Orioles Victory Number 35: 5-4 over the Tampa Bay Rays
2003 Topps Jerry Hairston, Jr.
I should be writing about their 5-4, come-from-behind, ninth-inning win on Wednesday night, but the game that sticks with me tonight is the one from the day before.
Losses shouldn't hurt this much when your favorite team has done this almost 80 times in one season. Yet there it was, Tuesday night the Orioles were winning 3-1 in the top of the eighth when I checked my phone. An hour and 10 guests later I checked my phone again and saw that the final score was 4-3 Rays. I was actually depressed for the next 30 minutes.
I didn't even watch the game! All I did was check the MLB App and saw the final score. It wasn't until much later that night that I was able to watch the condensed game highlights and it was like watching Ralph Wiggum's Valentine's Day stretched over 10 minutes.
There was the initial sadness (no cards for Ralph) with Tyler Glasnow blowing fastballs by every member of the Orioles line-up. Two innings in and it looked like it was going to be a very long night for Baltimore. Not only were the Orioles looking inept at hitting but the fact that Glasnow was doing it was another needle. The Rays traded more than half of their starting pitching staff and still have more promising starters than the Orioles do. Could the O's have pried Glasnow away from the Pirates if they had sent Kevin Gausman to the Steel City instead of Atlanta?
Luckily the Rays left their tall, young hard-throwing son in an inning too long and he cho-cho-chooses to leave a fastball over the heart of the plate that Tim Beckham absolutely crushed to centerfield. Happiness! God bless that man and the subtle little bat flip. Eighty losses can't keep that man's confidence down.
Then the Orioles slowly build a lead with an opposite field home run by Trey Mancini, who is up to 16 home runs despite a horrendous first half. Mark Tumbo tomahawks a ground ball into left field to add another run. When he's eventually traded in December I'm going to miss the highlights of him swinging at pitches at shoulder level and unleashing hell upon them.
The Orioles are up 3-1 and Alex Cobb had gutted through another decent start. Much like Ralph at this point, we're happy. He has a date lined up with his beloved, he's wooing her with Malibu Stacy cars and Krusty tickets. All is well in his world. But his world isn't reality. All is well in the Orioles world, but their are signs of things heading for the cliff. They fail to add on to the lead when Chris Davis strikes out with runners in scoring position and then Mancini bounces into a double play.
Jonathan Villar leads off with a double and looks like he evades a tag on a play at the plate that would have given the Os a three-run lead. He did evade the initial tag, but he also evaded the plate. If his lead foot is two inches to the left maybe their is a different outcome.
Then comes the bullpen, or as Krusty might say, "Oh God, this is always death." What was once the strongest part of the ballclub is now a collection of untested rookies. Evan Phillips can't throw a strike, Chris Davis can't throw to second and the game is tied. Once Davis' throw on what should have been a routine fielder's choice at worst and a double play at best, this ball game was over.
Miguel Castro comes in to face Willy Ademes and five pitches later he leaves a 95-mph heater in a bad part of the strike zone and Oriole fans are like...
Again, this shouldn't matter so much. I'm old enough to have lost most of my hair. I use modern pharmaceuticals to keep my arteries clear of all the crappy food that I've eaten over the last 40 years of my life. I should not be sad when my team loses a ball game in the middle of freaking August.
August is the dumbest month in baseball anyway. Even fans of teams that are going to the playoffs are bored with baseball this month. They are ready for the postseason and games that mean something. If you're a fan of team that is 40+ games out of contention all you want is for the season to end. The only people that are paying attention right now are the ones that root for organizations that are fighting for a wild card spot. And even they are only kind of paying attention because of vacations, work and preparing for back to school. The real excitement will come down the stretch in September.
But I guess that's what being a fan is all about. Still caring about what happens to a crappy team is a sign of life and that apathy hasn't completely taken over. The Rays can also give Orioles fans a bit of hope. They have some exciting young players that they can build around in Adames (brought in via a trade), Jake Bauers (draft), Glasnow (trade) and Blake Snell (draft). There is no reason that in a year or two Baltimore could have a similar nucleus with Ryan Mountcastle, DL Hall, Yusniel Diaz and Bobby Witt, Jr. Right? We can dream about that.
What makes Ralph Wiggum so likable as a character? His unrelenting optimism despite being gifted with limited intelligence and skills. We want him to be happy even if it's just for a few moments or a few days. Even if the rest of reality is shouting that it's just an illusion (kind of like the baseball world and the Orioles recent success). So that's where we are now, I guess. Orioles fans are the Ralph Wiggums of baseball.
As for the card above. I really just like the photo used. It makes me happy. We don't know if Hairston, Jr completed the double play or chucked it into the first row of the stands, but in the moment captured on the cardboard everything just seems right in the baseball world.