Saying that the Baltimore Orioles losing last night was almost a forgone conclusion would go against the whole concept of playing until the last out and so forth. However my point would be that it’s tough to sweep someone (especially at their place) in baseball. However in that vain, Mark Reynolds reminded people that the Fighting Showalters play until the end and do so with a lot of moxie as he launched a two-run homer to left center. However 0-for-6 with runners in scoring position is going to make it tough for teams to win. The O’s got a decent effort out of Miguel Gonzalez, or at the very least a better effort than what the numbers indicate. Gonzalez’s line: 6.1 IP, 7 H, 5 R, 0 BB, 4 K.
You win some, you lose some, and that’s true in all games and in all parts of life. Having said that, the Birds now return home to play perhaps the biggest series in the 20 year history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. The New York Yankees come to town for the teams’ final meetup of the season, and they do so with a one-game lead in the American League East. The Orioles made the playoffs as a wild card in 1996 and of course in 1997 when they went wire-to-wire in first place. In neither case was there such a poignantly important series as we see this weekend. (Especially in 1997 when the O’s pretty much ran away with the division all year.)
Since yesterday’s game ended I’ve been trying to think of a historical moment in another (local) sport to which I could compare this weekend’s series, however that’s pretty tough given that there’s no other sport like baseball given that they play series’. I suppose I’m reminded of the 2002 game between Duke and Maryland at Cole Field House on February 17, 2002. The Terps beat what was becoming one of their top rivals that day 87-73, in what was a key win for Maryland in a dream season. I’m not sure that you can compare that with this series, however that’s all I’ve got right now! That game was on a Sunday afternoon and the buzz for it grew all week long.
Looking back on that season, Maryland doesn’t win first place in the ACC if they don’t win that game. I think we have a similar situation here. Obviously in a worst-case scenario where the Orioles get swept, you aren’t out of anything (but the road gets much tougher). But needless to say, the buzz for this series has been huge thus far. Just for the sake of discussion, I was looking at the ticket availability for Saturday night’s game earlier in the week. There appeared to be a few lower level seats available, and much of the upper deck remained unsold. On Tuesday morning that went down to about a few thousand seats, and by the end of the day yesterday there were all of ten seats (scattered singles) remaining in the entire stadium! I think it’s safe to say that Baltimore’s finally getting the message and going out to support their potential playoff-caliber team.
The icing on the cake is that the Orioles will unveil the Cal Ripken Jr. statue tonight prior to the game. (Gates open at 5 PM, and the ceremony starts at 5:15 with an on-field ceremony to follow.) If that doesn’t get the Baltimore crowd revved up I’m not sure what will! I’m not really going to go into what Cal Ripken means to the city of Baltimore and the Oriole fans, because that speaks for itself. Furthermore, I turn into a sob story whenever I talk too much about my boyhood hero! But needless to say this game would have been a sellout regardless of the team’s record because of the Ripken ceremony. The fact that it’s such a huge game and a huge series is a bonus. Cal was always a big-game type of player, and this entire weekend will be a big-game atmosphere. Many people have wondered what the pose will be on the Ripken statue itself; nobody will know until it’s unveiled, however I suspect it’s no coincidence that they chose the anniversary of 2131 for this particular ceremony.
Jason Hammel returns to the Orioles’ rotation from the DL tonight, and I suspect he’ll be on a limited pitch count after returning from knee surgery. Hammel was the Orioles’ best pitcher until going on the DL in July, and Buck Showalter has likened getting him back at this point to making a late season trade for a starter. He’ll be opposed by David Phelps, who pitchde 4.2 innings against the Orioles last Saturday. The O’s touched him up a bit in that one, however he was able to keep his team in the game in his limited innings. New York does have Alex Rodriguez back in their lineup as opposed to last weekend when he was still injured, but it appears that Mark Teixiera will still be unavailable until at the very least late in the series according to MASN’s Gary Thorne.