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Posts tagged ‘Baltimore Orioles’

Last Minute Yankees-Orioles game in Baltimore

For the second time this season, the Yankees came to Baltimore for a series with the Orioles. Also for the second time this season, I was about to miss the Yankees while they were in town.

Long story short, this weekend was packed full of prior commitments I could not break – some scheduled as far back as February. The only day I had the slightest chance of flexibility was Sunday, and at first I only considered breaking my commitment for the possibility of Alex Rodriguez recording his 3,000th career hit during that game (we know now, of course, that he still sits at 2,995).

Ironically enough, it ended up being my Yankees hating, Orioles loving husband who convinced me to go. While I was debating back-and-forth whether or not I should even try to go to the game, he was searching ticket prices – and found quite a deal. Two seats in left field lower reserve that normally sell for $55 were available for $11. When a deal like that comes along, you’ve just got to take it.

As for the game itself, it was nothing exciting and just baseball as usual. Both teams had good plays and bad, with the eventual victory coming to the Yankees with a final score of 5-3. With every game I attend, I try to find something memorable or significant about the game. There were no history-making moments in this game, but a few players who stood out.

Adam Warren

This was the second MLB game I attended this season, and the second game Warren started. He is not the most exciting pitcher on the Yankees, but I have to take a minute to appreciate what he brings to the team. This year, he has shown he has the ability to be an effective starter. His stats won’t blow your mind, but he can pitch decently and for both of these games, I felt confident having him on the mound. Last year, he showed he was reliable out of the bullpen, and is more than likely headed there again in the near future. Analysts and fans can debate whether Warren is better in the rotation or the bullpen, but the point is…he can do both! He’s not the first pitcher to work as both a starter and a reliever and he won’t be the last, but the Yankees are lucky tohave some flexibility with where the can use Adam Warren.

Chasen Shreve

To be honest, the name and strange haircut caught my attention first. I didn’t know what to expect with Shreve but the truth is, I’ve been really impressed so far this season. He’s only 24 and has a few years of team control ahead of him, and I could see him developing into a really great pitcher. I hope that growth happens in pinstripes, but for the time being, I’m glad I got to see him pitch in a game (even though I knew Girardi would not leave him in a full two innings, although he’s capable).

Mike Wright

The rookie starting pitcher for the Orioles is one of several players who have been drafted out of East Carolina University in Greenville, NC. This past May, my brother-in-law Mike Prunka graduated from ECU where he reported on many of the baseball players at the school (he’s now a sports reporter/editor in NC). Wright was drafted before Mike started covering the baseball team (2011), but he did cover other players who’ve also been drafted such as Jeff Hoffman (Blue Jays in 2014), and follows any ECU grad. He actually knew before I did that Wright was called up specifically to start Sunday’s game for the Orioles.

Nolan Reimold

This is a guy I’ve been hearing about for a few years now even though he’s struggled to establish his place with a major league club (drafted by the Orioles, played for the Blue Jays and Diamondbacks, and returned to the Orioles on a minor league contract this year). Most non-Orioles fans may not have even heard of him, but he is one of the biggest sports stars to come out of Mercer county, PA… Which most of you have probably never heard of. My connection to Mercer county is through my husband’s family. His mom grew up in Greenville, PA. Two of her brothers still live there and know the Reimold family. My husband Will attended Thiel College (also in Greenville) before coming back to Maryland to go to law school. Because of the personal connection to the area, we’ve been hearing about Reimold for awhile and hoping for his success. We were all very excited to hear he signed with the Orioles, and even more excited to finally see him play at Camden Yards this weekend. He had an average day, but played well enough for Will to yell “Mercer county pride!” from our seats. Of the three MLB autographs we have, Reimold’s is the only one in a place we see every day.

Next up on the agenda are two games in the Bronx – this Saturday night for Old Timer’s Day and Sunday afternoon against the Detroit Tigers. There’s a chance for a lot of excitement this weekend: If the current pitching rotation remains through this week, I should be able to see Masahiro Tanaka pitch. We are still waiting for that allusive 3,000th hit from Alex Rodriguez, which could possibly happen during either of those games. I look forward to sharing stories from those games soon!

Machado Excitement

The most exciting news I’ve heard all season came yesterday, and it was courtesy of the Baltimore Orioles. As a Yankee fan, it’s unusual I would support another A.L. East team, but in truth I’ve always liked the Orioles. It’s not a result of just my geography or my Orioles-loving/Yankees-hating husband; Brady Anderson and (of course) Cal Ripken, Jr. were some of my first favorite players in the game.

My favorite young player in MLB right now is Orioles 3B Manny Machado, who reported to the Orioles spring training complex in Sarasota yesterday after his second consecutive season-ending knee surgery. In an interview, Machado reported feeling “great” both mentally and physically, and for the first time of this off season, I felt generally excited for the upcoming 2015 season.

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That isn’t to say I’ve given up hope on the Yankees and am becoming an Orioles fan – far from it. Even though I hope the Orioles do well, I will always want the Yankees to do better and win the division (and hopefully more). Still, this season has left me somewhat disappointed with the departure of three of my favorite Yankees from last season (Shane Greene, Brandon McCarthy and David Robertson).

The first time I saw Machado play, he immediately reminded me of a young Alex Rodriguez (think superstar rookie in Seattle, long before PEDs). Ironically, the two players are actually quite similar: they’re both Dominican and raised in Miami by single mothers, both drafted out of high school and worked through the minor leagues quickly, and both started at SS before moving to 3B. They’ve even had the same agents (first Scott Boras and later Dan Lozano) and both wear #13. Despite a large age difference (39 and 22) the two are also reportedly friends, and Machado has credited Rodriguez for giving him advice on hitting and fielding. Naturally, I would be curious about a young player so similar to my favorite player in his early years.

After being selected third overall in the 2010 draft, Machado was promoted to the Orioles by August 2012 at only 20 years old. His breakout season came the following year when he won the A.L. Gold Glove, the A.L. Platinum Glove, and chosen to the A.L. All Star Game. At the plate, he broke Ty Cobb’s record for most multi-hit games for a player under 21, and his 44 hits in May 2013 is second only to Mickey Mantle (46) for hits in one month, also for a player under 21 (Machado turned 21 in July 2013). Machado accomplished all of this despite his season ending prematurely on September 23 with the first knee injury. His 2014 season was shorter (returning from the DL May 2 and sustaining the second knee injury on August 11), although his overall stats are similar to 2013 at about half as many games played.

Even for such a young player (Machado will turn 23 this season), two serious knees injuries/surgeries and not yet playing a full season in his career can be concerning. The left knee injury in 2013 in considered to be a fluke by many – hitting first base at an awkward angle and twisting his leg – and prior to the injury, Machado had played in 207 consecutive games. The 2014 injury to the right knee happened against the Yankees, a game my husband and I were pitted against each other watching at home. One thing we could agree on that night was that there should have been a rain delay. No delay was called and the rain continued. When Machado swung the bat (and grounded out to SS) his leg twisted and he immediately fell to the ground before leaving the batter’s box. My personal opinion is the ground was just slippery enough because of the rain, causing his leg to turn in such a usual way, leading to the injury.

It is worth noting Machado has a few other minor on field issues, which includes an ejection in June 2013 for arguing a called strike (the only innings he missed during the 207 consecutive games played) and a two day rift with the Oakland A’s in June 2014. The first day, Machado argued with A’s 3B Josh Donaldson about a tag he had applied to Machado while running to third. The next day, Machado threw his bat after A’s pitcher Fernando Abad pitched him inside – resulting in fines and a 5 day suspension for Machado. While I generally support Machado, I do disagree with a few of his actions and attribute those bad decisions to his age/inexperience.

Machado is the first of three Orioles (along with Chris Davis and Matt Wieters) expected to return to the team this season. The fact that he is so optimistic about his return is even more exciting for fans because he is so young, has shown great potential already, and could be the future of the franchise since he doesn’t become a free agent until 2019. Since his second knee surgery in August, Machado has reportedly been rehabbing all off season, aside from a month break for his wedding and honeymoon. (He married best friend and Padres 1B Yonder Alonso’s sister.) His approach to returning, along with Orioles staff and his surgeon, seems to be very practical and well planned to adjust to real games and his two brand new knees. A video was posted after Machado’s workout Wednesday showing him not just standing, but running the bases – a very welcome sight for Orioles fans.

With two freak injuries behind him and working with two new joints, hopefully Machado’s difficulties are behind him. If he has appropriately rehabbed after the most recent surgery, and plays well enough to match his confidence level, there is no doubt in my mind that he will continue to have a very successful career. He will obviously continue to mature – but the raw talent is already there. I am very excited to see him back on the field, and even more excited to see where his career takes him.

On Catchers…

Before this year’s ALDS Game 3 between the Baltimore Orioles and Detroit Tigers, I was running errands and listening to the local Orioles radio network pregame coverage between stops. They were doing a typical interview with manager Buck Showalter, but one segment in particular caught my attention. As transcribed by asapsports.com:

Q. Can a guy like Caleb [Joseph], he’s had a long career to get to this point and he struggled offensively September into now. What do you do with a guy like that to keep him centered? And how important is it to have Nick Hundley around?
BUCK SHOWALTER: They both had their periods. I think they understand that we’re not just lip service about where their priorities are. You’re going to take four at bats a game and you’re going to make 100 and 200 decisions behind the plate.
The math is real easy on that, how do you impact the game more?
What we get from them offensively is just a luxury. It’s still one of the amazing things to me in baseball, a quality offensive catcher that is an offensive force in today’s game.
The way it is played it is so challenging for catchers physically, mentally, and emotionally because all this information now about pitch sequence, stuff that they have to constantly be rebooting the computer in their mind.
I think they know, would we like for them to crutch in an RBI or hit here and then? Sure, but that’s a luxury the way we look at it, and I think they know that. And they’ve both brought that very consistently.
Fortunately for Caleb, he showed us glimpses of why he should have won the Eastern MVP last year and almost drove in over 100 runs.
He’s a better offensive player than he’s shown us here lately, which he’s shown us at times this year. He got going there and helped us offensively for a while, but it wasn’t his priority.

This really made me think about catchers – what their role is for the team and just how much is required of them. At about this same time, the Yankees season had ended and the debate on whether or not Brian McCann had met expectations for his $17million/year salary. The general opinion was that he had not lived up to his potential as a Yankee, especially considering the short distance from home plate to the right field wall. He managed to finish 2014 with 23 homeruns and 75 RBI in 140 games, both improvements from his 2013 numbers with the Atlanta Braves (20 homeruns and 75 RBIs in 102 games). In my opinion, not bad numbers – but when I thought about those numbers compared to the 2014 season as a whole, it took on a new perspective.

Yankees pitching in 2014 turned out to be a strength, but was somewhat of a revolving door of uncertainty throughout the season. Only four out of the five starters lasted the entire season. New pitchers – both starters and relievers – were brought on by trades, waivers, and the minor leagues. I don’t know how many pitchers actually wore pinstripes this season, and frankly I haven’t counted. What I do know is that there were just four catchers for all season long – usually McCann and occasionally Francisco Cervelli, with John Ryan Murphy and Austin Romine filling in for injuries to either of the catchers – or when a catcher floated over to first base to fill in for an injured Mark Teixeira.
I’ve often said that catchers have to be tough players. Anyone behind home plate has to be prepared to take a beating; there is a reason they wear so much protective gear. Not only do you have to remain in a squatting position for nine innings (assuming you don’t go into extra innings), but you have to be prepared to be hit by balls and by bats, and you might even wind up in a collision at home plate (although that is less likely due to the change in rules for plays at home). And don’t forget about that special glove. We as baseball fans love to see the pitch tracker counting into the 90-100mph zone – but someone’s got to catch that fireball being thrown. During an ALCS game, Royals’ catcher Salvador Perez actually switched out his glove in the middle of an inning, likely because it was no longer giving his hand enough protection.

During my short time as a softball player in my youth, I was catcher for exactly one game – and hated it. It was the middle of summer in northeast Ohio, and even though home plate was shaded by a big tree and summers in Ohio are not that humid, the whole game felt like torture. I hated the weight of the protective gear, I hated squatting for the whole game, and I played the whole game with a constant fear of being hit in the head with a wild pitch – or a wild bat from the girl on the other team. My catching hand was sore at the end of the game, and I walked away wondering how did professional players do this – willingly – for a paycheck. At the time, Sandy Alomar, Jr was my favorite player, but after a day “in his shoes” I figured he had to be a little stupid to be 6’5” and crouching for 9 innings to catch a baseball.

The catchers Buck Showalter made reference too aren’t small guys either. Caleb Joseph is 6’3” and 180lbs, while Nick Hundley is a little smaller at 6’1” and 200lbs. The Orioles regular catcher Matt Wieters (on the disabled list following Tommy John surgery) is as big as Alomar – 6’5” and 240lbs. Brian McCann is 6’3” and 230lbs. Salvador Perez is 6’3” and 240lbs. On average, catchers are the second largest players, behind only first basemen.
It’s important to mention the size of catchers, because agility is a huge part of their defense. A large stature is beneficial to block pitches that miss a catcher’s target, but is can be a challenge if a pitch goes wild. Assuming there is at least one runner on base and a pitch goes wild, a catcher has an extremely short period of time to jump up from the plate, grab the ball, and (hopefully) hold or throw out the runner. The same agility and quick movement is required when attempting to throw out a base stealer, making a play on a bunt, or when a runner advances from third to home. Maybe a catcher even sees a gutsy player like Jacoby Ellsbury who actually stole home in 2009 as a member of the Red Sox.

Going back to the point Showalter made, any player is going to have four or five at bats per game, depending on the length of the game and batting order. Compare those few at bats to the number of pitches a catcher sees during a game, which can vary a lot. Starters are frequently throwing around 100 pitches in a game before the call to the bullpen. Let’s say each game totals approximately 150 pitches, give or take. As Buck said, even for a poor math student like myself, the math is simple. There are roughly 5 at bats and roughly 150 pitches in every game (again, those numbers can vary). Which number has more value to a team and the outcome of a game? I would say the 150 pitch count.

When considering the number of pitchers the Yankees had this season, and even if all the pitchers stayed healthy and lasted the entire season, it’s also important to remember that each pitcher is different. They have different pitches, some stronger than others, and they all have a slightly different throwing style. For position players, whoever is on the mound doesn’t change how you play your position a whole lot. You may expect more ground balls or fly balls depending on who is pitching, but the fielding doesn’t change much. However, with every pitcher who steps on the mound, the catcher has to adjust to that pitcher. The pitcher-catcher battery is incredibly impressive to me, and just think for a minute how much it requires mentally – on both sides – for every pitch. Together, they’re not just playing catch between pitcher’s mound and home plate. They’re making logical decisions for each pitch based on each batter’s strengths and weaknesses, and considering any other batters who have reached base. If that’s not one of the most impressive aspects of baseball, I don’t know what is.

Catchers a big guys, and their job is tough physically and mentally. Would I love to see catchers, especially Brian McCann, be offensive monsters? Absolutely – it makes for exciting baseball. But if given the choice, I’m inclined to take a strong defensive catcher with average offense versus a strong offensive catcher with average defense.
All things considered, I am content with Brian McCann’s first season in the Bronx. He’s had a full year to settle in to New York. With a (hopefully) more consistent starting rotation and bullpen roster next season, I am optimistic McCann’s offense will pick up for next season. Above all, I have incredible respect for everything required of a catcher during each game and throughout the season.

The Final Curtain

Just over twenty-four hours ago, I wrote that I didn’t have appropriate words to write a tribute to Derek Jeter. I was able to write a little something personal about what his career meant to me, but it was nothing special. There are a million other people out there who could write far better tributes to a legend than I can. But here I am again, writing about the same guy I couldn’t write about yesterday, because he played such an emotional final game in New York I couldn’t possibly ignore it.
Prior to last night’s game, I never thought any player could possibly top Mariano Rivera’s exit from the game a year ago. There was perfect weather and a wonderful ceremony for Mariano Rivera Day. A few days later, he was pulled from the game by his friends Jeter and Andy Pettite in a fitting end to his career. The whole experience, in my opinion, was perfect. I believe in God, and I believe all things happen for a reason – and I believe God blessed Mariano Rivera in 2013 with such a beautiful final series and exit from baseball.
Jeter’s last game looked like it might end up a disaster. Rain hit New York all day and was expected to go all night. There were doubts as to whether the Orioles and Yankees would even be able to play. The same rain storm hit DC the night before, cancelling the Mets and Nationals game I had tickets for. It didn’t look promising for Derek Jeter’s last game in the Bronx.
Looking back, there’s no doubt that God blessed another departing Yankee.
Joe Girardi said he had planned for Jeter to walk around the field, eventually joining former teammates to leave the field for the last time. It would be a symbolic way for his friends, who he considers his brothers, to say “the end is here, it’s time to come with us.” That ending would have been beautiful, and undoubtedly Yankee fans would have loved it. Some fans speculated that Jeter’s parents would somehow pull him out of the game – very fitting for the two who raised him, and who have been through every game of his life right along with him. But neither was meant to be.
Hiroki Kuroda (in maybe his last game ever?) started out by giving up two solo homeruns in the top of the first. Luckily, the Yankees answered right back and scored two runs of their own in the bottom of the first. Kuroda somehow goes on to pitch a magnificent game, as though it was completely normal to start a game by giving fans a heart attack and then be untouchable the rest of the game.
The homeruns go to right, and right center. Seeing Ichiro Suzuki in right field, I can’t help but wonder if this is his last game too – or maybe just his last game in pinstripes? He needs less than two hundred hits to reach 3,000 career hits in the MLB (not counting his hits in Japan). Does he call it quits now or make a push to reach that milestone? But that’s a thought another thought for another day.
We all know the rest of this story – even if you weren’t watching the game you have heard the rest of the story. Admittedly, I am a big fan of David Robertson, I think he’s done great job trying to replace the world’s best closer, and I want him back next season. As he gave up the two homeruns, blowing the save and potentially costing my team the game, I started to feel unsure about that. But that inning – the walk to Nick Markakis, the homeruns by Adam Jones and Steve Pearce – were meant to be. David Robertson was meant to fall apart on the mound. As pissed as Yankee fans were about Robertson “ruining” Jeter’s last game, their glimmer of hope was that The Captain would bat in the bottom of the 9th for (maybe?) one last time. We don’t know if we’re going to extra innings for bonus Jeter or not. Maybe he’s got a little more magic for the Bronx?
And as it goes, Jose Pirela hits a single. Antoan Richardson is the pinch runner who moves to second on Brett Gardner’s double, then scores the winning run on Jeter’s base hit. Ballgame over – history made.
Some people theorized that Evan Meek, Buck Showalter, and the Orioles played soft so Jeter would get the hit and his big moment. I am absolutely certain that did not happen – just as certain that no one on the Orioles team did any favors for Derek Jeter, the Yankees, or this historic night. This Orioles team plays hard no matter what the circumstances; that’s why they have been so successful this season, and that’s why they’re headed to the playoffs. (And good luck to them!)
More significant than Jeter’s hit – and it was a fantastic one! – was Richardson crossing home plate safely. Obviously he needed to score the run for Jeter to have the game winning RBI. But, I live in Orioles territory, have seen many Orioles games this season, and I thought for sure Richardson would be thrown out at the plate – because of Nick Markakis. Richardson certainly had the speed to make it – otherwise he wouldn’t have been the pinch runner – but Markakis has a cannon of an arm in right field. The throw he made to the plate was just about in time, but just a little off target up the third base line, and was merely average. I don’t consider Nick Markakis an average right fielder. (I’ve seen him throw runners out at the plate from a lot deeper.) I do not believe Markakis slacked on the play at all – but the throw wasn’t meant to be a typical Nick Markakis defensive throw.
The rain stopped. Robertson blew the save. Jeter hit a single. Markakis’ throw was uncharacteristic. Richardson crossed home safely.
Say what you will about the events that happened, but I believe it was a force bigger than anything on earth. If you ask, it was an act of God that so many things should line up so perfectly. No one could have scripted a better ending to Derek Jeter’s career in pinstripes, in the Bronx, and at shortstop.