Bonilla, 1996 Donruss #225

Last weekend, the Orioles picked up some familiar names in the MLB amateur draft. In the seventh round, they spent the 211th overall pick on North Carolina State University first baseman Preston Palmeiro, the younger son of former O's All-Star Rafael Palmeiro. Yes, he bats lefty. In 59 games as a junior, Preston batted .337 with 20 doubles, nine homers, and 55 RBI. Scouts like his contact hitting ability but question his power potential; sounds a lot like the early outlook for his father. Back in spring training, Preston's big brother Patrick was in the Birds' minor league camp, but was released before long.

On Saturday the O's used their 13th round selection on lefty reliever Brandon Bonilla, the progeny of slugging third baseman-outfielder Bobby Bonilla. Bobby Bo spent parts of two seasons in Baltimore in the mid-1990s, and his kid saved a dozen games as a senior for the Hawaii Pacific University Sharks. He reportedly throws 97 mph, and allowed just one run in 25.1 innings this season, striking out 38 and walking 15 while giving up nine hits.

As always, there's no telling whether either second-generation player will ever make it to the big leagues. But it certainly seems like they have some good tools.

Monday, June 13, 2016

Jeffrey Hammonds, 1994 Leaf Limited #1

11 days. Eleven. I will be a father in less than two weeks. I'm dealing with a lot of complex emotions, and I tried to unpack some of them earlier today in a Facebook post. I hope you'll forgive me if I copy and paste:

"Sometimes I worry that I'm going to run out of ways to express my gratitude to everyone. Since Janet's diagnosis back in March, our friends, family, coworkers, and community members have given so much: advice, companionship, sympathy, prayers, hope, time. Then there are the material gifts: baby clothes, toys, books, and care items, ready-to-heat meals (that's a biggie)...and of course we were blown away when you donated $3,700 to Janet's head shaving fundraiser for the St. Baldrick's Foundation.

It's precisely because of this generosity that we've hesitated in asking for more. But our friend Molly offered to set up a donation page to help defray our medical costs, and I don't mind telling you that the expenses associated with cancer treatment caught us off guard. Long story short - Blue Cross/Blue Shield Federal offers great maternity coverage, but their cancer coverage leaves a lot to be desired.

Our GoFundMe page has been up for less than 48 hours, and you've already contributed over a thousand dollars. Janet and I both are simply overcome with emotion. Some of you have boosted the signal by sharing our page with your own friends, resulting in donations from folks that we don't even know. What is there to say? Thank you. You've given us comfort, hope, and peace of mind. I hope we can repay you in kind."

You can find our GoFundMe page here. Every bit helps, and I'm not just talking about donations. It helps to know that there are people I've never met who are pulling for us, reading about my experiences and hopes and fears and offering encouraging words. Thanks as always.

Friday, June 10, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Billy Gardner, 1957 Topps #17

Things to know about Billy Gardner:

-His nickname was "Shotgun", due to his strong throwing arm.

-He played eight minor league seasons before debuting with the Giants in 1954. Though he didn't see action in the World Series that fall, he did receive a winner's share of $11,147.90.

-During the 1956 season, Billy hit a pair of home runs off of Athletics pitcher (and future Dodgers manager) Tom Lasorda.

-His best big league season came with the Orioles in 1957. He batted .262/.325/.356 and led the American League with 36 doubles, and was voted Most Valuable Oriole.

-On August 13, 1957, he hit two homers and drove in three runs as the Orioles topped the Senators 5-3. His two-run shot off of Joe Black in the top of the ninth was a tiebreaker, and it provided the winning margin.

-After his playing career ended in 1964, Gardner spent more than two decades as a coach and manager. He skippered minor league teams affiliated with the Red Sox, Royals, and Expos, helming five first-place clubs. From 1981-1985, he managed the Twins, peaking with an 81-81 third-place finish in 1984. On June 21, 1985, he was fired and replaced by longtime Orioles pitching coach Ray Miller. Billy also served as manager of the Royals in 1987 after Dick Howser had to step down for medical reasons, but was let go in late August.

-His son, Billy Jr., was a 50th round draft pick of Kansas City in 1987 and has been a minor league manager since 1995. He is currently with the Nationals' AAA Syracuse Chiefs club.

-Gardner, now 88 years old, still lives in Connecticut.

Thursday, June 9, 2016

Dylan Bundy, 2013 Bowman Chrome Blue Refractor #134

Dylan Bundy earned another win tonight with 2.1 scoreless innings in relief of Tyler Wilson, and the Orioles mounted another comeback, wiping out a pair of three-run deficits to top the Blue Jays 6-5. Chris Davis drove in three runs, including a game-tying solo homer in the seventh and the game-winning sac fly in the ninth (Hyun-Soo Kim led off the inning with a double off of Toronto closer Roberto Osuna). The Birds are a season-high 13 games over .500 and increased their division lead to two games over idle Boston. These guys might be on to something.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Manny Machado, 2014 Stadium Club #52

I'm not one to condone violence, but on the other hand, what could be more violent than hurling a small, hard projectile directly at another person at 99 mph? I'm not thrilled that Manny Machado's retaliatory punches and takedown of Kansas City pitcher/petulant man-child Yordano Ventura will result in a suspension for the Orioles' best player, but I'm glad he defended himself and that he connected when he swung. Oh, and if living well is the best revenge, there is the fact that the O's beat the crap out of Ventura in a baseball sense, battering him for six runs in his abbreviated start. Immediately after Yordano was ejected for his beanball, Mark Trumbo (20 HR) and Chris Davis (12 HR) went back-to-back against reliever Chien-Ming Wang, who is apparently still active. Adam Jones added another longball the following inning, and the Birds romped to a 9-1 win to match their season-best mark of 11 games over .500. The scuffling Royals, meanwhile, are losers of six straight. Let's make it seven tomorrow.

Monday, June 6, 2016

Brady Anderson, 1994 Fleer Flair #251

Baseball has a nearly limitless ability to surprise. Would you ever have suspected that Brady Anderson's resume would someday include both a 50-homer season and a position as a trusted executive in the Orioles' front office? The O's have been a competitive team for the past five seasons, and for much of that time they have kept me guessing. After last year's frustrating 81-81, third-place finish, I wasn't brimming with optimism for 2016. I didn't figure on the team retaining Chris Davis, Matt Wieters, and Darren O'Day. Even after they did so, I didn't think it would be enough to boost them back to the top of the division. I didn't expect Mark Trumbo, acquired from Seattle in a salary dump, to be closing in on 20 home runs in the first week of June. When the Orioles stumbled in recent weeks, losing seven of nine games (including dropping the first two of a four-game series vs. Boston), I didn't foresee them bouncing back to win five of the next six and counting. They're doing it in quite unusual ways:

-Last Wednesday, they outlasted the Red Sox in a bizarre 13-9 slog. I was there, and stuck around as it took 3:58 to play eight and a half innings. The Sawx outhomered the Birds 5-0, and it didn't matter.

-Thursday the O's clobbered Boston again, 12-7, and this time blasted seven home runs, one of them by rookie catcher Francisco Pena, who was recalled from AAA Norfolk earlier in the series after Caleb Joseph hit the DL. Ubaldo Jimenez blew a 4-0 sixth-inning lead in the blink of an eye, but the Baltimore offense was up to the task.

-Over the weekend the Orioles took two of three from the Yankees, earning comeback wins against dominant relievers Dellin Betances on Friday and Aroldis Chapman on Sunday. Yesterday's game was especially remarkable, with Chapman blowing a save following a 97-minute rain delay in the eighth inning; Matt Wieters erased a 1-0 New York lead by turning an 0-2, 101-mph fastball into a single up the middle to un-load the bases. Even in Saturday night's 8-6 loss, the O's nearly wiped out a 7-0 deficit with six runs in the seventh before running out of gas.

-Tonight the string of weird W's continued with a 4-1 victory over the scuffling defending World Series champs from Kansas City. Mike Wright was so putrid in a 2.2-inning start last Wednesday that he was immediately sent down to Norfolk, only to return to Charm City when Darren O'Day landed on the DL. Given a second chance, he held the Royals to a single unearned run on five hits and two walks over seven innings to earn his first win since May 14. Scoreless through six innings, the Baltimore bats woke up for three home runs and four runs total in the seventh and eighth innings to salt the game away.

Sure, the Red Sox are probably still the favorites to take the East, but it's the Orioles who are in the lead after a bit more than one-third of the season. They've had at least a share of first place for 48 days this year, after enjoying the top spot for just 11 days in 2015. What's not to like?

Friday, June 3, 2016

Vintage Fridays: John Orsino, 1965 Topps #303

For three years, John Orsino wore #12 on the back of his jersey in Baltimore. Tomorrow I'm taking a quick overnight trip to Chestertown for my college reunion weekend. 12 years out of school, and I know that's not a big milestone, but I'll take any excuse to spend a bit of time in C-town, especially when I haven't been back in two years. That's gotta be my longest absence since graduating. As I've done in years past, I'll be performing in a drama alumni improv show tomorrow night. I'm not above humiliating myself for the entertainment of others now and then, and the cash bar in the lobby will hopefully make the audience more receptive. I'll drop back in on the blog in a day or two. Have a good weekend, and enjoy your (once again) first-place Orioles!

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Doug Jones, 1995 Stadium Club #564

1995 Stadium Club #564 Doug Jones Front 
Given everything that's been going on in my personal life lately, I hope my few regular readers are not worrying too much when I go silent for a few days. I'm doing well, as are Janet and Baby B. We have a new due date, and it's as set in stone as these sorts of things ever are. They will induce labor at 39 weeks, otherwise known as three weeks from tomorrow: Friday, June 24. Ho. Ly. Crap. I don't feel remotely ready, but we've taken the childbirth prep and infant care classes, I've read a few parenting books, the thank you cards for baby gifts have been written and sent, and the nursery is...getting there. It's been painted, and the crib and dresser are assembled. If our kiddo is content to hang around for another 22 days, he or she will share a birthday with Doug Jones. Not one of my favorite O's ever, but he had a long, solid career elsewhere. Other than the mustachioed closer, the most prominent big leaguers in the June 24 club are current Twins starter Phil Hughes, 1970s Cardinals third baseman Ken Reitz, and 1960s slugger Don Mincher. Now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to enjoy the Orioles' just-concluded win against the Red Sox and I'll be doing my best not to panic. Our infant care teacher said to trust our gut instincts, and she is a professional nurse. Sounds easy enough, right?

Don't answer that.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Dylan Bundy, 2013 Topps Making Their Mark #MM20

The Orioles had a weekend of firsts in Cleveland, and ultimately they're headed home with a series win.

On Friday night, Dylan Bundy earned his first major league win with an inning and a third of scoreless relief behind starter Mike Wright. Bundy entered in the fifth inning with two outs, two on, and the scored tied at three, and got the powerful Mike Napoli to pop out to end the inning. After allowing only a single in the sixth, Dylan was the beneficiary of Chris Davis' RBI double and Mark Trumbo's two-run homer; the O's went on to win 6-4.

Yesterday's game was much more of a downer for the Birds, as Ubaldo happened and the team was creamed 11-4. So we'll skip to today's game, another 6-4 win for the good guys. Early on, it looked like the Orioles might cruise, as they had a 4-0 lead after the top of the fourth inning. But Chris Tillman surrendered three home runs in his last three innings of work, allowing Cleveland to tie the score after six. With two outs in the top of the seventh, Hyun Soo Kim hit an absolute laser to the right field corner for his first MLB home run to put Baltimore back on top, 5-4. He got the customary silent treatment in the dugout and responded with some pantomimed high-fives before his teammates belatedly mobbed him to offer their congratulations.

Tomorrow begins a four-game series with the first-place Red Sox, as crucial as a set of games at the beginning of June can possibly be. The O's are just one game off the pace (and tied in the loss column), so if they manage to take three out of four they'll be back on top. Let's go!

Friday, May 27, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Pat Dobson, 1971 Topps #547

Here we see a barely-conscious Pat Dobson proudly wearing the uniform of a team that is TOTALLY NOT the San Diego Padres. I mean, just look at his logo-less black cap with its orange-like brim! I'm sold. I also appreciate the scuffing in the bottom right corner that gives the appearance of a camera flash. No wonder Pat can't keep his eyes open.

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Harold Reynolds, 1993 Studio #129

I don't have much time to chat tonight, so I'll point you to the archives of Fire Joe Morgan for a reminder that no, Harold Reynolds' baseball "analysis" has never made sense, not even a decade ago.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Brian Matusz, 2012 Topps Mini #84

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

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

Monday, May 23, 2016

Matt Wieters, 2013 Panini Pinnacle #59

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

Friday, May 20, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Benny Ayala, 1980 Topps #262

Things you might like to know about Benny Ayala:

-His birth name is Benigno.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Brooks Robinson, 2013 Panini Hometown Heroes #178

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

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

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Jon Knott, 2007 Topps Chrome Xfractor #282

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

Monday, May 16, 2016

Kevin Gregg, 2012 Topps #326

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

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Leo Gomez, 1991 Fleer Ultra #16

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

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

Saturday, May 14, 2016

Jonathan Schoop, 2013 Bowman Platinum Prospects Purple Refractor #BPCP100

The Orioles have won seven straight games for the second time this season, after managing two seven-game streaks total in the previous 16 seasons. Does that mean anything? Probably not, but it's fun. I was at tonight's game, and you can't ask for much more than seven innings of two-run, three-hit ball from Mike Wright, topped off with four O's home runs over the last three innings. Jonathan Schoop went deep twice, including his second career grand slam. Somebody pinch me.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Vintage Fridays: Stu Miller, 1963 Topps #286

1963 Topps #286 Stu Miller Front 
It's been a good couple of nights in Birdland. Last night Janet and I treated our unborn child (six more weeks!) to its second O's game. A rare RAIN-FREE game, to boot! After Ubaldo Jimenez did his best to send us screaming toward the exit, somehow allowing "just" five runs on 14 base runners in five-plus innings, the Orioles reacquainted themselves with the ever-adventurous Detroit bullpen. A two-run spurt in the bottom of the sixth set the stage for a fantastic five-run seventh. The Birds swatted five singles in the span of six batters, with Pedro Alvarez's single squirting under Miguel Cabrera's first baseman's mitt and into right field to score Adam Jones with the tying run. Jonathan Schoop followed with the coup de grace, a line drive into the right field corner for his first career triple, plating Chris Davis and Alvarez with the go-ahead runs. From there, it was the tried-and-true formula of O'Day in the eighth and Britton in the ninth, 7-5 final. Baby B is 2-0.

Tonight the Orioles made it six wins in a row with a 1-0 squeaker, and they're a season-best 10 games over .500 at 22-12. Chris Tillman continued his strong recent work with seven innings of five-hit, two-walk, seven-strikeout ball, and Adam Jones made a tough-luck loser out of Justin Verlander by crushing a solo homer into the Baltimore bullpen in the sixth inning. It was Adam's 200th career home run. When Tillman departed, O'Day and Britton again put up their customary zeroes in innings eight and nine. Zach's flawless ninth earned him his tenth save of the year and number 83 of his career, tying everybody's darling Jorge Julio for fifth-most in team history. Up next on the leaderboard is Stu Miller with 99, and Tippy Martinez isn't much farther ahead at 105.

Oh! And the Red Sox FINALLY lost, 7-6 to the Astros. So the O's are alone in first place again. It's better than the alternative, I'll say that.

Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Adam Jones, 2013 Bowman Chrome Refractor #159

After the O's failed to defend their American League East crown in 2015, needing a hot finish just to break even at 81-81, I harbored some hope that the team would be able to siphon off some of the "even year mojo" that has famously allowed the San Francisco Giants to win the World Series in 2010, 2012, and 2014 despite the team failing to even reach the postseason in 2009, 2011, 2013, and 2015. Some sort of orange and black solidarity, you know?

32 games into 2016, the even year phenomenon has been a blessing for the Birds. They're in first place with a 20-12 record and a league-best 49 home runs, including the four they blasted in today's 9-2 laugher over the Twins. They're setting all sorts of fun team records, including a seven-game win streak to start the regular season, a first-ever extra-inning shutout win over the Yankees, and their active streak of three straight games featuring back-to-back home runs.

Speaking of touching 'em all, Adam Jones is finally showing signs of life after a slow and injury-marred start to the year. He blasted a towering homer for the second game in a row this afternoon, and went 6-for-10 in the abbreviated two-game set in Minnesota with four runs scored and five RBI. It's early enough in the season that he's boosted his triple slash (AVG/OBP/SLG) from .200/.269/.274 to .238/.298/.362 with a pair of strong showings. If he's righting the ship, Machado/Jones/Davis/Trumbo is a brutal gauntlet for opposing pitchers to navigate.

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Kevin Gausman, 2014 Bowman #179

If you're counting on the Orioles being American League East contenders throughout the 2016 season (and if you're not, what fun are you?), then Kevin Gausman's performance is a big part of the equation. In the early going, the signs are promising. Tonight is Gausman's fourth start since coming off the disabled list, and he has allowed a total of five runs (four earned) on 13 hits in 23 innings. He's walked four hitters and struck out 20. Of course, the O's have given him bubkes in the way of run support: no runs in either his first start at Tampa Bay or his most recent start vs. the Yankees (though that one produced the team's first-ever extra-inning shutout win over New York). They scored a total of seven runs in his other previous start against the White Sox, including five while he was still in the game, but Darren O'Day picked a bad night to finally cough up some runs and Kevin got no decision. Tonight he settled in nicely after allowing a run on two first-inning hits, but...hold the phone, Manny Machado and Adam Jones went back-to-back while I was typing this up and now they've given their pitcher a 3-1 lead. I guess I just hadn't been complaining enough!

Monday, May 9, 2016

Mike Mussina, 1999 Upper Deck #48

Mike Mussina is acknowledging the crowd at Camden Yards with a wave, but he could just as easily be shielding his eyes from the sun. We'd nearly forgotten what sunlight looked like here in Baltimore; all last week, it was gray, chilly, and damp. Yesterday we finally had bright, clear skies, so naturally the O's flew up to Minneapolis for a three-game series with the Twins. Tonight's opener was rained out. Enough already!