Monday, August 25, 2008

Defending the Birds' Honor

Thank you for the kind comments in response to the "Temporary Hiatus" posting. Is it a coincidence that I mentioned my "five occasional readers" and to date I've received, count 'em, five comments? Quality over quantity, that's my motto.

Roar from 34 should be back in business full-time within a week or so. (It'll help when I actually have Internet access at home.)
In the meantime, I accepted a guest blogging invitation from "The 35th Street Review" to defend our beloved Birds as they prepare to face the White Sox. The posting appeared today in The 35th Street Review's "Visitors" Section.

My thanks to Andrew Reilly for providing this fun opportunity - and a sharp editing eye.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Temporary Hiatus

Roar from 34 is on a brief hiatus while the author works on moving to and settling in a new home while also starting a new job. The author regrets the temporary inconvenience to all five of his occasional readers, including the three who don't share his family blood line.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

The Rivalry That Could Have Been

Imagining a rivalry between former A.L. East foes

by Matthew Taylor

Familiarity breeds contempt, so baseball’s biggest rivals often share the same division. Sure, there are the natural geographic rivalries created by Interleague play, but let’s face it, each team’s truest rivals typically are the ones that they face most often. Which do Yankee fans chant more often: “Red Sox Suck” or “Mets Suck”? So just imagine what could’ve been between the Orioles and their opponent this week, the Cleveland Indians, had baseball not reconfigured its divisional alignment in the early nineties.

Until 1993, the O’s shared the Eastern Division with the Indians. With the advent of the Central Division in 1994, the teams’ direct divisional competition ended. And while the Brewers (’94) and Tigers (’98) ultimately left the A.L. East as well, Cleveland would’ve made for the best rival among those teams.

Consider the still-somewhat-recent shared history of the two teams. In 1996, the Wild Card Orioles, winners of 88 games, took down the 99-win Indians juggernaut in the Division Series. A year later, with Birds fans still exuberant about the Yankees’ first-round playoff loss, the 86-win Indians returned the favor by defeating the 98-win Orioles in a dramatic, six-game ALCS.

I stood and cheered for the 1997 ALCS Champion Cleveland Indians as they piled up on the pitcher’s mound at Camden Yards. Would I have done the same if they still played in the East and fueled a more consistent spring of frustration? I'd like to think so, but I'm not certain.

Then there are the players who have changed their allegiances among the two teams, either by choice or by circumstance. Orioles ace Mike Mussina may have traded in his Orange and Black for pinstripes, but is that really any worse than Jeff “Mickey” Manto becoming an Indian? Who’s hat would Manto, ahem, wear in the Hall of Fame? Okay, bad example.

Instead, think about the Roberto Alomars and the Albert Belles of Cleveland and Baltimore’s shared baseball universe. And what about Wednesday’s winning pitcher, Jeremy Guthrie? Imagine how Indians fans would have reacted to Dave Trembley’s words if this rivalry had ever truly been given a chance to blossom.

“I kind of had a sense of what this has meant to Guthrie, this entire process over the last year and this year. I think he has established for himself, and for our team, an identity as an Oriole.”

Given a more heated rivalry between the O’s and Indians, this would’ve been another case of everything turning out right for the enemy, another trash-to-treasure fairy tale that warrants the most fan attention - and frustration - when it happens for the bad guy.

And there are a number of other factors that would give this hypothetical steak of a rivalry its sizzle:

-The similarities between the team’s two “retro” stadiums. Jacobs Field is essentially Camden Yards minus the Warehouse plus a bell here, a whistle there. There would surely be an “I’ve become what I hate” motif in there somewhere were these teams to still share a division.

-The existence of a divisional baseball rivalry that would match the divisional football rivalry. That’d be enough for almost year-round animosity between the two cities.

-The animosity generated by the Browns’ move to Baltimore and the Ravens’ subsequent Super Bowl victory. Can’t you just hear the chants in Baltimore of “19-64,” regardless of the sport? Check out Countdown to a Cleveland Championship if you want to know how much that one would sting for Cleveland fans.

-The O’s recent struggles against the Indians. Granted, we’ve struggled against most teams for more than a decade now, but check out the Birds’ win percentage since 2005 against all of the teams from the old A.L. East (see graphic below). The Indians have treated us worse than have the Yankees and nearly as bad as have the Red Sox.

Heck, fans of the two teams could even fight over popular culture: Major League II – featuring the Indians, but filmed in Baltimore.

The truth is that I find Cleveland to be an endearing sports city. The fans support their teams through thick and thin, riding a rickshaw when there’s nary a bandwagon in sight.

But given the chance to imagine “The Rivalry That Could Have Been,” I wonder exactly how thin that proverbial line between love and hate would turn out to be.

O’s Record Versus Teams from the 1993 A.L. East
[Since 2005]

30-37, .447

Blue Jays
29-39, .426

9-15, .375


9-16, .360

Red Sox

22-44, .333


1-2, .333

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Let History Repeat Itself ... But Only Briefly

August 2007 was mostly, but not entirely dreadful for the Birds

by Matthew Taylor

As of Aug. 12, the Birds are five games under .500. In 2007, the O's last saw five games under on July 31.

This August, the Birds took two of three from Texas. Last August, the O's dropped two of three to the Rangers, including the dreaded 30-3 loss that set off a nine-game losing streak.

So it's fair to say that August, the home team's traditional swoon month, is looking better in 2008 than it did in 2007. But here's hoping that for at least one week this month the Orioles resemble last year's team.

The O's return to Camden Yards on Monday for a home stand that features back-to-back, three-game sets with A.L. East rivals, first the Red Sox (Aug. 18 - 20) then the Yankees (Aug. 22 - 24). Last August, facing a similar situation, the Birds rose to the occasion, taking two of three against the Red Sox at Camden Yards (Aug. 10 - 12) and then matching that outcome on the road against the Yankees (Aug. 13 - 15). The feel-good run was essentially the last bright spot during an otherwise miserable finish to the 2007 season.

The Red Sox series featured two come-from-behind victories, capped by Kevin Millar's walk-off, three-run homer and subsequent water dousing during a MASN post-game interview with Amber Theoharis. The Yankees series featured Daniel Cabrera's 6.2 inning, two-hit gem. Next, the O's touched-up Mariano Rivera in extra innings after blowing the lead in the ninth. That same day, the team signed Matt Wieters. The combination of events led to the Roar from 34 posting, "The Happiest sub-.500 Franchise in Baseball."

So with the Red Sox and Yankees coming to town, and Brian Matusz "hopeful that an agreement can be reached," I'd like to see the Birds have one August week that resembles last season. But only one.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Flashback Friday: Bob Milacki's One-Hitters

Could Chris Waters be part of a 2009 "Why Not?" revival?

by Matthew Taylor

Chris Waters surprised even the experts this week with his stellar major league debut, during which he tossed eight one-hit innings against the best team in baseball, the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim.

Waters joined a rare club on Tuesday as only six pitchers since 1956 have started their major league careers by going at least eight innings and giving up only one hit. This week's Flashback Friday revisits the efforts of the most recent Oriole prior to Waters to offer up an eight inning, one-hit wonder his first time out, Bob Milacki.

Milacki accomplished the feat on Sept. 18, 1998, pitching eight innings, giving up one hit, striking out four, and walking four. His opponent that day, Frank Tanana, gave up only two runs in 8.1 innings pitched for the Tigers, but he still took the loss.

Milacki , who raised the Birds' dismal 1988 record to 52-95 with his gem, finished the season 2-0 in three games pitched, throwing 25 innings and giving up just nine hits, two runs, and one home run, for an ERA of 0.72 with the WHIP to match. One year later he was a critical part of the O's "Why Not?" season, finishing 14-12 with a 3.74 ERA. (Be sure to check out the Birds in the Belfry recap of that incredible 1989 run.)

While it's hard to overlook the magic of the "Why Not?" season, Milacki is perhaps best known for his role in a combined no-hitter against the Oakland A's on July 13, 1991. Milacki pitched six innings that day and joined Mike Flanagan, Mark Williamson, and Gregg Olson in the no-hit effort.

Said soon-to-be-Orioles-Hall-of-Famer Olson at the time: "Bob Milacki was the guy who deserved the credit. If he would have still been out there, there would have been a dogpile. He should get the brunt of the celebration."

Milacki didn't always need help during his no-hit bids. On May 28, 1987, he threw 11 1/3 innings of no-hit ball in the minors, a Southern League record, and eventually settled for a 13-inning, one-hit outing against Chattanooga.

Of losing his extra-innings no-hitter, Milacki joked: ''I thought it was about time they got one. I wasn't disappointed at all. I thought it was kind of funny that it went on that long.''

Despite his history on the mound, Milacki still must battle Billy Hatcher and Curt Schilling for the title of "the pride of Yavapai Community College."

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Pinstriped Penance

Local author grew up on the Yankees, matured into an O's fan

by Matthew Taylor

A Yankee fan publishing a book about the Orioles? If that's not "man bites dog," I don't know what is.

From The Catonsville Times, the story of Tom Flynn and his book "Baseball in Baltimore."

"Having grown up as a New York Yankee fan, Tom Flynn heard tales about the glory days of that storied franchise.

When he moved to Charm City, the Catonsville resident discovered his adopted hometown also had a deep and rich history of professional baseball dating back to the 1800s.

The funny thing is, Flynn, 42, came of age near the end of a decade -- 1965 to 1975 -- when the Yankees didn't win a pennant.

'I was a kid in the early '70s and the Yankees were dogs,' Flynn said. 'The way we got through was (how) my parents and uncle all reminded me (about) Mickey Mantle, Joe DiMaggio and Elston Howard.'"

Here's a link to the book on Amazon (the same source for the image above).

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

The Case Against the Closer

Jim Caple raises an interesting argument that warrants consideration among Birds fans

by Matthew Taylor

Orioles closer George Sherrill gets a passing mention in Jim Caple's column, "The most overrated position in sports," an intriguing discussion of how the value of closers has become exaggerated in this era of one-inning saves.

Again, look at the Mariners. They once traded Jason Varitek and Derek Lowe for Heathcliff Slocumb out of desire to get a "proven" closer for the stretch run. That was a disastrous deal. And as the team has shown over the past nine seasons, completely unnecessary. In 2000, the Mariners signed Kazuhiro Sasaki, who was a reliable closer for three seasons. When he got hurt in 2003, they went to Shigetoshi Hasegawa, who was better. They replaced Hasegawa and Sasaki with Eddie Guardado, who was just about as effective. Then they replaced him with Putz, who was even better. And when Putz got hurt this season, they subbed for him with Brandon Morrow, who has been just as good. And they also traded away George Sherrill, who has 30 saves for the Orioles.

That's five consecutive relievers who have all been highly effective closers. Some were high-priced free agents. Others were inexpensive middle relievers who got promoted. The point is, not only were the Mariners able to continually find a closer, they even had potential closers to trade away.

Caple uses the Mariners as an example, but he could have just as easily used the Orioles. Consider that the loss of BJ Ryan and his 36 saves following the 2005 season allowed for the emergence of Chris Ray and his 33 saves in 2006. Ray's elbow injury in 2007 then allowed for the emergence of Sherrill (31 saves and counting) in 2008.

Sherrill went from a specialist to closer by circumstance and wound up on the All-Star roster, a move that few, if any, O's fans expected. (By comparison, check out this prescient December post from Bleeding Blue and Teal titled "Save George Sherrill.")

It's easy for Bird watchers to overvalue the role of closer considering the still-fresh memories of the likes of Armando Benitez and Jorge Julio (although Julio did finish third in 2002 Rookie of the Year voting, ahead of the likes of John Lackey and Carlos Pena).

Given the torturous experience of losing to the Yankees in the 1996 playoffs, we O's fans also easily recall the dominant Rivera-to-Wetteland relief combo and let that influence our thinking. If memories of that duo haven't produced any potential "Ryan-to-Ray" or "Ray-to-Sherrill" references in conversation, you're not talking enough O's baseball.

Ultimately, though, Caple makes a convincing case against the closer. Are you sold on his argument?

Recent O's Saves Leaders

2007 Chris Ray - 16 saves

2006 Chris Ray - 33 saves

2005 BJ Ryan - 36 saves

2004 Jorge Julio - 22 saves

2003 Jorge Julio - 36 saves

2002 Jorge Julio - 25 saves

Speaking of Rivera ...

Check out this New York Times article from the 1997 season, "Rivera Adjusting To Role As Closer." Seems he didn't think that closing games was so easy when he first got started.

"Mariano Rivera purposely places himself in a time warp every time he pitches for the Yankees. It is not 1997, it is still 1996. It is not the ninth inning that Manager Joe Torre is summoning him for, it is the seventh or eighth. It is not a potentially game-ending spot, it is another situation as a setup man.

Rivera developed these mental tricks after the first 10 days of the season, when he sputtered as John Wetteland's replacement as the Yankees' closer and mishandled two of his first four save opportunities. Suddenly, doubts about Rivera emerged, and some floated into his mind, too. He eliminated them expeditiously. He stopped thinking about the ninth.

'I tell myself that it's last year,' Rivera said. 'I say, 'O.K.: Mo, you've got to go get two or three innings. Go do the job.' That is what I have to do. When Joe calls me, I don't think it's the ninth. That relaxes me.''"

[Image Source: Bleeding Blue and Teal. Click photo for original.]

Monday, August 04, 2008

Giving Guthrie His Due

It's time for Guthrie to be known for more than a lack of run support

by Matthew Taylor

I tuned in to Saturday night's O's game with the simple intention of checking the score before heading off to bed. Instead, I followed the action through to Jay Payton's home-run-stealing catch for the final out. The reason? There's nothing quite like watching a well-pitched game like the one Jeremy Guthrie put together against the Mariners: 9 IP, 4 hits, 1 run, 1 BB, 2 Ks. It wasn't just the Stanford connection that had me thinking of Mike Mussina.

Any fan who regularly follows the Birds can see the team's reasons for hope, which most often revolve around the cornerstone players patrolling the outfield: Adam Jones and Nick Markakis. It's time to get excited about Jeremy Guthrie as well. Guthrie isn't eligible for free agency until 2013 and, barring a trade or a complete meltdown, is likely to spend his prime years in Baltimore. And that's good news for O's fans.

Consider that:

-We got the guy for next-to-nothing prior to last season, purchasing his contract from the waiver wire for $20,000 after the Royals and Rays passed on him.

-Guthrie rewarded the team's decision by finishing second among AL rookies in ERA, strikeouts (123) and innings pitched (175 1-3), going 6-5 with a 3.44 ERA as a starter.

-In 2008, he's posted 15 quality starts and 16 starts with a Game Score (GmSC) higher than 50. He's surrendered four or more runs in only six games.

-During a season when most Oriole pitchers are struggling to pitch more than five innings, Guthrie is second in the AL in innings pitched, fifth in Major League Baseball.

-His 3.35 ERA currently ranks ninth in the American League, as does his WHIP of 1.186.

There's a reason that Dave Trembley gave Guthrie a full-on hug following the 29-year-old's first career complete game on Saturday that goes beyond the complete game itself. As Roch Kubatko reported after the Birds signed Guthrie, Trembley saw the guy's potential long before most others.
"Dave Trembley, former manager at Double-A Bowie and Triple-A Ottawa, has raved about Guthrie for the last three or four years. One of the Orioles' scouts, Dave Hollins, placed an immediate call to Stockstill once Guthrie was designated for assignment earlier this month when the Indians signed free-agent outfielder Trot Nixon."
Here's hoping that Guthrie's long, winding road to the majors has found a steady, consistent path along Eutaw Street.

[Image Source: The Sun. Click photo to see original.]

Friday, August 01, 2008

Flashback Friday: Revisiting a "Thrifty" Trade Deadline

A rebuilding project begins with a poor foundation

by Matthew Taylor

"Someone is going to able to sit up here three years from now and say how smart they are."

-Syd Thrift

The trade deadline passed on Thursday with barely a peep from the Birds. This week's "Flashback Friday" recalls a more active trading time when, according to ESPN, "The high-payroll Orioles took the first steps toward rebuilding for the future."

In the tradition of the Orioles' scoreboard promotion "Guess the Year," Roar from 34 offers three clues as to when this "rebuilding" process began:

-The Birds acquired Wayward O favorite Melvin Mora, then 28, in exchange for an aging Mike Bordick.

-Will Clark became a Bird of a different color, joining the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for minor leaguer Jose Leon (.225 career average in three seasons on the O's Major League roster).

-Fan favorite B.J. Surhoff bid a tearful goodbye to Baltimore in an excruciating farewell press conference. The return:
journeyman 34-year-old outfielder Trenidad Hubbard (five hits in an Orioles uniform); minor league catcher Fernando Lunar (75 games as an Oriole before his Major League career ended); 22-year-old pitcher Luis Rivera (pitched less than an inning for the Birds).

The Year Was ... 2-0-0-0.

Thom Loverro of The Washington Times read the tea leaves well in an Aug. 1, 2000, analysis of the team's activity titled "More moves, a tearful goodbye for a proud franchise in flames."

"B.J. Surhoff cried yesterday when he learned he had been traded to the Atlanta Braves.

He cried because of the pain he felt leaving his family behind. He cried because of the friends he would miss. He cried because, even with all of the chaos that has engulfed this once-proud franchise, Baltimore is still a great place to play.

But his tears might as well have been those of Orioles fans mourning what could have been.


[I]n his past two seasons, Surhoff has watched as those granted the stewardship of this team by the fans who buy tickets - the Angelos family - have torn it apart through pettiness and stubbornness until all that was left was to watch it burn.

And that is what the Orioles did the past four days by conducting a fire sale, though the man with the matches, vice president of baseball operations Syd Thrift, scoffed at the description.

'Someone is going to able to sit up here three years from now and say how smart they are,' Thrift said at a news conference.

That's good because the guy who was sitting up there yesterday looked pretty stupid.


The Orioles don't want you to think about the past. The smokescreen they have created is an illusion of hope for the future - prospects. They are the lottery tickets of baseball. Until the drawing, you have a chance to be a winner. In a general manager's case, until they have enough time to succeed or fail, their jobs are often secure.


'I'll miss playing where I live,' Surhoff said, battling back the tears.

Surhoff, 35, is a devoted family man whose sons, Austin and Mason, were often seen around the clubhouse. His wife, Polly, grew up in Ellicott City, and they loved living here. His children, including his two daughters, have made their roots here in school, and Mason, who is autistic, has particularly benefited from programs in Baltimore. Surhoff had been the subject of trade talks, but after the 4 p.m. trading deadline passed, he thought he was home free. But just before the deadline, Thrift made the deal with Atlanta.

'I was caught a little off guard,' Surhoff said, using a tissue to wipe his eyes. 'I know I am going to a good situation in Atlanta. I know it will work out. I just thought I would play here.'

There is no here anymore. This time, it is Baltimore, not Atlanta, that is in flames."

Consider the words of Andy MacPhail after this year's trade deadline passed: "We had opportunities to do something stupid, and we didn't do it."

[Image source: The New York Times. Click photo for original.}