Thursday, August 22, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 41: A Trip to the Virtual Card Store

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 41: 8-1 over the Kansas City Royals

1955 Bowman Matt Batts

Hey how about a little winning streak? The Orioles pitching staff did it again, limiting the Royals to one run while the Baltimore bats banged out out three home runs and 12 hits. Speaking of bats how about a new oldest card in the collection?

A couple of months ago I turned a little eBay money into a COMC shopping spree. Shortly before leaving Pittsburgh my good buddy Link gave me one of the all time iconic cards in history - the 1971 Topps Thurman Munson. I don't even have to put an image here for you to picture the card do I? You already see the play at the plate, the dust, Munson making the tag with his mask off and hat on backwards, the big honking All-Star Rookie trophy in the corner and the iconic black border.

With that card in hand I made a somewhat languid decision to focus on picking up some more of the cards that everyone should have. Well, mostly cards that everyone should have. More like the cards that I think I should have in my collection. Instead of burning money on boxes, I decided to focus my eBay profits on certain cards. I even curated a Top Ten list of cards that I really want for my collection that I may post at some point.

So first up, a card every O's fan should have - a Matt Batts 1955 Bowman, right?  Ok, not so much. That came from the fact that I was looking for some cheap vintage cards and I happened to be reading The Summer of '49 by David Halberstam, a fantastic look at the pennant chase between Boston and New York in 1949. Batts was an ancillary character in the book as a  back-up catcher for the Red Sox that season.

When I was scrolling through COMC and his card popped up it seemed like an opportune time to pick it up. Now, you old timers might think, "I don't remember Batts playing for the Orioles" and you would be right. He never suited up for the Birds in their first season in Baltimore. Following the 1954 season Batts was part of a trade between the White Sox and the Orioles. However, just before the 1955 season started he was purchased from the Orioles by the Cleveland Indians. By that time Bowman had already had the cards printed and ready to go so he is forever to be captured as  Baltimore Oriole in the set.

However, that wasn't the iconic card that I had set my sights on that night while I was scrolling through. Neither is the next card featured, which is now my second oldest overall card in my collection.

1948 Fleer Billy Conn

I wanted an older boxing card and feeling slightly nostalgic for the recently departed Steel City I picked up a card of the the Pittsburgh Kid. A light-heavyweight champion from the 1930s, Conn will best be remembered for his two fights against Joe Louis. In June of 1941, Conn was by most accounts leading on the scorecards entering the 13th round when Louis managed to salvage the fight by knocking Conn out.

In the rematch, postponed five years by a little thing called World War II, Louis knocked him out again, this time in the eighth round. He finished his career with a 63-11-1 record in the ring and one draw outside of the ring as he foiled a robbery attempt - at the age of 72 years old.

The card I wanted to buy was a rookie card, but another rookie card intrigued me when I was still in the boxing section.

1991 Kayo Arturo Gatti

The Blood and Guts Warrior himself. Look at how young he looks in that photo (wow, is that an old person thing to say). This is Gatti six years before his Fight of the Year in 1997 with Gabriel Ruelas that put him on the boxing map, ten years before his big money fight with Oscar De La Hoya, and eleven years before the beginning of his way with Micky Ward that electrified boxing fans for a decade. This is Gatti before the swollen eyes, the broken hands and the blood, so much blood, a young fighter ready to make a name for himself.

Gatti's boxing style was straight forward. He never found a punch that he couldn't stop with either his hands or his face and he was always willing to dish out just as many blows as he took, even when he was outclassed in the ring. He always wore his fights on his face. In the 1990s and early 2000s there may not have been a more fun fighter to watch. Whenever he popped up on HBO, you knew it was worth while to hang around and watch the fight.

He retired from boxing in 2007. Two years later he was found dead in an apartment in Brazil under somewhat cloudy circumstances. Originally his wife was accused of murder, but the final cause of death was listed as suicide. To this day his cause of death is still intensely debated

Back to baseball. Having secured an old boxing card, an old baseball card and a rookie boxing card it's time to zero in on the card I wanted.  First a detour.  

1989 Topps Traded Ken Griffey, Jr.

A rookie card with Griffey Jr holding a bat on his left shoulder? It's the iconic pose for my generation's iconic superstar. Sadly, by the lack of a smile you know it's not the Upper Deck rookie.  Topps missed the boat with their flagship set, as Griffey didn't make the cut. They didn't waste anytime making sure he was in their late season add-on set, Topps Traded.  As you can see it's a bit off-center which just made it more affordable in my book.

While those are all great cards for my collection, they weren't the one I was looking for. It was, in fact, the other Griffy rookie that I had set out to buy. After 30 years of hemming and hawing about getting one, I finally pulled the trigger. 

1989 Upper Deck Ken Griffey Jr.

The card that launched an empire and survived the mass production era that was the late-1980s and 1990s. It introduced Upper Deck to the card collecting crowd and signaled the launch of the modern era of collecting. It isn't the most expensive rookie card of the era, Albert Puljos, Mike Trout and Derek Jeter dwarf him in comparison, but can you, the casual collector, picture any of those cards off the top of your head?

I don't have a high-grade copy, and I won't send it in. In fact, it doesn't even get a binder. It'll be slipped into a toploader and placed with Felix Jose and the rest of my 1989 Upper Deck cards, but that won't mean it's forgotten. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 40: Oh, what a relief

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 40: 4-1 over the Kansas City Royals

2019 Topps Stadium Club DJ Stewart

The Orioles headed into Tuesday night's game against the Royals on an eight-game losing streak and with only one win in their last fourteen games. Thanks to a Hanser Alberto home-run in the eighth inning and seven strong innings from Dylan Bundy, Baltimore snapped their losing ways with a 4-1 win over Kansas City.

Perhaps the most impressive streak that was snapped was the 25 games in a row the Orioles have given up three or more runs. Pitching was always going to be a problem for the team and that was before trading Andrew Cashner and seeing John Means hop on and off the injured list. The patchwork rotation has struggled to go deep in to games and the bullpen, from fatigue or lack of ability, hadn't been able to shut down their opponents. In several games the Orioles were close heading into the later innings, but the relievers failed to keep the other team off the scoreboard.

Tuesday's win was the complete opposite. Bundy turned in seven solid innings, scattering five hits (none of them left the park) and striking out seven. He turned it over to Hunter Harvey in the eighth and the rookie struck out two by mixing his 99 mph heater with a sharp breaking ball. The effort paid off when Alberto launched a 1-1 pitch into the Orioles bullpen. Mychal Givens worked an uneventful ninth to pick up his tenth save.

The previous two weeks were always going to be a tough stretch for the Orioles as they ran a gauntlet of arch rivals and playoff bound teams. While it would have been nice to pick up more than one win, it wasn't to be as they were thoroughly outclassed by the Yankees, Red Sox and Astros. Following this series with the Royals things get tough again as they face the Rays, Nationals, Dodgers and Rangers.

Most likely their won't be many more wins in the immediate future and the chances of them getting to the magical 60-win mark is getting slimmer and slimmer by the day. While it would have been nice for them to outplay the oddsmakers, just playing better would be a victory as well.

Another positive would be seeing more players such as Stewart getting more playing time. After a tough stretch that saw him have more trips to the injured list (2) than hits (1), the young outfielder might be finding his hitting stroke. Following his 3-for-4 debut on May 28th he garnered just one hit in his next twenty-nine at-bats.

He missed the next thirty-one games with a badly sprained ankle. Following a rehab assignment he was recalled earlier this month and promptly missed the next eight games with a concussion after he misread a flyball and it hit him in the temple. In the last two games he has collected four hits in his last eight at-bats and played a solid rightfield.

With Anthony Santander patrolling centerfield or leftfield on a nightly basis, two-thirds of the outfield for next season could be in place. It will be interesting to see if Austin Hays or Cedric Mullins get a chance once their minor league seasons are over. The kids are coming soon.

Harvey has been impressive in his two outings so far this season. He has struck out four and not allowed a home run (you chuckle, but for an Orioles pitcher to go more than an inning this season without giving up a bomb isn't a joke). He's touched 100mph a few times and sat constantly at 98+.

The Orioles are going to be cautious with their young arms so it's unlikely too many more prospects will be joining Harvey in the bullpen. Coach Hyde has indicated it is his preference to finish the season with the rotation as it is currently constructed, so that would indicate that they're not willing to pile on the innings for some of their higher ranked prospects in the minors.

It will be a long final month of the season, but hopefully there will be some small bright spots along the way.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 39: The Champs

Baltimore Orioles Victory 39: 8-7 over the Houston Astros

1967 Topps The Champs

A few weeks ago, The Athletic's Grant Brisbee wrote about the 20 individual season's he'd like to jump in a time machine and go back and see. They ranged from Ty Cobb's 1911 season to Josh Gibson's 1936 season with the Pittsburgh Crawfords. Despite not having Orioles, Brisbee's list was pretty good and worth the price of the subscription.

So in the 65 year history of the Orioles, which season would I go back to in my imaginary baseball time machine? Would it be Brady Anderson's 50 home run campaign in 1996 season? Or the 1989 Why Not season? Maybe it would be the last World Series team of 1983. Or the 1971 team that had four 20-game winners (Jim Palmer, Dave McNally, Mike Cuellar, and Pat Dobson).

Those are all decent choices, but I think there is one really, really good answer: Frank Robinson's 1966 Triple Crown season. After tasting a little success with back to back 90+ win seasons in 1964 and 1965 the Orioles put it all together in 1966 when they won 97 regular season games and then swept the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series, holding the Dodgers to just 2 runs (both scored in the first game) in the entire series.

The key to it all was Frank Robinson. After a phenomenal 10 years to start his career in Cincinnati (63.9 WAR) the Orioles acquired him for Milt Pappas, Jack Baldschun, and Dick Simpson on December 9th, 1965. That trio would put up a whopping 5.4 WAR for the Reds in a combined 7 seasons (Baldschun: .1, Pappas: 5.7, Simpson: -.4). Over six seasons for the Orioles Robinson posted a 32.3 WAR all by himself.

Was it the most lopsided trade in Major League history? Probably not, but it's in the running. His first season was by far his best with the Orioles, but the other five weren't too shabby either. With the exception of a wobbly 1968 season, Robinson was good for 25+ home runs, 80+ RBIs and a damn near .400 OBP. Pretty good for a guy that was considered "an old 30" at the time of the trade.

His debut in an Orioles uniform came on April 12th in a chilly Fenway Park. Hitting third, he came to bat in the first inning and was promptly hit with a pitch by Red Sox starter Earl Wilson. Standing on first base he watched as Brooks Robinson launched one over the fence to give the Orioles an extremely early 2-0 lead.  Not a bad way to get the season started.

In his second at-bat, the former Red singled and stole second. He was stranded at third when Davey Johnson grounded out to short. In the fifth, down by a run Robinson cranked the first of forty-nine home runs he would hit that season.  Through three at-bats as an Orioles he was 2-2 with two runs scored, a stolen base and a RBI.  Not a bad debut at all.

He wouldn't get another hit that day as it took thirteen innings for the Orioles to pick up their first win of the season, but he stayed hot through the month of April slashing .463/.585/.976 with 5 home runs and 10 RBI as Baltimore went 11-1 in that first month.

Both Robinson and the team stumbled a bit in May, but around the same time the AFL and NFL announced a merger in June things turned around in a hurry. The team went 44-18 in June and July turning a two-game deficit in the standings into a thirteen-game advantage by the time the Beatles released "Revolver" in the US,  Robinson had 21 home runs during that time span and drove in 55 runs as he made his assault on the triple crown. With Brooks hitting behind him and Boog Powell behind Brooks, pitchers had to deal with him and he made them pay on a consistent basis as he turned in arguably the greatest offensive season in Orioles history.

The beauty of going back to see Frank Robinson's 1966 season is that as an added bonus you get to see the platonic ideal of the Oriole Way - a fundamentally sound team that could hit, field and pitch. They were a top five team in the league in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. While the pitching staff wasn't dominating they did strike folks out (3rd in K/9) and didn't give up many hits (4th in H/9). When a team did put a ball in play, chances are the defense made the play. Their defensive efficiency (which measures the balls put into play that are converted into outs) was fourth in the league and they were second (a mere percentage point behind the Phillies) with a .981 fielding percentage.

Brooks Robinson was in the prime of his career, 29-years-old, on his way to his seventh consecutive Gold Glove and seventh straight all-star game. Powell slugged 34 home runs and finished third in the MVP voting behind the Robinson boys. At second base was the rookie (and future Orioles manager) Davey Johnson while hall of famer Luis Aparicio was at short. Twenty-two year old Paul Blair was in center with Curt Blefary in left.

Andy Etchebarren backstopped a young rotation that had Jim Palmer (20), Wally Bunker (21), and Dave McNally (23). Steve Barber was the grizzled veteran at 28 years-old and he went 10-5 with a 2.60 ERA. Stu Miller was the closer and Eddie Fisher, Dick Hall,  Moe Drabowsky and Eddie Watt were also in the bullpen.

So, maybe the best squad the Orioles ever fielded? If it isn't this one, it's probably 1969, a team that maintained most of the same players but had Mark Belanger at short and Don Baylor in left.

Watching the Orioles in the American League in 1966 I would seen Mickey Mantle come to town with the Yankees, a team that finished last with the remaining vestiges of their championship teams. Minnesota, who finished second to the Orioles, were led by Harmon Killebrew, Tony Oliva, Jim Kaat and Mudcat Grant. Boston featured Carl Yastrzemski in his prime while Cleveland had Rocky Colavito mashing home runs and a young kid with a funky windup in the bullpen named Luis Tiant.

Then, in the World Series, I'd get to see a rotation that featured Sandy Kofax, Don Drysdale and a young Don Sutton. That trio was decent, but outpitched by an Orioles staff that threw 33 consecutive scoreless innings. I would have seen Kofax's final performance in a Dodgers uniform, Game 2, where he went six innings, gave up four runs (two earned) and lost to Jim Palmer who threw a four-hit shutout.

I'd  have seen day time baseball and no designated hitters (Palmer had one home run and Eddie Watt had two while Drabowsky hit .364). Chuck Thompson called the games on the radio for the Orioles while Vin Scully worked the mic for the Dodgers.

So yeah, that's the season I would pick if I had a very specialized time machine.  How about y'all? What season would you go back to?

Monday, August 5, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 38: Always look for the good things in a bad season

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 38: 6-5 over the Toronto Blue Jays

2012 Topps Nolan Reimold

Even at their absolute best this season, the Baltimore Orioles will most likely lose 100 games. Despite a post All-Star break record that is reasonably ok, they struggled so much over the first three months that history will not remember this season fondly, kind of like 2011.

Pictured above is Nolan Reimold. Back in 2011, when the photo for this card was taken, he was in his third season with the Orioles, a 27-year-old outfielder who had shown some promise with a strong rookie year in 2009, but one who had struggled with injuries since then. The Orioles were struggling through their sixth consecutive 90+ loss season.

On the last day of the season they were playing the Red Sox for the seventh time in their last ten games. Boston was fighting with the Tampa Bay Rays for a spot in the wild card, but the Os had been a thorn in their side going 4-2 in their previous six match-ups. However, with a win and a Rays loss, Boston would still slip into the playoffs.

Enter Game 162, the greatest night in MLB regular season history.  We've gone over that night in previous posts (I'm pretty sure we did, but don't feel like looking it up). To sum it up, Nolan Reimold doubled in Kyle Hudson to tie the score in the ninth and then scored on Robert Andino's soft line-drive to left to win the game. Evan Longoria homered in the 12th down in Tampa to beat the Yankees and the Red Sox were eliminated.

That was a good moment in an otherwise disappointing season.

Yesterday, the Orioles had another one. They were hosting about 4,000 scouts from Great Britain, because that's what you do when there is a big international scouting convention in your city. The young boys and girls were situated in the left field stands and for reasons unbeknownst to anyone, but most likely due to proximity, they adopted leftfielder Anthony Santander as their favorite player. They roared in approval at any catch he made, cheered him as he threw balls into the stands, bought his jersey, and even came up with a soccer-style chant for him.

Did it mean anything to the final score? No. Did it mean anything in the grand scheme of the season? No. Was it something spontaneous and fun that happened around a sporting even? Yes.  That's what can be good about sports. Even in a dismal season something can happen that makes everyone happy. Santander got a kick out of it. The Orioles enjoyed it  (endorsing the kids as the official charter members of the Anthony Santander International Fan Club) and the fans enjoyed it.

Things will quickly delve back into negativity I'm sure (especially with the stretch of tough competition the Orioles face over the next ten days), but at least that memory will remain, in fact it may end up as one of the top moments of the year for the team.

So when people ask me why I watch sports, or why I pay attention to a team that is more than 30 games out of first place, I'll just send them a clip of Santander's smile hearing his name chanted by thousands of strangers. 

Sunday, August 4, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 37: A Ripken reproduction for ya

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 37: 6-4 over the Toronto Blue Jays

2001 Fleer Cal Ripken Jr Career Highlights Box Set - Card 52

See, you thought this was a normal 1993 Ultra Cal Ripken, Jr., didn't you?  Nope, it was part of a box set released in 2001 to commemorate Ripken's career. Along with cards depicting various highlights throughout his time with the Orioles, Fleer also created some reproductions of his earlier released cards.  The big difference, other than quality (let's not sugar coat it, this set looks like it was rushed through production) is the Ripken logo in the lower right corner.

It's a nice little set to have if you are an Orioles or Ripken fan. Despite the "limited" production there are plenty out there to pick up. This was early 2000's limited so there are literally 50,000 regular sets that were made so it's pretty easy to pick up a complete set for less than $10.00.

Now that being said, according to there were also 2,632 glossy sets made that contained "six exclusive game used cards and one jumbo card". Those are going to set you back a little bit more (there is one listed on ebay right now for $24.00) and not pop up quite as often.

As for the Os.  They pick up win 37 in game 110.  That means I need them to go 23-29 over the last 52 to cash my bet. Of those 52 games, roughly half are against the Yankees, Red Sox, Astros, and Rays.  So it's not going to be easy.  We're veering from the impossible to the highly unlikely on the "Will Justin cash a bet" scale, but at least it's moving in the right direction.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

Orioles Victory Card 36: No action at the deadline

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 36: 8-5 over the San Diego Padres

1987 Topps Mike Boddicker

Yes, this is going to post late. How do I know? Because I'm watching the Orioles Thursday night game as I type this. Part of it is by design (wanted to wait till after the trade deadline), part of it is by circumstance (a friend was in town last night and we went to the Salt Lake Bees game) and part of it is because I was working on some hockey writing (check out Raw Charge tomorrow). Oh, and the typical laziness.

The MLB trade deadline went by on Wednesday and unlike last season the Orioles were not a serious player. In fact, they made all of one transaction. And it didn't even affect the major league roster. Dan Strailey was traded to the Phildelphia Phillies for everyone's favorite asset - cash.

So, Thursday's line-up is pretty much the same as Tuesday's. Trey Mancini is still there. Hanser Alberto is still there, snagging line-drives and flaring base hits into right field. Dylan Bundy will get a start this weekend and at some point we'll see Mychal Givens closing games out.

Mike Elias was undoubtedly on the phones trying to make some magic happen, but nothing materialized. That's not necessarily a bad thing. Chances are the returns just weren't worth making the deals so he passed. Making trades for the sake of making trades is a good way to screw up a rebuild.

For now, they are still Orioles. Will that stay true through the winter? Possibly not. One thing to consider, all of the main trade pieces that could have been moved this week are still under Orioles control for another season. Now they have another two months to boost their trade value.

The Orioles were 12-12 in the month of July and put together their best string of baseball out on the West Coast. If they keep playing like this, it will be because Jonathan Villar is still hitting and Dylan Bundy is getting his workman like 5-inning starts in.

A team may have been interested in Givens, after all not everyone throws 95+ and has a sharp breaking slider. Still, he's struggled to put it together this season and dealing him in July would have been selling him low. If he can harness his potential through August and September, the Orioles may be able to pry a decent prospect out of a competitor.

With the deadline behind them, the players should relax a little and hopefully that translates to about 24 more wins. They're already within striking distance of last year's total and while they have a rough stretch coming up soon, there are also some winnable games on their schedule.

Why is Mike Boddicker staring at you? Well, back in 1988 the Orioles were not very good (starting off 0-21 will knock you out of the race pretty quickly) and Boddicker was a veteran pitcher garnering some interest around the league. There was some speculation that the Orioles wanted to move him to the Yankees for a young right-handed slugger named Jay Buhner.

Instead they dealt the soft-tossing righty to Boston for another young outfield prospect, Brady Anderson, and a double-A pitcher by the name of Curt Schilling. Imagine a world where Brady stays with the Red Sox and Buhner is launching home runs in Baltimore instead of Seattle. Well, for one thing, we would never have had this:

Or this baseball card:

Or this poster:

So, yeah it worked out ok in the end. As for Boddicker, he went 7-3 down the stretch for the Red Sox in 1988 averaging almost 6 innings a start as Boston won the AL East by a game over the Detroit Tigers. Things did not go well in the playoffs as Boddicker started Game 3 of the ALCS and didn't make it out of the third inning as the Oakland A's touched him for three home runs. Mark McGwire, Carney Lansford and Ron Hassey went deep as the A's scored six runs against him on their way to a 10-6 victory. Oakland would sweep the Red Sox before getting eliminated by the Los Angeles Dodgers in the World Series.

Boddicker pitched two more seasons for the Red Sox before joining the Kansas City Royals as a free agent before the 1991 season. Brady Anderson had a pretty good career for the Orioles while Curt Schilling would be part of the Orioles most infamous trade - the 1991 deal for Glenn Davis. 

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 35: It's officially a winning streak!

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 35: 8-7 over the Los Angeles Angels

1981 Donruss John Lowenstein

Look, with all these wins in a row, I'm running out of things to write about. So lets just enjoy the majesty of this card.

Hopefully, I'll be back with an actual post sometime soon.

In the meantime here's my updated trade rankings. Mychal Givens enters the picture while Renato Nunez moves up a spot thanks to his recent hot stretch.

The Hopeful Chase Top Five Six Trade Candidates:

1. Andrew Cashner
2. Mychal Givens
3. Jonathan Villar
4. Renato Nunez
5. Paul Fry
6. Trey Mancini

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 34: Where they just keep winning

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 34: 9-3 over the Los Angeles Angels

1991 Score Craig Worthington

I'm not going to lie, I'm going to have to start scanning another batch of cards pretty soon. My pre-scanned photos folder is starting to look a little bare. Who knew that Asher Wojciechowki was the answer to the rotation issues? For the second straight start he did a fantastic job of mixing his pitches and working ahead. He had a bit of a wobble in the fifth inning when he struggled with his control a bit, but other than that he was on target.

With Andrew Cashner in Boston, John Means on the IL, and Dylan Bundy possibly on his way out the door it was important that some of these mid-season pick-ups have a little success on the mound.I'm pretty sure that Brandon Hyde would be satisfied if Wojciechowski, Tom Eshelman, and Aaron Brooks made it to the fifth inning in each one of their starts, so back-to-back seven inning outings by Woj is just icing on the cake.

As the season wears on expect some of the prospects to slowly work their way into the mix as well. With Means on the IL it looks like Dillon Tate, acquired in the Zack Britton trade last year will get a shot at a start. It wouldn't be shocking to see Keegan Akin get a turn as well sometime in the next two months.

In the meantime the Os just keep finding ways to win. As opposed to Thursday night, the offense didn't wait to get going. Taking advantage of Nick Tropeano's inability to throw his offspeed stuff for strikes, a patient Baltimore offense tagged him for six runs in the second inning. The big blow was Renato Nunez's three-run home run, but the Orioles also scored thanks to some aggressive baserunning and Angels' miscues.

Jace Peterson singled with one out. He stole second and advanced to third on a bad throw. After a Chris Davis walk, Peterson broke on contact when Stevie Wilkerson grounded a ball to first base. Matt Thaiss had to hurry to make the play at the plate and couldn't get the ball out of his glove. Peterson scored without a throw.

It was his first stolen base of the season (he would add another in the third) and the team's fifty-second. While they're not quite the Runnin' Redbirds of St. Louis fame, it does mark a certain change in philosophy over some previous Orioles teams. Just two years ago they were dead last in stolen bases with a season total of 32. Right now they are 10th in the major leagues and their 78.64% success rate is fifth.  In two games against the Angels they have seven stolen bases (Jonathan Villar - 4, Peterson - 3).

I, for one, welcome a team that steals bases. It puts more pressure on the defense and helps to distract the pitcher when runners are on base. As long as they keep doing it successfully (anything above 75% is generally seen as beneficial) it makes them a tougher team to play against.

Since the all-star break the Orioles have been playing some pretty good baseball. They've been getting better pitching, Nunez and Trey Mancini are mashing, and they are taking advantage of other team's mistakes. They may not catch the Yankees, but at the rate they're going, they won't be picking first in the draft either.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 33: Even out west, that win went late into the night

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 33: 10-8, 16 innings over the Los Angeles Angels

2011 Topps Diamond Anniversary Koji Uehara

Koji Uehara had 13 saves in his 3 seasons with the Baltimore Orioles. Steve Wilkerson is now only 12 behind him.  After three chances, the Orioles finally held on to a late lead as Wilkerson, originally an infielder, now an outfielder by trade, retired the Angels 1-2-3 in the bottom of the 16th inning to preserve a 10-8 lead. With a steady diet of 50-ish mile-an-hour "fastballs" he got Brian Goodwin (who had homered in the bottom of the ninth to tie the game) to fly out to center. He then enticed a ground ball from Cole Calhoun for out number two. He then had future hall-of-famer Albert Puljos fly out to shallow centerfield for the final out.

Wilkerson entered the history books as the first position player to earn a save (a feat that earned him a baseball card) on what was surely one of his more interesting nights. He was 1-7 at the plate, but drove in a run. He misplayed a flyball into a double that gave the Angels an early lead and then came in to earn the save.

The Orioles themselves had an interesting night. Mychal Givens came in the 8th inning and struck out the world's best player, Mike Trout, looking - with the goahead run on base. Trey Mancini planted a fastball in the right field bleachers in the top of the ninth and it looked like the Os may pull it out. Givens started the ninth by making Shohei Ohtani look foolish on a change-up for a strikeout. Then Goodwin blasted a fastball into the seats.  First lead blown.

In the fifteenth, the Orioles scratched some runs across the old-fashioned way. Jonathan Villar reached on a fielder's choice and then stole second. He advanced to third on a wild pickoff throw. Dwight Smith, Jr. walked and then stole second. Jace Peterson justified his call-up with a 2-run single. He then stole second and scored on Hanser Alberto's single.

With a three-run lead and a runner on second, Tanner Scott forgot how to throw strikes walking three in a row. Trout then got his revenge by lashing a double down the left field line. Two runs scored to tie the game but David Fletcher was ruled out at home on a close play. Second lead blown.

In the sixteenth inning, with the east coast starting to wake up for work, Jonathan Villar blasted a two-run shot off of Griffen Canning to give the Orioles yet another lead. Wilkerson shut it down from there. Just your normal 16-inning, 6-hour 19-minute, 20-pitchers used, 18 runs scored, 10-8 victory.

Wins like this are the fun parts of a mostly dark season. They really don't mean much for the Orioles (although they did pick up a game on the division-leading Yankees), but do provide some fun for the club and the fans.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 32: I just really like this card

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 32: 7-2 over the Arizona Diamondbacks

1994 Score Burger King Cal Ripken Jr. Gold

While surfing through COMC a few weeks ago I stumbled across this card. I didn't know it existed, but it was cheap and I didn't have it so I added it to my cart. Now, of course, I need to complete the set.

In 1994, Score partnered with Burger King to honor Cal Ripken Jr. with a nine-card set available at Burger Kings around the Baltimore and Washington, DC area. If you purchased a large drink, then for a quarter you could buy a pack of three cards. According to baseballcardpedia each pack contained two base cards and one gold parallel.

Featured above is card number 7 and is named "The Ironman". The back details a streak that was more remarkable than his consecutive games streak. On September 14th, 1987 (two days before my 11th birthday) his father, then Orioles manager, told Ripken to stay on the bench in the bottom of the eighth inning. That broke a streak of consecutive innings played that had started in 1982 and lasted for 8,243 frames.

The fact that the Orioles were losing 18-3 to the Toronto Blue Jays and Ripken, Jr. was in a bit of a slump made it easy for Senior. to make the call. According to the Washington Post article following the game,

"[T]onight worked out to be a perfect time to do it. I wanted to take that monkey off his back . . . I wanted to get everybody to stop writing articles about the consecutive-inning streak . . . Playing games wasn't wearing on him, but all those articles were."

As for Junior, he felt a little strange:

"It's a long time since I sat on the bench. I came in {the dressing room} and then I went back out and watched. It was a weird feeling and I need time to reflect on it."

He had been in a bit of a meandering slump that summer, seeing his average slowly drop from a high of .281 in the beginning of July to around the .250 mark when he was benched. Overall, 1987 was the first year he had a bit of a lull in his offense as he slashed .252/.333/.436 for the season, all career lows at that point. He still hit 27 home runs and drove in 98 so it wasn't like he was in a Chris Davis-esque free fall.

Following that benching, he didn't take another inning off until September 25th when umpire Tim Welke ejected him in the first inning of a game against the New York Yankees for, according to Welke, "He argued balls and strikes, screamed in my face and his helmet hit my mask."

(It would be his second career ejection, in 1989, where the umpire he ejected him, Drew Coble, would refer to it as like "throwing God out of Sunday school")

Still in between those rests, Ripken played 9 complete games, including both ends of double headers on September 18th and September 20th. Luckily, in the case of both ejections, Ripken had done enough to qualify for an appearence and keep his consecutive games steak alive. He had cracked the 900-in-a-row mark earlier in 1987 and was just started to garner talk about how he might be able to make a run at Lou Gehrig's record.

As for the Burger King set, I'll probably get around to completing it on my next order with COMC. The base cards go for about a buck a piece while the gold variations can be up to $3.00 per card. The only real difference is his name is in a gold script on front as compared to a white font.

It's a shame they don't sell cards through fast food restaurants any more (Tim Horton's does partner with Upper Deck for hockey cards in Canada). It was always fun to be able to grab some bonus cards while wolfing down a Big Mac or a Whopper.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 31: Not a bad little weekend

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 31: 5-0 against the Boston Red Sox

2017 Topps Archives Eddie Murray

Not only did I originally get the number of wins wrong last week, I also got the prediction for this weekend wrong. The Orioles didn't get swept, in fact they took two of three games (let's not talk about Saturday night's performance) and damaged the Red Sox's post season chances even further.

With the O's victory Sunday Baltimore picked up a game on the division leading Yankees (they're only 33 back now), but more importantly they kept the Red Sox from gaining ground (you're welcome Tampa Bay). With the loss, Boston leaves the weekend, one they probably thought they would sweep, 11 games behind the Yankees and 9 games behind the Rays. They are also now three games behind in the wild card race. It's not an insurmountable deficit, but they're going to have to chase down the Rays now.

It was odd to see Andrew Cashner pitching for the Red Sox as well. Even though he had only spent a season and a half with the Os, he seemed like an important part of the organization. He had, despite Red Sox fans complaints, a typical Cashner start - six inning, four runs, seven strikeouts and a 100+ pitches.  Not bad for a fifth starter.

It just wasn't enough to beat Asher Wojciechowski. On a day when Mike Mussina was inducted into the hall-of-fame, Wojciechowski turned in a Mussina-esque performance while picking up his first win in an Orioles uniform. He struck out 10 while allowing only one hit. Woj racked up most of his strikeouts with a sharp breaking slider. The spin rate on it must have been outstanding because all day long Boston hitters had trouble identifying it as they flailed wildly at pitches in the dirt.

Since the hitters were on guard against the breaking stuff, they were also behind on the fastball. His 93-mph looked about 5 mph faster than normal. It's amazing how much more effective pitchers can be when they work ahead in the count. Those letter-high fastballs are swung at a lot more on 0-2 and 1-2 counts. The same can be said of the sliders in the dirt.

Will we see anymore starts like this from Wojchiechowski? Probably not, but it was nice, that at least on one steamy summer afternoon, he was able to live up to the potential that made him a high draft pick all those years ago. 

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 30: That was unexpected

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 30: 11-2 over the Boston Red Sox

1997 Fleer Ultra Roberto Alomar/ Cal Ripken Double Trouble

On this Hall of Fame induction weekend, how about a card featuring two of the Orioles best? Roberto Alomar may have been in Baltimore for only three seasons, but he was most likely the best double play partner Ripken ever had (including his brother).

As for the team on the field now, what a nice win over the Red Sox. John Means bounced back from a bad start with six solid innings of work. Anthony Santander continued to prove that Rule V pickups belong in the majors and Richie Martin showed the potential that intrigued the Orioles over the winter.

Means shook off a second inning home run by Sam Travis to log another quality start. He only struck out one, but he limited the Red Sox offense to just four hits. He's still a few innings short of qualifying for the league leaders, but with Cashner in Boston (well technically Baltimore but in a Boston uniform) and Dylan Bundy nursing a sore knee, the rookie is now the undisputed ace for the the beleaguered Orioles pitching staff. 

A rough first start post-all-star break led some to think he might regress a bit after a surprising first half, but Means got back to doing what had led to his first seven wins - pumped strikes and worked ahead in the count. That allowed him to keep the hitters off balance and off the scoreboard.

After going 0-for-20 Richie Martin now has a two-game hitting streak. His 2-for-4 against the Red Sox was his first multi-hit game since June 25th and showcased what he might be able to do in the future once he gets comfortable against major league pitching.

In the second inning, after the Red Sox climbed back into the game, Martin saw a fastball from David Price and laced it off the scoreboard in right field. JD Martinez misplayed the ball off the wall and then fumbled it some more. Martin never stopped running and easily scored. Even if Martinez had picked it up cleanly, Martin may still have been able to score standing up.

In his next at bat the shortstop laid down a perfect bunt and stole a base. He may not have scored, but he showed the skills that could cause havoc in the future. That's what the rest of this season is all about. It's not about contending, it's about figuring out which players are going to be part of the future. Everyone in the line-up has a chance to play for their future and some, like Santander, are taking advantage of the chance.

The Orioles won their 30th game of the season (half way to paying out my wager) and moved out of the major league cellar for the first time in a long time (Detroit is now behind them). With a ton of games against contenders they can settle into their role as a spoiler if they continue to put up efforts like they did on Friday night. They end the season against the Red Sox, a team chasing the Yankees and Rays in the AL East. That brings to memory 2011, aka Game 162. Could the Orioles spoil the Red Sox's post-season dreams once again?

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 29: Not much to say today

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 29: 9-2 over the Washington Nationals

2007 Upper Deck Brian Burres

Not going to lie, we're at the point of the season where I'm wondering why I'm still doing this. It's July 18th and the Orioles have 29 wins. Looking at the schedule it looks like they may not crack 30 for awhile. The Red Sox are up next and other than the novelty of possibly facing Andrew Cashner there really isn't much to look forward to.

So there's that. Life is also playing it's part in the lack of motivation. The heat of summer (who knew Salt Lake City could pump out the 100 degree days on the reg?) and a busy week of work has sapped my energy and inspiration. Things crop up that make sports seem irrelevant as well. If you think this portion of the internet has slowed down, on the hockey side it's even worse. Not much motivation to write about the Lightning or the Crunch at this point in the summer. There is a break coming up in a couple of weeks where I will detach from the digital world for a good four or five days so hopefully that helps.

In the meantime, let's ponder the possibility that Brian Burres (13-18, 5.88 ERA, 5.00 FIP in 79 games with the Orioles between 2006 and 2008) would probably be the number two starter on the Os rotation at this point.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 28: The Trade Season is Underway

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 28: 2-1 over the Tampa Bay Rays

2019 Topps Gypsy Queen Jonathan Villar

The Orioles made their first real move of the trade deadline as they sent Andrew Cashner to their divisional rival, the Boston Red Sox. In exchange for their most consistent starter this year they received two 17 year-old prospects currently playing in the Dominican league. Welcome to the 2019 Trade Deadline!

Let's face it, the Orioles really don't have the trade pieces that they had last year so the returns they get back aren't going to be overwhelming. If they do make any additional moves, and GM Mike Elias gave the impression that there wasn't much going on, it'll be for similar returns. Don't expect any top-100 prospects to be joining the Orioles this summer. This organization is hurting for depth throughout and so it's just about stockpiling as many assets as possible.

Elias has indicated that he doesn't have any other deals in the works (even if he did what good would it do to release that information at this point?). However, a lot can change in the next two weeks that changes a contender's thoughts about what they need to add and the Orioles do have a few pieces that may help someone out. Let's go through the active roster and see what the O's might be interested in parting with that could net them some more international bonus pool money or low level prospects:

These guys could have been had for nothing so don't expect them to be traded for an actual asset:

First off the players that the Orioles have claimed off of waivers just in the last few months:

Tom Eshelman, Asher Wojceichowski, Aaron Brooks, Tayler Scott. So technically the Orioles traded for Eshelman and Wojceichowski, but still they would have been waived by their other teams. Nont of them have exactly lit up the league to the point where someone would want to put them on a pitching staff that was in contention.

Well, anything is possible, but anyone making this deal should be required to talk to a doctor about a possible concussion.

Chris Davis. For someone who started the season 0-for-ever he's not having that bad of a season. He has power and plays an ok firstbase, but man oh man that contract.

If you had pitched a little better your name would be more popular.

Richard Bleier, Miguel Castro, Mychal Givens, Jimmy Yacabonis, and Gabriel Ynoa.  Let's face it, the bullpen has not been great. Casto and Givens may have had some interest and despite a few improved outings prior to the All-Star break, they just aren't getting enough people out on a consistent basis to generate interest.

Someone has to make it through the rebuild

John Means, Chance Cisco, Anthony, Santander, Stevie Wilkerson, and Richie Martin. They probably aren't the core of the next great Orioles dynasty, but they are young and can help bridge the gap until the other prospects prove they belong in the majors.

Future considerations? Like a Christmas card? Sure, we'll make a deal.

Richard Bleier, Shawn Armstrong, Pedro Severino, Keon Broxton, and Hanser Alberto.  Alberto and Severino may have been my favorite players not named Trey Mancini this season. They are still having fun out there despite the long summer and may add a little something to a team looking for depth. Broxton has struggled at the plate, but his defense and speed could add a longer bench to a team during the expanded roster portion of the season.  Alberto flat out is raking against left-handed pitching (.398/.408/.517 as of publication.  Not a bad platoon option for a team.  The same goes for Severino, he has shown some pop in his bat and can control the running game.

Y'all need some back-ups who could be starters if you're beset by injuries? Or maybe a guy who can get an out or two?  Well do we have some deals for you. All it will take is a little cash or some guy playing in Single-A ball.

Paul Fry, Renato Nunez, Rio Ruiz, and Dwight Smith, Jr. They have all had some decent runs but tend to have a fatal flaw that prevents them from being an every day starter.

Ok.  I'm going to need at least someone that was at least considered a prospect at one point. At least he's one of your top 30 prospects.

Trey Mancini - This was going to originally be entitled "You can pry him from my cold, dead hands" but lets face it, Mancini is the one player on the roster who could also start on a contender. He's a righthander with power who makes a lot of contact and can play either corner outfield spot or first base. He's also the face of the franchise and young enough that he could be a cornerstone during the transition. 

The Hopeful Chase Top Five Trade Candidates:

1. Andrew Cashner
2. Jonathan Villar
3. Paul Fry
4. Renato Nunez
5. Trey Mancini

Sunday, July 7, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 27: USA! USA! USA!

Baltimore Orioles Victory 28: 8-1 over the Toronto Blue Jays

1991 Topps Traded Jeffrey Hammonds

In November of 1991 the United States women's national team won their first FIFA Women's World Cup. In July of 2019 they beat the Netherlands to win their fourth World Cup. That's pretty damn impressive. 

Congratulations on over two decades of dominance at the highest level.

Saturday, July 6, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 26: A lefty getting a save against the Jays sparks a memory.

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 26: 4-1 over the Toronto Blue Jays

1987 Topps Tippy Martinez

The Orioles picked up their second win in a row with the help of Dylan Bundy's strong start and Chris Davis' three runs driven in. What is this 2016? With the win the Orioles creep within two wins of not being the worst team in the league. The Detroit Tigers have 28 victories and have not been playing well of late (2 wins in their last 10 games).

Personally, the triumph puts me within 33 victories of at least pushing on my Orioles over 59 wins bet. Which, after double checking the ticket the other day, I still can't believe I'm not getting better odds than -110.

Luckily for my bank account the other two baseball futures bets I put in are looking a little better. While the Cardinals haven't been lightning the world on fire, they have crept within a game and a half of the division lead in the NL Central. It's going to be a dog fight to the end as St. Louis, Chicago and Milwaukee battle it out over the next couple of month. Here's hoping to a return to the top for the long-suffering "Best Fans in Baseball".

Finally, we have the Pittsburgh Pirates. After flirting with decency over the first couple of months of the season, they have begun a gradual descent in the NL Central. As of publication they sit at 42-45, which projects to 78 wins. I'm holding a ticket that says if they win less than 79 games, a casino in Las Vegas will give me money. Let's keep that mediocrity going!

Getting back to the Orioles. After Bundy's 6.2 innings of solid work, the bullpen came in and shut down the Blue Jays the rest of the way. Lefthander Paul Fry worked the ninth, induced a couple of ground balls before striking out Justin Smoak to pick up his second save of the season.

Could Fry be the next in a relatively short line of left-handed closers for the Baltimore Orioles? With Brandon Hyde as his manager his chances are as a good as anyone's. the last great left-handed closer for the Orioles was Zach/Zack Britton who closed out 139 games successfully after being converted from a starting role. However, the first of the fireman southpaws was the man pictured above, Felix Anthony "Tippy" Martinez.

Martinez joined the club in 1976 as part of the blockbuster 10-player trade between Baltimore and New York that saw the Orioles also acquire Rick Dempsey, Scott McGregor, Rudy May and Dave Pagan. He would stick with the team for a decade and rack up 105 saves, good for fourth all-time in Baltimore history. A prototypical crafty lefty, Martinez leaned heavily on a huge breaking curveball to keep hitters off balance.

His most memorable moment, at least to most Orioles fans, took place on August 24th, 1983. The second-place Orioles entered the ninth inning trailing by two runs. After a flurry of moves they tied the game when Al Bumbry slapped a single that drove in Lenn Sakata. Once again a little Orioles magic had paid off on a hot summer night. The only problem, manager Joe Altobelli had emptied his bench in order to get the game tied (the most shocking thing from the boxscore to today's fan would be that Altobelli had SIX position players on the bench that he used as pinch-hitters or pinch-runners).

In order to get the game tied he had also sacrificed both catchers. So Sakata, normally a utility infielder, put on the tools of ignorance and got behind the plate. For even more fielding fun, platoon outfielder Gary Roenicke lined up at third base for the first time in his life. The guy he usually substituted in for, John Lowenstein, well he played second base.

On the mound, Tim Stoddard (57 career saves as an Oriole) looked to shut down the Blue Jays offense. He didn't. The first batter he faced, Cliff Johnson, promptly homered to give Toronto the lead. After a single by Barry Bonnell, Altobelli pulled Stoddard in favor of the left-handed Martinez.

You're the Blue Jays. You see a catcher that as far as you know has never played the position in his life. You saw his warm up throw to second base, which most likely wasn't that impressive. All you want to do it get on first base and run, run, run.

Now you're Tippy Martinez. You're in a close game in the middle of a pennant race. You're third baseman is an outfielder and you're catcher can't catch your most effective pitch. So what do you do? How about record all three outs with pick-offs?

First up was Bonnell who was already on base when Martinez entered the game. The outfielder took a little too aggressive of a lead and Martinez picked him off. The lefty then walked Dave Collins. No problem, picked him off too.  The next hitter, Willie Upshaw, singled past Lowenstein. What happened next - Martinez picked him off. Two hitters faced, three outs recorded without a fielder other than first baseman Eddie Murray getting involved.

Cal Ripken homered in the top of the tenth to tie the game. Then Sakata, perhaps sparked by the desire to never have to put on a catching mask again, singled in the winning run. Not a bad way to win a ball game.

Martinez was a key part of the bullpen that year as he appeared in 65 games, won 9 and saved 21 as the Orioles went on to win the World Series that year. The second stat that might wow today's fan - of the 21 saves he had that season he pitched more than an inning in 16 of them. Quite a change from today's closer role.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 25: The O's turn the tables

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 25: 9-6 over the Tampa Bay Rays

1989 LJN Toys Baseball Talk Collection Eddie Murray

For what seems like the first time this season the Orioles were the team that kept the game close and then blew it open late. After surrendering a 3-1 lead, Baltimore teed off with six runs in the top of the ninth against the Rays and then held on in the bottom of the inning to walk away with a 9-6 win.

John Means, he's an All Star you know, had another strong outing as he went 7 innings and gave up 3 runs. Mychal Givens made a nice run-saving play at the plate to pick up his first win of the season while Shawn Armstrong put the fire out in the ninth to pick up his 2nd save of the season. He is now tied for second on the team in saves with Miguel Castro and Richard Bleier as manager Brandon Hyde continues his search for someone to take the role as closer on the team.

On offense it was Rio Ruiz and Renato Nunez banging 3-run home runs to provide the bulk of the offense. The Orioles, for once, were the ones who took advantage of miscues to pull away with the win. The Rays provided a wild-pitch, a dropped throw at home plate and an ill-advised diving attempt in centerfield all in the final frame that keyed the Orioles victory.

Means' strong start came on the heels of a couple of debuts earlier in the season. Recently acquired pitchers Tom Eshelman and Asher Wojciechowski started the first two games of the season and did alright. Both went at least five innings, but weren't able to find the win column as the Rays pulled away in the later frames of both games. With the starting rotation in turmoil don't be surprised if both hurlers get another chance at a starting a game before the season (or month) is over.

As for the card at the top of this post. It isn't often that I find a Murray card from his playing days that either I don't have or haven't seen before. That goes double for 1989 cards. Yet, here we are. I was flipping through putting an order together and this "card popped up".

It's made by Topps and is styled after the 1989 base collection but uses a photo that isn't from the base set. For his regular card, Murray is hitting from the right side in the gray road uniform. Asyou can see from the photo above in this one he's at home against the Brewers. It's most likely a photo from 1987 as I believe that is Bill Schroeder doing the catching for the Brewers.

Schroeder only appeared in one game in Baltimore that year and it was a replacement. While Murray was did hit in the game, he most likely would have been swinging from the right side of the plate as Dan Plesac, a lefty would have been on the mound. Schroeder, who wore number 21, did play in the entire April series in Baltimore in 1987, so it's most likely that the photo was taken during that series.

So what the hell was the LJN Toys Baseball Talk? It was a 164-card "set" that included cards of players and, current and past, that had a plastic "record" on the back. The cards are a lot bigger than a regular trading cards. According to baseballcardpedia, they measure 5.25 inches by 3.25 inches. When inserted into the Baseball Talk player it would play 2-3 minute of audio, usually recounting a famous moment in that player's career.

Back in the day, this would have been an awesome toy to have just for the audio. Look, we didn't have the internet in 1989.  We couldn't just dial up Hank Aaron's historic home run or "The Shot Heard 'Round the World" on YouTube  Usually, the only time I heard old radio broadcasts was during rain delays or during some sort of retrospective show. You might be able to get a VHS from the local video store that had some highlights on it, but that was about it. It was truly the dark ages.

I have no idea what highlight is used for Murray because I have never seen a player live in person. I vaguely knew about this as a kid, but since it wasn't an actual baseball card as I pictured it, I ignored it. I wasn't a bright kid.  If you have a working player and the complete set of 164 cards you can probably get $150-$200 out if it. Most of the cards will set you back a buck or two, but there are a few (like Babe Ruth) that might cost $10 or more if you can find them.

Not a bad addition to the Murray personal collection if I do say so myself.

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 24: Back to Back Blowouts

Baltimore Orioles victory number 24: 13-0 over the Cleveland Indians

2018 Topps Chrome Tanner Scott Auto

That is not a typo. The Orioles beat the Indians 13-0 for the second straight day.  How great is that?  Well, if you're an Indians fan, probably not that great. For the Os fans out there, it's a nice little bright spot in a dark season.

Once again Chance Cisco and Anthony Santander went deep. Renato Nunez went deep twice and Andrew Cashner threw seven scoreless innings. The man pictured above came in and shut out the Indians for the final two innings and struck out four, showing the flashes of talent that make him such an intriguing project.

Sadly, the streak of 13-0 wins will not continue as Cleveland has jumped to a 1-0 lead through 2 1/2 innings on Sunday.  Hopefully, the Os bats come alive and we can do this again tomorrow.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 23: A Blowout Sparked by the Future

Baltimore Orioles Victory 23: 13-0 over the Cleveland Indians

1985 Donruss Larry Sheets

Following an off day that followed yet another multi-game losing streak (this time three in a row) the Baltimore Orioles showed no mercy to a pitcher recently returned from the Injured List. Mike Clevinger, activated prior to the start, didn't make it out of the second inning as the Orioles racked up five hits and seven runs against the hard-throwing righthander.

In the win, which was also their second shutout of the season, the club established season highs for runs scored and margin of victory. The bulk of the offense came from catcher Chance Cisco. The young backstop went 3-5 with a home run and 5 RBI. He also was robbed of a home run in the fourth inning by a nice leaping catch by centerfielder Oscar Mercado.

Cisco, who is just 24-years-old, seems to have finally adjusted to major league pitching after struggling earlier in his career. In 13 games this year he is slashing .289/.400/.658 with 3 home runs and 12 RBIs.  That's a dramatic increase over the .181/.288/.269 he had in 160 at-bats last season. While 38 at-bats is still well within the small sample size group for this season, he is showing much better pitch recognition and is driving the ball more so far. Hopefully, he can keep it up.

Right behind Cisco in the line-up was Anthony Santander.  The outfielder went 3-4 and drove in four runs of his own, including a key home run in the second that pretty much put the game out of reach even with the Orioles bullpen.

Much like Cisco, Santander is excelling in his extended look this season and drastically improving his year-over-year numbers. Also, 24-years-old the former Rule 5 pick seems to be fully recovered from injuries that plagued him at the beginning of his career in Baltimore. He is forcing himself into the conversation about the future of the team.

That's what was nice about the win. It wasn't players who won't be around in three months leading the charge. Instead it was a couple of guys who might survive the purge and be part of the next run of Orioles competitiveness. Included in that group was the starting pitcher, John Means. The rookie southpaw did what he's done all season long - limit damage and pitch five innings. This time he went five innings on 84 pitches, gave up one hit, walked one and struck out five.

He set down eleven Indians in a row following an error by Jonathan Villar in the second inning. Kind of a tough error as Bobby Bradley ripped a line drive up the middle that Villar lept up in the air and almost snagged. I've seen more routine plays booted that have been scored as hits.

It may seem strange that the Orioles chose to remove Means after only 84 pitches in a game where he was dominating, but the young hurler had missed a start with a shoulder strain so there was no need to risk aggravating it in a blowout win. The beleaguered bullpen came in and did it's job as Brandon Kline, Paul Fry, and Miguel Castro all handed in scoreless innings. 

It was just one win, but it was a nice one and hopefully one the Orioles can build on.

Sunday, June 23, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 22: That one took awhile

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 22: 8-4 over the Seattle Mariners

1982 Topps Jim Palmer

It's hard to find any positives in a ten game losing streak. I guess it does free up some of my time as I don't have to sit in front of a computer and write a post about the Orioles winning. Also, it gives readers time to check out the other 21 posts in this series. Let's see...yup, up to dozens of page views on my previous posts. Huh, who knew that most of my traffic came from Twitter? Oh, well, still not enough of a valid reason to go back to that platform.

The Orioles snapped their latest losing streak by staking their starting pitcher (Andrew Cashner) to a big enough lead that even  their struggling bullpen couldn't blow it. They also played some pretty nifty defense along the way highlighted by a Richie Martin play that makes you hope he can hit at least .230 in the majors to justify playing him every day.

To add to the "fun" the Orioles put one of their lone bright spots in the rotation, John Means, on the Injured List and saw our lord and savior Trey Mancini miss a few games after getting hit on the elbow. Luckily for our sanity, Mancini only missed a few games and was back in the line-up for the victory.

Dwight Smith, Jr. was also back following his stint on the Injured List after he was hurt in Texas just as the losing streak was getting underway. In the three games Smith has played since his return the Orioles have scored 8 or more runs in two of them so it's obvious that he is the key to their offense.

While this may be the darkest of timelines for Orioles fans, it looks like the franchise is at least starting to make decisions on players. Joey Rickard was designated for assignment recently and eventually signed by the San Francisco Giants thus ending his tenure with the Orioles. The Dan Straily experiment seems to have ended with his DFA

The Straily signing back in the spring made sense. He was a veteran coming off an injury who could soak up some innings, maybe build a little value and return a fringe prospect in the summer.  That was the plan. The plan didn't work. Straily gave up five runs in 1.1 innings of work in his debut against the New York Yankees and somehow things got worse.

A couple of decent outings got his ERA down to 6.75 by the end of April, but since then it steadily rose regardless of if he was pitching from the bullpen or as a starter. In his last two outings he pitched a total of 3.2 inning and gave up a staggering 7 home runs and 13 earned runs.

The experiment was a failure, but in a year like this not everything is going to work out. There are going to be some successes (Pedro Severino, Hanser Alberto and John Means) and there are going to be some that blow up in the Orioles faces. They are still in the breaking down phase of this rebuild, and it's going to be a while until there are more good days than bad.

The goal of this season is to survive it. Maybe find a couple of diamonds in the rough, but more importantly buy time for the kids on the farm to get better. Hopefully there aren't too many more 10 game losing streaks on the way, in fact a two or three game winning streak may be nice even if it does require me to log into this site on a more frequent basis.

Why the card of Palmer? Well, because it's not too often you hear him get a little choked up like he did last night after some members of the team had a replica 1969 jersey made up and presented to him. Nice gesture from the players to one of the greats.

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 21: 1990 Donruss, aka The Red Plague

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 21: 4-2 over the Toronto Blue Jays

1990 Donruss Randy Milligan

In every collection tucked into a closet or spread out in a basement there is one set that a collector has way too many cards of.  For me, it's 1990 Donruss. Distinctive because of it's red borders and copious amount of errors, variations and mistakes, this set is the epitome of the overproduced neo-vintage (aka junk wax) era of the early to mid-90s that almost killed the hobby.

I bought a lot of these cards.  I mean A LOT of them. At 50 cents per pack of 16 cards it was easy to accumulate a large quantity cheaply and quickly. Oddly enough, despite buying four or five packs a week for most of the summer, I didn't actually complete the set until two years ago or so as there were a handful of cards that I somehow missed during my initial collecting days.

In the meantime I picked up a lot of doubles. As of this posting, I have about 2,547 cards for this set. The completed set is only 716 cards so yeah that leads to quite a few duplicates.  While that 2500+ number is impressive, I've also probably given away roughly 600 cards in the last couple of years. Any trade I've made in the last three years where the recipient had 1990 Donruss cards on their wantlist received a handful or more of them even if they didn't ask for them. 

Until recently I didn't really check to see if I was sending out error cards instead of actual duplicates since, except for the most notorious ones, there really wasn't much difference between the correct card and the error card. The Trading Card Database lists 89 variations or errors in the set with the most famous being the Juan Gonzalez reverse negative, a card that was highly sought after that summer.

Errors like that are rather easy to detect, others not so much. Along with incorrect birth dates or checklists with the wrong numbers listed there were the cards with a line through a letter. Such as this Kevin Hickey card. Who even notices that? Not me that's for sure.

Despite the overabundance it remains one of my favorite sets because it came during my peak collecting run as a kid. Cards were still affordable, card shops plentiful and people traded in person. By 1992 other things had intervened in life and collecting fell onto the backburner for about a decade.

The set also had all the hallmarks of those early Donruss sets. The first 26 cards were Diamond Kings, supposedly the best players of each respective team (Micky Tettleton had the honor for the Orioles). Those cards were followed by the Rated Rookies, each adorned with the iconic blue logo. As much fun as those cards were to get in a pack, Donruss kind of whiffed in their selection as the most recognizable rookies in the set (Sammy Sosa, Larry Walker, Bernie Williams, David Justice, and John Olerud) didn't receive the Rated Rookie status. 

There were also an early form of inserts in the set as packs might contain the Bonus MVP or Grand Slammers sets in addition to the regular base cards. Donruss kept up their awesome quality control in these inserts as well because I'm pretty sure this isn't John Smoltz:

Flipping through the set to send out some more duplicates is always a fun trip down memory lane.

Sunday, June 9, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 20: Let the roster shuffling begin

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 20: 4-1 over the Houston Astros

2018 Topps Heritage Richard Bleier

Thanks in part to some solid relief pitching and a clutch 2-run home run by Richie Martin, the Orioles took down the best team in the American League on Saturday. After potentially running into an out in the eighth inning that would have given them the lead, the Astros gifted them a run on an errant throw by shortstop Jack Mayfield. 

Martin then gave them a cushion by blasting a 2-2 pitch into deep left field. Miguel Castro, who had come in to get the last out in the eighth shut down Houston in the ninth to end the game. Since the bullpen debacle on Tuesday in Arlington, the relievers have actually been pretty solid. In 13.1 innings they've only surrendered 2 runs (unfortunately they were both in extra innings and cost them a couple of wins).

That success could pay off later this summer as it might help GM Mike Elias pull in some more young assets. Right now the numbers aren't too pretty, in fact they are downright brutal to look at. However, it could just take a few weeks of continued success to change the market on players like Bleier (everyone loves a lefty reliever), Castro and Mychal Givens. While they won't bring back Zack Britton-esque returns they could bring in a few b-level prospects. 

Castro in particular has looked sharp on this road trip. He's been throwing hard (he touched 99 MPH a few times) and most importantly, he's been throwing strikes. That type of electric stuff could make a team overlook the 5.35 ERA and 6 home runs surrendered in 33.2 innings. He's upped his K/9 (8.29 compared to a career 6.42) and lowered his BB/9 (3.74 compared to a career 4.40). Contending teams are looking for hard-throwing relievers who can strike people out. 

Don't expect any blockbuster deals this summer, most of the heavy lifting was done last season. It's going to be more of an incremental built this summer. Maybe some international bonus slot money, some low-level prospects or the always popular "cash considerations" could be sent back the Orioles way. 

What the moves will do is open up some roster spots for the kids down on the farm. If Bleier or Paul Fry get moved, that could open a spot for Keegan Akin to get some reps with the big club.

The recent run of injuries have also led to the possibility of playing time for position players. DJ Stewart and Dwight Smith Jr.'s trips to the IL led to Anthony Santander making his season debut (and a game-saving catch) and Stevie Wilkerson's return to the roster. If they are out for any real length of time, Austin Hayes could also see some time with the Orioles. Mark Trumbo's imminent return will complicate matters a bit in the short term future, but again, there are potential openings through the trade market.

Keon Broxton isn't exactly lighting the world on fire, but a team looking for outfield defensive depth and speed could be interested. Renato Nunez has shown streaky power from the right side and could be an option for an AL team. Should a contender lose a catcher in the next month or so, Pedro Severino has done all that is possible to entice a team to entertain his services.

So there are options, just not of the blockbuster variety.  I will post up a trade list at the end of the month for the potential chips that the front office has to work with. In the meantime, it's nice to see the Orioles hanging with some of the better teams in the American League. Overall, they are playing a little better which should lead to a few more of these posts (and a better shot at that over 59 wins bet).

Wednesday, June 5, 2019

Orioles Victory Card Number 19: Deep in the heart of Texas

Baltimore Orioles Victory Number 19: 12-11 over the Texas Rangers

1994 Score Jamie Moyer

We have our first reader submitted card! I'm 90 percent sure I own this card, but since I'm on the road right now I can't be absolutely certain. So, Saint Leo Mike happened to text this card to me and I'm using it.  (Normally if I'm heading out of town during the season I post a couple of drafts ahead of time, but I just plumb forgot this time.

The good news is that I was actually at the game! My first Orioles game of the season and it's in Arlington, TX. Globe Life Park, formerly The Ballpark at Arlington, is on it's last season of existence as a baseball stadium. With Link in town for work, I decided to meet up with him for a quick couple of nights of baseball.

What a night it turned out to be. The Orioles's bats, especially Pedro Severino, came alive and we were one triple from Dwight Smith, Jr. away from a cycle, something neither one of us has seen live before.

Of course, the Baltimore bullpen being what it is, the Orioles needed all 12 runs to secure the victory as reliever after reliever struggled to keep the Rangers off the scoreboard. The game ended with the tying run on second as Michael Gyvens struck out Elvis Andrus (kudus to the "Baby Shark" walk up music). The strikeout came on a slider in the dirt that skipped by Severino and all the way to the backstop.

As it was happening I was dead certain that Severino's throw was going to end up in right field and the Rangers were going to tie the game. Alas, the Orioles' bad luck extends only so far and the animated catcher made a perfect throw to Chris Davis to end the ballgame.

Walking back to the hotel, Link mentioned that he had never seen a game end like that. Therein lies the beauty of sports. Between the two of us, Link and I have been attending professional games for the better part of 60 years combined and still we see new things. 

There are also things, Holy Grail type of things, that we haven't seen yet. Neither one of us have seen a professional pitcher throw a no-hitter. Nor have we seen anyone hit four home runs in a game or for the cycle, both of which were in play last night.

I can't be sure, but I believe I've never seen a game live that ended with a 12-11 score, but based on the number of Devil Rays games I attended back in the late 90s and early 2000s I can't be sure.

Never knowing what's going to happen after you walk through the turnstile is part of the fun of going to a game. Every single time I've walked into a major league game I've hoped to see a no-hitter. It doesn't matter which team. In the back of my head there is as sense of anticipation until that first hit finds a safe landing spot in the outfield grass. Last night, it didn't take long for that anticipation to be quashed, but still we saw some fun stuff.

As I'm getting older, the exact details of games are fading away so I can't remember some of the accomplishments I saw in my younger days, if I saw any at all. There were a couple of Jake Arrieta appearances in 2015 were he flirted with no-hitters that were fun. Other than that, I would have to dig through the ticket collection to see what else I witnessed.

Now that I think about it there was also the 2015 NLDS Game 3 Cubs/Cardinals game that I attended (standing room only ticket). It was the first playoff game at Wrigley in years and one of the loudest games I ever witnessed in my life. The Cubs became the first team to hit six homers in a postseason game as they won their first postseason game at home since 2003.

I have that game recorded somewhere in my scorebook (currently tucked away in a box somewhere) and is one the reasons I keep score when I go to games by myself. As you can tell, my memory isn't the greatest so it's nice to look back and see the scoresheet. With that prompting I can remember the plays from there.

I can remember Derek Jeter's last appearance at Wrigley that went into extra innings and the applause that he got for what would be his "final at bat" growing smaller each time he came back up after the ninth inning. 

So yeah, it's fun to go to live games.