Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Roch Kubatko and Baltimore's Passion for Baseball

by Matthew Taylor

Roch Kubatko is heading to MASN, as reported by MSN, Camden Chat, and - go figure - MASN. It would be easy to overlook a very interesting element of this story, which is buried in one of the last grafs no matter who's doing the telling.
"His blog, called Roch Around the clock, drew the most traffic at the Sun's Web site, attracting 100,000 page views every week, and was one of the most-visited sports blogs throughout the Tribune Co.'s newspapers."
Check that 100,000 page views figure and the blog's ranking against other Tribune sports blogs. Clearly, there's still a passion for baseball in Baltimore; it was on display in Cooperstown last summer and remains alive and well if you know where to look for it. Hopefully that passion will return to Camden Yards full time in the near future. Just the sniff of a competitor did so earlier this summer.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Orioles Talking Points

There's a lot to talk about these days, even for a last place club

by Matthew Taylor

-Mike Mussina got rocked by the O's again on Monday night. In the past two seasons, Mussina is a combined 1-3 in five games against the Orioles, giving up 35 hits and 19 runs
in 21.2 IP.

Talking points:
Do wins against the Yankees count for even more when Mussina is on the mound, or do you still have a soft spot for the guy? Is this the year Mussina finally wins 20, or is Monday's game a sign of things to come down the stretch for the hard-luck hurler?

-Roch Kubatko, he of the 97 percent positive approval rating in The Loss Column's "Baltimore Sports Approval Ratings," is leaving The Sun.

Talking points: How bad will this hurt The Sun's readership among O's fans? Where will Roch wind up? What will happen with the blog? And most importantly (warning: sarcasm to come), can he parlay that appearance in the Albert Belle episode of ESPN SportsCentury into something bigger?

-Manny Ramirez
referenced Iraq this week while expressing his displeasure with the Boston Red Sox: "I don't have any preferences. I could choose a team that offers me the best conditions or one in the chase for the postseason. I don't care where I play, I can even play in Iraq if need be. My job is to play baseball."

Talking points: Will Manny's act ever wear thin in Boston, or will he continue to get the "Manny Being Manny" pass as long as he keeps hitting? Is it fair to say that referencing Iraq is going several steps too far, even for Manny? Peter Gammons thinks enough is enough regardless of the comments; he's more concerned with Manny ducking top-flight pitchers.

-The O's are solidly entrenched in last place in the A.L. East and dropped a season-worst seven games under .500 prior to their brief two-game revival.

Talking points: Did the weekend series with the Angels mark the official beginning of the Birds' Summer Swoon?

-Matt Wieters' legend is growing: pinch-hit grand slams, 9 RBIs in three games. Says Dempsey's Army: "Matt Wieters is coming. Not today, not tomorrow, but soon."

Talking point: How soon is too soon for Wieters to join the big club?

-Could Miguel Tejada be moving back to the AL East via the Red Sox? Erik Bedard as well via the Rays? Unlikely as those moves might be, that makes two recently traded O's stars who are taking another turn on the trading block.

Talking points: Do you believe in MacPhail Magic? Would the O's have Ervin Santana in the rotation and Erick Aybar at short had MacPhail arrived sooner?

-Speaking of trades, Never in doubt, Georgie?

Talking point: What's going to happen with George Sherrill?

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Sun's O's Coverage is Taking a Hit

Roch Kubatko is leaving The Sun

by Matthew Taylor

Roch Kubatko has confirmed the rumors: he's leaving The Sun as part of a buyout package.
"It's true that I accepted The Sun's buyout package. My last day is Aug. 1. I'll have much more to say on the subject as the date draws closer.

As for where I land, nothing is official yet. I'm weighing my options - and it's not like I have a lot of them. But wherever I go, I'm taking the blog with me. And you'll know exactly where to find me.

Perhaps it will be at a roadside stand in Eldersburg. Perhaps I'll work kids parties, complete with clown makeup and oversized shoes. Or I'll be writing for a different Web site. There's also that possibility.

I guess the best I can do right now is ask that you stay tuned. Hopefully, it will all make more sense later this week."

Roch's blog has become required reading for Birds fans and is one of the top sources for O's information and insight. His departure is disappointing and will serve as a major hit to The Sun's O's coverage. Hopefully Roch can keep his Camden Yards press pass wherever he winds up, even if it's just for blogging purposes; he's earned it.

Friday, July 25, 2008

Flashback Friday: The Catcher Who Looked Like a Beer Can

Remembering Dave Criscione's lone career home run

by Matthew Taylor

This week the Birds celebrated the 25th anniversary of the team's 1983 World Series championship, which led The Sun's Dan Connolly on Wednesday to reminisce about Tito Landrum, he of the 39 career regular season games with the Birds.

Landrum's lone post season home run as an Oriole - to match his lone regular season home run with the team - was timely enough to make the
career .249 hitter a legend in Baltimore. Wrote Connolly: "Landrum ... was to Baltimore what Bucky Dent and Aaron Boone are to New York and what Francisco Cabrera is to Atlanta."

At his
Corner Sports Bar blog, Connolly invited discussion of the question "What is the greatest homer in O's history?" One astute commenter referenced the effort of Dave Criscione in 1977.
"This doesn't qualify as a 'greatest' home run as far as impact, but it sure was memorable. The Orioles had called up a journeyman catcher named Dave Criscione in 1977. Just by looking at Criscione, you knew it would only be a short-term thing, and his major league career consisted of seven games and 9 at-bats. One of those at-bats, though, was a walk-off home run in extra innings to beat Milwaukee. I remember reading the story in the paper the next day about how Criscione, while being interviewed, would suddenly let out a shout as if he couldn't believe what he had just done. That one is memorable to me."
Talk about timing, Criscione didn't just hit one home run in his Orioles career, he hit one home run in his entire Major League career. This week's Flashback Friday takes you back to that day on July 25, 1977, and Criscione's magical eleventh inning moment that for some, including Oriole Poet, embodied "The Oriole Way."
"Whenever I think of the 'Oriole Way' I think of Dave Criscione, a seemingly nondescript catcher who played in seven games during the 1977 season. He batted nine times and collected three hits--a career .333 hitter. He was originally drafted by the Senators in 1969 and played for the Rochester Red Wings. One night in late July, the Orioles were tied 3-3 with the Brewers going into the bottom of the eleventh inning. Weaver sent Criscione to the plate to pitch hit for Dave Scaggs. I remember watching this game on a black-and-white TV. Criscione drilled a Sammy Hinds pitch into the left field bleachers to win the game. I remember him jumping the last few steps to home plate like it was the greatest moment in his life. He was never heard from again and out of baseball soon thereafter. In those days, Earl could insert a role player in any situation and that player would deliver. That was the Oriole Way. That was Oriole baseball. What I want is someone with the heart of Dave Criscione who can step up to the plate with the game on the line and jack one out. In only nine major league at bats, all for the Orioles, Criscione won a game. For the past ten years, we have been the team that gives up that homerun."
Another guy who remembers the occasion well, albeit for different reasons, is current MLB Commissioner Bud Selig. As with some past Flashback Fridays, Roar from 34 looks to Daniel Okrent's "Nine Innings" for the inside details.
"After the company of his fellow owners - the only people, family expected, whose calls Selig's secretary, Lori Keck, would put through to him in his box during a game - and after shoulder-rubbing with his players, Selig most enjoyed the give-and-take with out-of-town reporters who came into Milwaukee with the visiting teams ....

Selig loved to partake, and today the target was Benny Ayala, the rather graceless Baltimore outfielder whose hitting had hurt the Brewers badly in the first game of the series. 'Benny Ayalluh?' Selig said, his voice rising in incredulity. 'And you guys call this a baseball team?'

Selig walked along the back row of the two-tier press box, tugging on one of his omnipresent Cherry Tipalet cigars, his eyes gleaming, his toothy grin making him seem a boy in a business suit. 'Beaten by Benny Ayala! Not since ... what was his name? The catcher who looked like a beer can?' 'Dave Criscione,' someone said, referring to an improbably figure from the Baltimore past whose ninth-inning hit in a 1977 game had beaten the Brewers. 'yeah, Dave Crish-ee-own-ee,' Selig said, masticating the syllables with sarcastic glee. 'And now Ben-nee Eye-all-uh. Powers! Immortals!'" (pp. 105-106)
Check out the box score from that 1977 game. Note that Lenn Sakata, then of the Brewers, homered in the top of the ninth off of Dennis Martinez to help send the game into extra innings.

Criscione appeared at the 2007 Hall of Fame induction weekend, where he joined in the Legends for Youth Skills Clinic. Asked to name his favorite Hall of Fame player, Criscione went with a hometown favorite:
"I'd have to say my favorite is going to be inducted this week -- Cal Ripken."

[Image Source: Oriole Poet. Click photo for original.]

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Going Once, Going Twice ... SOLD!

Passing the time on eBay during a rain delay

by Matthew Taylor

Did you find yourself looking to kill some time during Wednesday night's rain delay? Was the company of Tom Davis and Billy Ripken on MASN not doing the trick for you? In the future, why not try a trip around eBay as you wait out the raindrops? Just search for "Baltimore Orioles" in "All Categories"; you'll be amazed by the "values" you can find.

Perhaps bobble heads are your thing. Well good luck choosing between the Jay Gibbons (winning bid: $20.58) and Sidney Ponson (winning bid: $15.05) offerings. Seller fitm129ge explains: "I am not a professional grader and don't play one on TV. I am just a collector of over 35 + years parting with a few treasures. " Treasures indeed.

Are you a card collector or better yet a collector of rare Bird cards? Well you've come to the right place, my friend. Are you going to go with the '69 Bill Dillman or the '62 Ozzie Virgil (starting bid for each: 99 cents)?

Dillman played one season with the O's (1967, not 1969, though he was still under contract), going 5-9 in 32 games with a 4.35 ERA. Virgil likewise played one season in Orange and Black or, more accurately, one game, issuing an intentional walk. When it comes to his O's career, you can call him "Moonlight Virgil."

Game-used bats are always an option. Hmmm ... Whose lumber is more valuable to you: Luis Terrero's (winning bid: $10.99; shipping: $12) or Al Bumbry's (Buy It Now price: $175)?

From bats to hats, Gary Roenicke's "game used" cap is up for grabs. It must be authentic because there's a number 35 on the underside of the brim.

Still not in a buying mood? Maybe a novelty fan diploma will get you ready to "Charge!!!" There are no easy decisions on eBay, though: Would you rather let visitors to your home or office know that you're "The World's Biggest Orioles Fan" (Buy It Now: $4.48) or instead that you've "completed all the necessary courses of study required to become an official fan of the Baltimore Orioles" (Buy It Now: $2.99)?

Can we at least sell you a pennant? Are you more of a "slight discoloration" with "three pin holes in each corner" type shopper, or is your budget big enough to make room for "no pinholes" and a "sharp tip" with only "some yellowing due to its age"?

Clearly you've got options, O's fans, but stay away from the fuzzy dice. I've got dibs on those.

[All images from eBay.]

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

En Honor De Nuestro Monstruo de Cuadrangular

Luke Scott es el hombre

by Matthew Taylor

Luke Scott is a man of his word. After
promising O's skipper Dave Trembley "I'll get hot the second half," Scott earned American League Player of the Week honors right out of the gate following the All-Star Break.

Scott went 7-for-13 with three home runs and six RBI in four games, a return to form from the month of June when he posted a 1.090 OPS. Scott added an iconic moment to the mix on Saturday when he introduced Oriole fans to the "Walk-Off Slide" following his game winner in extra innings against the Tigers.

Scott has quickly become a fan favorite in Baltimore, a result facilitated not only by his performance on the field but also by his humble, friendly nature. Or maybe it's just the fact that, unlike in previous years, when O's player talk these days about energy boosters provided to them by teammates it has nothing to do with B-12 shots. Consider this anecdote from Kevin Millar's MLB blog:

"Luke Scott mixes this protein drink that we call candy. It's blueberry, but he puts in apple sauce, berries and vinegar. Basically, it's an antioxidant health drink, but it makes you happy and makes you feel good. It's a great little mix to drink after batting practice, and you get bummed out when he's out of the ingredients. I learned my lesson when I got sick from following his health tips during Spring Training, but I'm giving him a second chance with the candy."

Even David Simon is a Luke Scott fan. The question is, Will Scott stay on the Birds' roster long enough to keep T-shirt Tuesday on Aug. 19 from being an ironic promotion?

For as much as O's loyalists love the guy, Luke Scott ignited the passions of Venezuelan League fans to perhaps an even greater level. If Wiki sources are to be believed, those fans nicknamed Scott "El Monstruo de Cuadrangular" or "The Home Run Monster." You can witness some of that passion in the tribute video below.

So kud-"O's" to Luke Scott. But given your choice between two 30-year-old fan favorites, which O's player would you keep: Luke Scott or Brian Roberts? Vote in Roar from 34's poll.

[Image source: Flickr. Click photo for original.]

Monday, July 21, 2008

Go West, Young Birds

Fifteen straight Sunday losses, starters who tax the bullpen by struggling to pitch more than five innings at a time, a record stuck just below .500, and an impending trade deadline together signal that the fun of the 2008 season - and make no mistake about it, this has been a fun ride - may soon be over.

Looking for a silver lining? The Birds would be a half-game out of first place in the N.L. West.

Friday, July 18, 2008

Flashback Friday: Dave Trembley and the Thinning All-Star Bullpen

Francona and Hurdle could've called the O's skipper for advice

by Matthew Taylor

As Tuesday night’s Major League All-Star Game dragged into Wednesday’s early morning hours, managers from both teams faced the prospect of having no pitchers left in their respective bullpens, a worrisome scenario described by Jack Curry of the New York Times.

"The managers were becoming antsy with each scoreless inning, the empty seats were multiplying with the outcome still in doubt and, most important, the pitchers left in the bullpens were dwindling. It was the final All-Star Game at Yankee Stadium, and it was the game that did not want to end."

Were “antsy” managers Terry Francona and Clint Hurdle truly in need of comfort, they could have used their already overworked bullpen phones to dial Dave Trembley. The O's skipper surely knew how they were feeling.

This week's Flashback Friday takes us back to the summer of 1999, when Dave Trembley was in the midst of leading the Double-A West Tennessee Diamond Jaxx to their first-ever division title. On Trembley's Diamond Jaxx roster that year were current A.L. east foes Scott Downs of the Blue Jays and Jose Molina of the Yankees.

Given his success, Trembley got the call to manage the Southern League’s N.L. All-Stars. The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette from July 18, 1999, describes how the loyal-to-a-fault Trembley nearly found himself in need of some serious relief during the (Minor) Midsummer Classic.

All-Star, but no save

Travs right-hander Gene Stechschulte entered the ninth inning of the Double-A All-Star Game last Tuesday at Mobile, Ala., in position to earn a save.

But he was pulled from the game with two outs. Dave Trembley, the National League All-Stars' manager, inserted right-hander Steve Rain.

Trembley is manager of the West Tenn Diamond Jaxx of the Southern League. Rain is his closer.

The move almost backfired. Rain took a hard line drive off his left shin. And the National League had no more pitchers available.

"Everybody was like, 'Who are we putting in?' " Stechschulte said. "That's what the big question was. [Trembley] asked me if I was ready to go back out there."

Rain recovered to finish the game and earned the save.

In other O's-related trivia, outfielder Jeff Inglin, at the time a member of the Birmingham Barons, was the MVP of that 1999 Southern League All-Star Game (he was a repeat winner in 2000). Inglin finished his career in the Orioles' organization, playing alongside current Birds Nick Markakis and Brandon Fahey for the 2005 Bowie Baysox.

[Image source: Ballparks Digest. Click image for original.]

Thursday, July 17, 2008

T-ball at the White House, Taunting at Ruth's House

How Kevin Millar and the Oriole Bird spent their off-days

by Matthew Taylor

There are worse ways to spend a day off. Former Oriole Frank Robinson and current Oriole Kevin Millar took to the White House lawn on Wednesday to participate - Robinson as commissioner, Millar as a coach - in the president's T-ball game.

"Bush presided over a Tee Ball game on the South Lawn, then hosted a social dinner Wednesday in honor of Major League Baseball for about 240 players, members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, baseball officials and fans, administration officials and lawmakers.

The group, which included Baltimore Orioles first baseman Kevin Millar, eight-time MLB all-star pitcher John Smoltz and Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg, dined on crab salad, rib-eye steaks and a dessert called 'Peanuts and Cracker Jack.'

Afterward, in his third White House performance, country musician Kenny Chesney sang about summertime, drinking wine from Dixie cups and seeing the world from the seat of an 'old blue chair.'

'It doesn't get better than this," Bush said after the performance in the Rose Garden. 'Country music in the Rose Garden celebrating baseball.'"

In other "news," you know you're in New York when fans in the bleachers are taunting mascots prior to the celebrity softball game.

Rule No. 1: Don't taunt the Oriole Bird.

Rule No. 2: If you must ignore Rule 1, come up with something better than "Bore-iole."

[Image source: Associated Press. Click on photo for original.]

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Throwback Night at Yankee Stadium

And I'm not talking about the Hall of Famers

by Matthew Taylor

Kud-"O"s to George Sherrill for a fine All-Star performance: 2 1/3 scoreless innings, 1 hit, 2 Ks. It would've been nice to see Sherrill get the win, and even better if the All-Stars sported "Sherrill Caps" afterward; yes, I was dreaming by the time the game ended.

For all the fine moments during this year's All-Star celebration in New York, my personal favorite had nothing to do with home run derby blasts, Hall of Famers, Jonathan Papelbon getting booed and giving up the lead, or even on-field action for that matter. Instead, I appreciate the sense of humor displayed during Corey Hart's at-bats when the Yankee Stadium PA played "Sunglasses at Night" by ... Corey Hart. Talk about a throwback night.

On a separate note, Roar from 34 would like to welcome "Around the Harbor" to the blog-O's-phere. Started on July 4, 2008, Around the Harbor describes itself as follows:

Who we are, hon.

This blog is dedicated to Maryland sports- that is, the Ravens, Orioles, University of Maryland, all things lacrosse, and anything else about the sports world that strikes our interest. Enjoy the informed commentary of three friends who often disagree (the statements of one of us do not necessarily represent the views of the others and are probably incorrect anyway), but we'll our best to give an insightful and unbiased perspective on our wonderful "small-market" state.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The All-Star Game: What Is, What Was, What Could've Been

O's fans may not want to watch when Santana and Lincecum take the mound

by Matthew Taylor

For O's fans, Tuesday's All-Star Game is a story of what is (George Sherrill), what was (Miguel Tejada), and what could've been (Ervin Santana, Tim Lincecum). Naturally, the latter category is the most intriguing.

While the memory of Ervin Santana's proposed trip to Birdland is still fresh in many fans' minds, Lincecum's story - as it relates to the Birds - is less-often told.

In early June I wrote about Billy Rowell, the player the O's selected ahead of Lincecum with the ninth pick in the 2006 draft. However, I was unable to find any information on why the team passed on Lincecum, a move that's drawn quite a bit of commentary on Inside the Warehouse, among other places. Last week, a July 7 Sports Illustrated cover story on Lincecum helped fill in the blanks on the Birds' thinking.
"It frightens the chaw out of the cheeks of traditional baseball people that someone so lithe can throw 98 mph. The skittish Baltimore Orioles, picking ninth in the '06 draft, basically took him off their board - though by then Lincecum, a junior at Washington, was a two-time Pac-10 pitcher of the year who had struck out more batters than any other pitcher in conference history, including Tom Seaver, Randy Johnson and Mark Prior. 'We took a high school hitter,' recalls then-Baltimore general manager Jim Duquette, referring to Bill Rowell, a third baseman who is hitting .225 in high A ball. 'There was a feeling that [Lincecum] was short, not a real physical kid, and mechanically he was going to break down, that there was enough stress on his arm, elbow and shoulder. Our scouting department kind of pushed him down because of the medical aspect.'"

Monday, July 14, 2008

A Visit to "Crustacean Nation"

Feeling the Magic happen, Blue Crab style

by Matthew Taylor

Maybe you can't be all things to all people, but Brooks Robinson's Southern Maryland Blue Crabs sure are trying. A Roar from 34 trip to Regency Furniture Stadium on Saturday night for the team's contest with the York Revolution had something for ...

... Bird fans (former Orioles Tippy Martinez, Chris Hoiles, Sam Snider, & Andy Etchebarren) and BoSox fans (Butch Hobson, Shea Hillebrand, Curtis Pride, & "Sweet Caroline" in the late innings);

... the young (the stadium's extensive amusement area for kids) and the young at heart (the bumper boats in "Crabby Cove");

... those on a traditional baseball diet (dog & a beer) and those, like myself, who prefer a more local flavor (crab-stuffed pretzels & Old Bay-seasoned waffle fries, both of which earned the Roar from 34 seal of approval).

Less identity crisis than full-service marketing effort, the Blue Crabs' diverse menu of entertainment options provides a fun evening for the full-fledged baseball enthusiast and the novice alike. Only rarely did the two efforts collide on Saturday, such as in extra innings when members of the "Blue Crew" took to the top of dugout to cheer lead. The problem? They were blocking fans' view of the critical game action.

The Blue Crabs' five-hour marathon game with the Revolution outlasted the team's self-imposed fireworks curfew and invited the following question: "Is it too soon to trademark the phrase 'Blue Crab Magic'"?
The Southern Maryland Blue Crabs snatched victory from the jaws of defeat, winning Saturday night in front of a crowd of 4,471 members of Crustacean Nation with a thrilling come-from-behind effort. The win pushes the Blue Crabs to 4-1 in the second half of the season, giving them the early lead in the Liberty Division.

Southern Maryland appeared to be down and out heading into the bottom of the ninth inning. Despite yet another great outing from the starting pitching, York held a 5-3 lead heading into the final frame. Keith Ramsey, who pitched six innings of one-run baseball with five strikeouts, lost his chance at a victory when the Revolution scored two runs in the top of the eighth to put themselves ahead.

Clinton Johnston would lead off that inning with a double, and after a single by Jeremy Owens the first baseman was able to score on an RBI grounder from James Shanks. York was content to allow Johnston to score for the chance at a double play, but former Red Sox third baseman Shea Hillenbrand hurled the ball into right field. The end result was runners on second and third with zero outs and Chris Maples at the plate.

Maples wasted no time, putting the first pitch he saw into the outfield for the game-tying single. Jeremy Owens crossed the plate on the play, scoring his second run of the game. It appeared as if George Sandel would be the hero following an intentional walk to Adam Shorsher. The all-star shortstop smacked the ball to right field, and Shanks attempted to tag on the play. A perfect throw by right fielder Jason Aspito shocked the home crowd, however, as Shanks was called out on a close play at the plate.

The Blue Crabs and Revolution would battle through two more innings before the bottom of the eleventh rolled around, and Johnston again came through in the clutch. Following a double by third baseman Patrick Osborn, who ended the game with three hits in six at bats, Johnston strode to the plate and calmly rifled a single to the outfield. Shanks would come up two batters later, and a poke single to right was all the home team would need as Osborn came home to score the winning run.
For the record, Crustacean Nation did it again on Sunday, earning an 11-10 walk-off win.

Looking for an excuse to drive to Waldorf and "feel the Magic happen"? (And really, who isn't looking for an excuse to drive to Waldorf?) Jay Gibbons' Long Island Ducks visit Southern Maryland later this month for a four-game set, July 24-27.

[Image source: Revolution Rumbings (yes, an Independent League blog). Click image for original, likely borrowed, effort.]

Friday, July 11, 2008

Flashback Friday: George Sherrill, Meet Gregg Olson

The Blue Jays, a blown save, and Cito Gaston; everything old is new again

by Matthew Taylor

George Sherrill blew his fourth save in his last 11 chances on Thursday; someday we'll laugh about all this and induct Sherrill into the Orioles Hall of Fame. Just consider the case of Gregg Olson, No. 6 on Dempsey's Army's list of "nailbiters" and a soon-to-be O's Hall of Famer.

This week's Flashback Friday takes us back to a simpler time when Steve Finley and Curt Schilling were Orioles, Fred McGriff and Jimmy Key were Blue Jays, and a young Clarence Edwin (Call me "Cito") Gaston was in
his second year as a major league manager, heading up the Jays.

The date: September 14, 1990. The game: Orioles - Blue Jays. The outcome: familiar.

Blue Jays Overtake Orioles in 9th, 8-7;
Olson Yields 3 Runs With 2 Outs

Mark Maske, Washington Post Staff Writer

The once-infallible Gregg Olson continued a recent string of exasperating derailings tonight. The Toronto Blue Jays rallied for three ninth-inning runs off the suddenly mortal reliever to pull out an 8-7 victory over the Baltimore Orioles before 49,893 at Skydome and avoid a second straight blow to their bid to remain in contention in the American League East.

Pinch hitter Rance Mulliniks slapped a two-out, two-run single to left field to tie the contest at 7, and pinch hitter John Olerud followed with a line single up the middle to win it. Olson's late collapse -- his fifth blown save of the season -- wasted Sam Horn's pinch-hit grand slam that keyed a six-run sixth inning and provided a 6-3 lead.

Baltimore was on top by 7-5 entering the ninth after Kelly Gruber's two-run double in the Toronto seventh and Steve Finley's sacrifice fly in the Orioles ninth. But Olson, who has allowed 16 hits and 11 earned runs in his last nine appearances, could not hold the advantage.

He has not regained form since being sidelined for nine days this month with soreness in his right elbow. His fastball has lacked its usual zip, and opponents have jumped on his curveball. Such was the case again tonight, with both Mulliniks's and Olerud's hits coming off curves.


Olson (5-5) refused to emerge from the trainer's room afterward, but he clearly was upset with the call of home plate umpire John Shulock on a borderline 3-2 pitch to Fred McGriff. Shulock called the pitch a ball, and Mulliniks's heroics followed.


Jimmy Key held the Orioles hitless for 5 1/3 innings, then departed with tightness in his right hamstring after David Segui's double in the sixth. Reliever Duane Ward came on and was hammered quickly and resolutely, yielding two hits and two walks before serving up Horn's second career grand slam -- and Baltimore's second pinch-hit grand slam of the season.

Baltimore's Anthony Telford already had departed following a 4 2/3-inning, seven-hit, three-run struggle. But the Orioles bullpen proved resilient until Olson's demise. Curt Schilling escaped the seventh after Jeff Ballard permitted Gruber's double, and Olson stranded Kenny Williams at third base by getting Junior Felix to ground to shortstop.

The Blue Jays have climbed back into the pennant chase with a combination of unusual resolve and superb pitching.


When the Orioles got their first hit on Segui's low liner starting the sixth that eluded the tumbling try of center fielder Wilson, Manger Cito Gaston wasted little time in removing Key.

The floodgates opened soon thereafter. Ward, who had allowed only six earned runs in 37 innings over his last 19 appearances, got Bill Ripken to ground out.

But then Finley beat out an infield hit that scored Segui, pinch hitter Brady Anderson walked and Cal Ripken singled to right to load the bases. Mickey Tettleton drew a walk to force in a run -- his 100th base on balls of the season, making him the fifth AL player since 1970 to amass 100 walks and strikeouts in the same year.

Then Robinson sent Horn to hit for Worthington, and Baltimore had a 6-3 lead after he yanked a 1-2 fastball just over the right field wall at the 375-foot sign. The drive gave Horn 12 home runs and 37 RBI in 204 at-bats this year.

Baseball Reference provides the box score from the game.

Sam Horn's grand slam was particularly meaningful that day, and not just because Roar from 34 happens to love the guy (see previous post: "Sam Horn, he's on of ours"). In Durham it's "Hit Bull, Win Steak." In Baltimore that year it was "Hit Grand Slam, Win Cars."

Again from The Post: "Horn’s blast surely endeared him to at least one Orioles fan -- Don Brown of Edgewood, Md., who won two Thunderbirds for the grand slam in WMAR-TV-2's home run sweepstakes inning."

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

Who Needs 100 Words?

All we need is one

by Matthew Taylor

"If you watched the game, you saw what happened."

-Freddie Bynum

Forget "100 Words or Less," a feature Roar from 34 has used in the past to summarize Bird happenings. Last night's 7-6, go-from-ahead loss to the Blue Jays can be summed up in one word: Ugh.

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

Six Degress of Sherrill

Touting connections to the O's closer a popular pastime now that he's an All-Star

by Matthew Taylor

It seems lots of folks are eager to claim O's All-Star George Sherrill as one of their own these days.

From Tennessee to Texas, Indiana to Seattle, Sherrill is getting the retroactive Cheers treatment: now, everyone knows his name.

Ex-ECS Standout George Sherrill a Major League All-Star

Former Evangelical Christian School standout George Sherrill is heading to the All-Star team.

Sherrill, the closer for the Baltimore Orioles, was named to the American League team on Sunday. It will be his first appearance in the mid-summer classic.


Sherrill's road to the top has been a long one.

After starring at ECS, he received only one scholarship offer -- to Austin Peay.

He then spent four-plus seasons kicking around in independent leagues before signing with Seattle in 2003.

Last year, he developed into one of the top situational left-handers in baseball.

Former Gov Named All-Star
George Sherrill continued his breakout season on Sunday when he was selected to the American League All-Star team.

Sherrill, who was acquired from the Seattle Mariners days before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training in a multi-player trade deal for Erik Bedard, was the only player from Baltimore chosen to the All-Star team.

The former Austin Peay standout has 27 saves and is 2-3 with a 3.62 ERA. Sherrill has 38 strikeouts in 37.1 innings.

Sherrill is one of two former Austin Peay pitchers currently throwing for the Orioles. Jamie Walker is the Orioles' top left-handed setup pitcher coming out of the bullpen.

Former Evansville Otter George Sherrill Named to All-Star TEam
George Sherrill, a left-handed reliever who pitched for the Evansville Otters from 1999-2001, was named to the American League's All-Star roster today.
Ex-Otter Now an All-Star

The odds are long, but it happens occasionally. An Independent League player making it all the way to the Major Leagues is unlikely, but George Sherrill is living proof it can be done.

In 1999 he was pitching for the Otters. He worked his way into affiliated ball and then to the Major Leagues with Seattle a few years ago.

See, I Told You!
From LOOGY to All-Star, practically overnight.

Not bad for a guy who wasn't drafted out of college and who had to fight his way into MLB.

I'm sure someone at the ASG can teach you how to bend your brim...

Congrats, GS52! Awesome. Just. Awesome!

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

They'd Be Lovable Losers If They Weren't Winning So Much

by Matthew Taylor

The inspired efforts this season of our beloved Birds are taking place away from the national spotlight. ESPN's Jerry Crasnik does give a halfway-point nod to the O's bullpen, which he places on his list of "
the biggest overachievers of '08."
After spending $42 million on free-agent relievers prior to the 2007 season and failing to get the desired results, the Orioles hit upon a more cost-efficient plan for '08: Make a couple of astute trades, resurrect a formerly promising arm in the system and watch the entire production take off.

If you're looking for an explanation for Baltimore's surprising start, the bullpen is a pretty good place to focus. Orioles relievers are 15-13 with a 3.28 ERA, compared to 24-35 and 5.71 last season. After going 13-31 in one-run games a year ago, the O's are 17-12 this season.

Closer George Sherrill, acquired from Seattle in the Erik Bedard deal, can be an adventure at times. But he has converted 27 of 32 save chances through a combination of good stuff, better deception and even better intestinal fortitude. Sherrill has become a fan favorite in Baltimore, which could complicate matters if general manager Andy MacPhail decides to dangle him at the trade deadline.

MacPhail acquired two power arms from Houston in the Miguel Tejada deal. Dennis Sarfate is averaging more than a strikeout an inning, and Matt Albers also pitched effectively before going down with a torn labrum in his right shoulder last week.

The big revelation has been Jim Johnson, a former fifth-round draft pick who never quite cut it as a starter. Johnson lengthened his stride in the minors with the help of pitching coordinator Dave Schmidt -- and presto -- his power sinker is suddenly unhittable. He has allowed 26 hits and posted a 1.17 ERA in 46 1/3 innings.
Crasnik's correct that the bullpen has been central to the team's resurgence; it is indeed a big part of the tale. However, as any Birds loyalist knows, there's more to this story, which is ultimately about the re-birth of a love affair between a city and its long downtrodden team.

I've shared multiple discussions with my friend and former Roar from 34 regular Chris Heun about the concept of the "lovable loser" and how a team comes to earn that description. I'd say that the 2008 Birds possess many of the necessary elements except, of course, for the losing.

Consider Tuesday's victory over the Royals and the reception given by the fans to closer George Sherrill in an outing that followed two consecutive blown saves.
Sherrill, who had blown saves the two previous days by giving up home runs on two-strike hanging sliders, got a standing ovation as he ran out of the bullpen, a gesture the first-year closer said "meant a lot."
Remember the sad case of Terry Mathews and the reception he received from fans during the ALDS? The team's fan base may be smaller now than it was in the late '90s, but the remaining loyalists appreciate the fighting spirit of this '08 squad.

And what of Dave Trembley, the career minor league manager who's leading the unforeseen resurgence? To hate this guy is to hate cold lemonade on a scorching summer afternoon.

The closer also appreciated the support of Trembley, who wore a T-shirt with Sherrill's name and number under his jersey. After the game, Trembley presented Sherrill with a sign that was given to him by a fan during batting practice. It read, "Never a doubt, Georgie," the team's slogan after Sherrill's memorably nerve-racking saves.

The manager wearing a player's replica T-shirt? Is it possible to be schmaltzy and sincere at the same time? Fan signs making their way to the team's closer? Is this really the same Major League Baseball that has so disillusioned even the truest of fans in recent years?

Meanwhile, Roch Kubatko relays this humanizing gem from Sherrill, who reflected on his Monday night meltdown, highlighted by a hurled bucket of gum, in humorous terms.

Sherrill said he was trying to hit the dugout fence, not drive the bucket through the gap. “Bad location,” Sherrill said. “I missed my spot again.”

The whole incident is made better by the fact that Luke Scott helped the Orioles' bat boy pick up the gum that Sherrill had scattered in the grass. That's the same humble Luke Scott who offers waves and tips of the cap to fans at Camden Yards who cheer his name.

It's nice to get some national attention, but it's the local guys who are getting it right: "For a change, it's fun to be a fan."

Tuesday, July 01, 2008

Blog Lists "Baseball's 50 Strangest Moments"

by Matthew Taylor

Need a distraction to avoid thinking about Monday's 6-5 loss to the Royals? (Repeat after me: The bullpen is fine, the bullpen is fine, the bullpen is fine.) Clear away those flashbacks to last season with a visit to The Love of Sports, which offers up its list of "Baseball's 50 Strangest Moments."

It's no surprise that Manny Ramirez's name litters a list with the word "strange" in it. Listed below are some of the moments with O's connections.
No. 42: Derek Jeter homers against the Orioles in the 1996 ALCS with a little help from 12-year-old Jeffrey Maier. (Editor's note: This is supposed to help? Sorry.)

38. Vladimir Guerrero golfs a base hit off a Pete Harnisch pitch that bounced before home plate.

No. 35: Manny Ramirez dives in front of a relay throw from centerfield, allowing David Newhan to score on an inside-the-park home run.

No. 34: Miguel Cabrera clubs a hit while Baltimore pitcher Todd Williams throws the ball too close to the plate during an attempted intentional walk.

No. 20: For the first time in 2,633 games, Cal Ripken was not in the Orioles lineup when they took the field on 9/20/1998.