2009 Upper Deck Goodwin Champions Nick Markakis Autograph
With the sporting world on hold due to the novel coronavirus shutting down the world for a few months we here at The Hopeful Chase are going to our rain delay programming. For the last two seasons we've posted a baseball card following every Baltimore Orioles victory (I know, talk about the minimum commitment required). It's fun and keeps us writing about baseball and collecting. Rather than sit back and stare forlornly at the outside world we've decided to continue the series with a season from the past. The season of choice - 1987. Please enjoy.
It's been a little while since we've checked in with the 1987 Orioles to see how they're doing. Since the last check, they've kept winning. Back-to-back 4-3 wins over the Oakland A's finished off the sweep and led to A's manager Tony LaRusa tossing a chair following the last one. It finished off a West Coast trip that saw the Orioles go 8-2 and raise their road record to a league-best 18-9.
They returned home and picked up another victory as they beat the Angels 8-6. So things are running smoothly, right? After clawing their way back into the AL East race (following the win they were in third place, one game behind Toronto and four games behind the Yankees everything should be sunshine and roses. Not so much.
There were several indicators that the winning streak might be a bit misleading. For one thing, the bullpen was still a mess. Don Aase's shoulder wasn't getting any better, in fact he would go back on the DL prior to the win against California (welcome back Mark Williamson, hope you didn't unpack your bags in Rochester). The new guy, Tom Niedenfuer was struggling. Despite picking up a save against the Angels, his stat line wasn't great: 3 games, 4.2 innings, 6 hits, 3 earned runs, and 7 walks.
That left Ken Dixon as the only reliable arm at the end of the day. Surprisingly, it's a role he adapted to quite well. After posting an 8.53 ERA and allowing 7 HR's in 19 innings as a starter he blossomed in the bullpen. In 12 appearances he posted a 2-1 record, picked up 5 saves and posted a 3.86 ERA. In the Sunday 4-3 win against Oakland all he did was strike out Jose Canseco, Mark McGwire, and Luis Polonia with the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth. Not bad.
Despite the success he wasn't happy in the role. He wanted to be in the rotation ("The saves are nice, but its victories I want"). Since his reassignment to the bullpen he saw the organization bring in two rookies (Jeff Ballard and John Habyan) to fill spots in the rotation and give no indication that Dixon would get a chance to rejoin the starters. Manager Ripken's philosophy was "why fix what's working?" and reinforced the fact that Dixon would be a reliever for the foreseeable future.
The rotation did get one of the veterans back as Scott McGregor started the game against California, but didn't make it out of the fourth inning (Habyan actually picked up the win, marking it three straight wins for Orioles rookies). Mike Flanagan was still on the sidelines dealing with his sore elbow. A soft-toss session went well, but it was still looking like weeks before he would join the team again.
Offensively things were still going well. Most of the order was still hitting (even Rick Burleson finally got in on the home run act, hitting his first against the Angels). During the historic home run streak there was one notable name missing - Cal Ripken, Jr.
After carrying the team offensively for most of the beginning of the year, the Iron Man had a horrible road trip. Hit hit 0 home runs on the trip, drove in only 3 runs and finished it in a 2-for-24 slump driving his average down from .324 to .294. As the season wore on he wouldn't recapture the magic he had over the first two months. He would finish with respectable power numbers 27 home runs and 98 RBI while slashing .252/.333/.436. Perhaps the consecutive innings streak was taking a toll on him, I wonder if anyone would do something about that (FORESHADOWING!)?
So that's where the Orioles are at as of their 25th win of the season. Could this be the high point of the season?