O’s need to hit the clutch

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My headline in today’s column serves two purposes; first off the Orioles had a lot of trouble hitting in the clutch against New York this week. Secondly I’ve been exercising my left foot all week because on Saturday morning I’m going out and buying a brand new car off the showroom floor. My SUV has been venerable through time, however I’m ready to go back to driving something a bit more sporty and furthermore I’m ready to go back to driving a five-speed (hence why I’m exercising my left foot)! If you really want to know what I’m planning on buying, my middle name is Anthony…Fix It Again Tony!

Albeit begrudgingly, I’m the first one to admit that I’ve had trouble at various points in my life when it comes to being under pressure. We’ve all had moments in our lives whereby we’ve felt like we were in the climactic conclusion of a movie (…cue the dramatic background music). In the movies themselves the good guy generally wins; in real life as we know that’s not always the case. Adam Jones and Kevin Gregg had moments like that last night. With the score tied at four in the last of the ninth, NY walked Nick Markakis to load the bases and get to Jones. To Adam’s credit he seemed to be sitting on a fastball, which he got…several times. He swung and missed on all three of them. In Kevin Gregg’s case, it’s worth mentioning that he looked better last night than he did all of last season. However he made one mistake in pitching to Nick Swisher, who sent Gregg’s middle-in fastball into the Camden Yards bleachers.

In Adam Jones’ case, his public comments over time show that he wants to win. I also don’t think that he’s much of an excuse-maker. His quote after the game was “I just didn’t come through for my team.” The sad thing is that I believe the Yankees in a way took advantage of that. They knew that in Adam Jones they were getting a favorable righty-righty matchup that pitcher Rafael Soriano didn’t have with Nick Markakis. However they also knew that Jones fiercely wants to win just as badly as the Oriole fans. So they banked on that “ferocity” getting the better of Jones, who probably wanted to “show up” the Yankees for thinking they could load the bases to pitch to him. Instead he played right into their hands. As for Kevin Gregg, he actually seemed to roll along nicely in his two innings. However as can often be the case with pitchers, one little blip seemed to spook him; Mark Texeira hit against the shift and sent a bloop down the left field line. You could almost see the wall’s closing in on Gregg in his own mind as he hung that fastball middle-in to Swisher, who abused it.

As much as I might not like hearing this, baseball is as much about psychology as anything else. I’d like to say that I firmly believe that the game is decided between the lines, however in some cases it’s also decided “between the ears.” Here’s the other thing; the Yankees weren’t afraid to lose, and the Orioles were. When Jones went up to bat in the ninth, you could see that determined look on his face. The Yankees were willing to risk losing the game by walking someone to get to Jones. Jones came across as so afraid of failing that he played into NY’s hands. And believe me, I say that sympathetically because I’ve had the same problem for most of my life. In that sense I suppose that NY’s attitude was that if they lose, so be it; they’ll “get ’em next time.” The Orioles almost wanted to think this was game seven of the world series and everything was on the line.

As I said, I do turn a sympathetic eye towards these kinds of plights. I’ve played pickup basketball once a week since I was 14 with the same group of guys, some of whom can sometimes rub me the wrong way in competing. (There can often be a Family Feud element to friendship and athletics I guess you could say.) I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had an open lane to score the winning layup and I end up missing. Why is that? I want to win so bad just to look the other side in the eye and know that “I’ve got ’em.” Almost in response, one of them will hit some near-impossible shot from downtown on the other side to win the game in a very cool manner. They barely even thought about it, they just went out and played.

That might be what the Orioles should keep in mind as they head to Toronto this weekend. Just go out and play. In Adam Jones’ case, I would submit that he’s clutch more often than he isn’t. In reading some other sites this morning, there are a lot of fans that are all over Jones about striking out last night. I think we need to look at a player’s overall body of work in critiquing him as opposed to one moment in one game. For the most part, Jones has lived up to his billing in my opinion. I also recognize that it’s much easier to hit a solo homer early in a game (against Minnesota) than it is to get a base lick with the bases juiced in the ninth against a division rival like the Yankees. Performing and delivering under pressure is something that we all struggle with to a certain degree. Jones may have been dwarfed by the pressure at that moment, however he’s also the type of player that will bounce back stronger as a result.

Follow me on Twitter @DomenicVadala