In my MASN column this week I referenced Back to the Future. While baseball has little to do with science fiction, that movie does feature Doc Brown telling Marty McFly that November 5, 1955 could be the “junction point” of the entire universe. However I’m starting to wonder if it isn’t actually September 6th (of any year); at least in Baltimore. It was on that red-letter date 17 years ago that my boyhood hero, Cal Ripken Jr., broke Lou Gehrig’s consecutive games played streak. For those who thought the events of that September 6th couldn’t be bested, think again…
I was always good with roads and maps as a kid, and I knew that my grandparents lived in Rising Sun (MD), which to me was the “junction point” of the universe. So when my Dad and my uncles started to teach me about the hometown Baltimore Orioles, it was the young Cal Ripken Jr. that became my
favorite player because he was from nearby Aberdeen. He didn’t become the “Iron Man” until years later, but I liked him because he was local. Seeing Cal now in any circumstance is a reminder of those times and thus a reminder of my Dad, who I thank God is still with us after a bout with cancer. So for me last night’s game was a “moment” before it even started with the Orioles unveiling the Cal Ripken Jr. statue on the anniversary of 2131. However it wasn’t until the game ended that September 6th became etched into Baltimore’s mind as the bond between past, present, and future.
You really can’t say enough about the gritty effort of Jason Hammel, who was making his first start since coming off the DL. Hammel’s line: 5.0 IP, 6 H, 1 R, 2 BB, 6 K. Orioles’ fans held their breath in the fourth when Hammel took a comebacker off his right elbow, but he appeared to be okay and stayed in the game. The Orioles plated four runners in the last of the first, three of which came on Matt Wieters‘ line-drive homer to left field. That home run only foreshadowed what was to come. Needless to say, many fans got free souvenir baseballs last night!
Andino homered in the fourth, and Reynolds in the 6th. However sure enough, the empire struck back. New York put five runs on the board in the eighth inning, helped by Pedro Strop walking in two runs, and ultimately leaving to a chorus of boos. That was the only blemish on an otherwise magical night. However Darren O’Day did his job in getting the final out of the inning, and the Orioles played on.
One thing that struck so many people about Cal Ripken Jr. was how often he was able to rise to the occasion when the stakes were high. Most notably of course, 17 years prior to the day he homered on a night that already would have been remembered as one of the greatest in team history. Cal was a team leader, however that baton has now been passed to Adam Jones. In true Ripken fashion, Jones rose to the occasion. With the game and perhaps the fortunes of this Baltimore Orioles team seemingly in the balance, Jones sent a “no-doubter” deep into the night sky of the Old Line State. That ball seemed to travel the same trajectory as Ripken’s homer on this same date so many years ago. And on the coat tails of both of those home runs rode the fortunes of Birdland. They tie together the past, present, and perhaps even the future of the Orioles and the great city of Baltimore…with an orange bow that reads September 6th.
For good measure, Mark Reynolds added on another homer and Chris Davis chimed in with a solo shot, giving the Orioles a 10-6 win over New York. This was only the first of four games with New York at the yard, so this is far from over. The question remains of whether or not this was a lone bright moment for the O’s this weekend, or if it might signal the start of something greater. Needless to say, the events of September 6th will be a tough act to follow! NY will send Phil Hughes to the mound in tonight’s game, countered by the Orioles’ Wei-Yin Chen. (Worth mentioning: Chen will be working on an extra day of rest since the O’s pushed him back a day to re-insert Hammel into the linuep.)
Last night would have been a pretty poignant moment in itself given that the O’s drew even with NY in the AL East once again, however the fact that it was done under the backdrop of September 6th and the Cal Ripken Jr ceremony made it truly a night to remember. Speaking for myself, I’ve always felt that you’re tied more closely to the teams and sports figures of your youth than anything else. Those are your formative years, and it’s more about just you and whomever brought you into the sports arena (my father in my case) sitting in the stands watching the game. So seeing Cal Ripken Jr, my boyhood hero, last night at the yard brought me back to those times. And seeing Adam Jones rise to the occasion in a Ripken-esque manner should have brought Orioles fans forward.
In penning this column I try to provide fair coverage of the O’s without getting overly caught up in the emotion of any one moment or coming across as a “homer.” However if these Birds continue on and make the playoffs after the events of September 6, 1995, combined with those of the last 14 years, and then September 6, 2012…quite frankly it would be the greatest story ever told. And with that said it would be a “Baltimore story.” A story of a once great franchise that returned to it’s past glory and left a city in awe of it’s greatness, both then and now. And the junction point of that history will always be September 6th.