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.

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