Originally written on October 29, 2011
An absolutely thrilling World Series has brought to an end a baseball season which I as baseball fan in general and an Orioles fan in particular will cherish in memory forever.
Anyone reading must wonder why I am so fond of a season in which the Orioles went 69-93 and tragically lost former Orioles' great Mike Flanagan. The answer is the personal slice of the season that I experienced was much different than the season as whole...
The tale of my baseball season as a fan began on December 25, 2010. My brother, Tim, gave me a pair of Orioles socks for Christmas.
On February 6, 2011, Babe Ruth's birthday, my sister, my other brother, John, and I had the opportunity to hold a bat used by the Babe in the 1927 season. Ruth hit 60 home runs that season and set what, at the time, was a single season record and more home runs than the rest of the league, combined. It's a feat that has still not been replicated in as few games/at bats or without the use of performing enhancing substances.
Initially I had planned to wear the socks only to Opening Day, which I attended with Lisa and friends Scott and Ken.
But the Orioles won, so I had to wear them to the next game I attended. Which the Orioles won. Ultimately the Orioles would go 4-0 with me attending wearing the socks before they lost one (and that a road game in Washington) and after three I dubbed them the lucky socks and committed to wearing them to every game I attended this season.
In August, for my 40th birthday, Lisa took me to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. I hadn't been there since I was ten years old - a time when Frank Robinson was the only player in the Hall of Fame as an Oriole (he is now joined my manager Earl Weaver, Brooks Robinson, Jim Palmer, Eddie Murray, and Cal Ripken). Despite rainy weather, we had a great time and even got to see an Adult Rec league "Orioles" play the "Rangers" at Doubleday Field. It was a lot of fun to be one of about 10 people in the stands, but the only person wearing and Orioles jersey and yelling, "Let's Go O's" I think Lisa may have been a tad embarrased.
But, the best part of our visit to the Hall was running into fellow Orioles fan and college friend, whom I hadn't seen in 18 years!
All totaled, I attended 18 major league games this year at four different parks (Oriole Park, Nationals Park, Target Field (Minneapolis) and Comerica Park (Detroit)) and one minor league game at Ripken stadium, where my friend Brian Walton and I got to be part of an improbable late season Iron Birds winning streak.
I attended a total of 17 Orioles games - 15 at the Yards and two on the road (Washington and Detroit). With an 162 game season, I saw more than 10% of their games in person, wearing the lucky socks. But here's the kicker: while the Orioles were 57-88 while I was not attending, while I was there with the lucky socks they were 12-5!!! I saw some amazing games including some come from behind wins and some improbable heroes. My personal sample of games was enough to bring back that old feeling from when they were last a winning team (1997) and you just couldn't wait until your next trip to the ball park. This is not a trivial sample and although I didn't see any games against the Yankees, I saw several games against playoff teams and and playoff contenders, including the Tigers (3), the Red Sox (2), the Angels (2), the Rays, and the World Champion St. Louis Cardinals. That's the power of the lucky socks.
Perhaps the most memorable games I attended this year were the last two. On September 24, I met a friend from residency days in Detroit to see the Orioles take on the Tigers (for me, for the third time
It was a great pitching match up: Jeremy Guthrie vs. Justin Verlander, who was going for his 25th win. The Orioles would deny Verlander the win, scoring five runs early in front of a hushed sellout crowd (the Tigers had already clinched their division title). But the Tigers would claw all the way back and tie the game at 5 in the bottom of the 8th. Now I was the one that was hushed, certain that the craptacular Orioles bullpen would let slip away a good offensive night and a solid outing from Guthrie... In the top of the ninth, the first Oriole hitter reached. Robert Andino was unsuccessful getting down the bunt to move him to 2nd and struck out, but the last pitch got away from the catcher and skipped into the stands allowing the Oriole runner to get all the way to third. With the go ahead run on third and only one out, the Orioles successfully excuted a squeeze play (the runner leaves third with the pitch and the hitter bunts, if he gets the bunt down, the Orioles score a run, but if he doesn't the runner will likely be tagged out at the plate - this was actually the second squeeze play I had seen them pull off in person this year) to take the lead and amazingly Orioles closer Captain Chaos (Kevin Gregg) made it hold up in the bottom of the ninth for a 6-5 Orioles victory that was followed by fireworks night!
The final game I attended was the final game of the season on September 28th that I went to with a friend from college and which was one of the most memorable final season days in baseball history. In the American League, the Yankees, the Tigers, and the Rangers had clinched their respective divisions for playoff spots. In the National League, the Phillies, Brewers, and Diamondbacks had done the same. But, wild card spots in both leagues had yet to be decided. In the AL, the Tampa Bay Rays and the Boston Red Sox entered the final game of the season tied. In the NL, the Cardinals and the Atlanta Braves were tied. If both teams in each league lose or win their final game it will force a one game playoff between the two, but if one wins and the other loses then the winner goes the the playoffs. In the NL the Cardinals got the play (and handily beat 8-0) the Houston Astros, the team with the worst record in baseball. The Braves had to play the Philadelphia Phillies, the team with the best record in all of baseball. In the AL, the Rays had to face the AL East Champion New York Yankees, whereas the Boston Red Sox would only have to beat the 68-93 Orioles.
It was a fantastic game - well pitched and with great defense on both sides. At the end of seven and a half, the Red Sox led the game 3-2 and the seventh inning stretch stretched into a 90 minute rain delay. At the time, the Rays trailed the Yankees 7-0 and the Red Sox appeared assured of having at least one more game and would go to the playoffs if they could hold their lead. As ebullient Red Sox fans (who always predominate at the Yards these days) filled the concourse to wait out the rain, their chants of, "Let's Go Red Sox" echoed off the walls. By this time, the Cardinals had already won and the TV monitors on the concourse were showing the Braves and the Phillies. The Braves had blown a 3-0 lead and the Phillies tied it at three to force extra innings. The Phillies would ultimately win in 13 innings by a score of 4-3, eliminating the Atlanta Braves (a bad move it turns out, as the Cardinals eliminated the Phillies in the first round of the playoffs). But, while this drama was unfolding, the unthinkable started to happen in Tampa. The Rays scored 6 runs in the 8th and one in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings. By the time the rain delay had ended, the mood had changed considerably at Camden Yards. Now the Orioles only trailed by a run with 9 outs left (not having batted yet in the seventh), while the Red Sox had only six outs left and the Rays-Yankees game was now anyone's game as it was tied heading in to extra innings.
The score in Baltimore remained 3-2 into the bottom of the ninth. Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon came into the game for the save. He had not blown a save all season and the Red Sox had not lost a game when leading after 8 innings all season. He struck out the first two hitters and the Red Sox were one out away from surviving to play another day. Orioles first baseman Chris Davis reached on a two out single and was replaced by a pinch runner. Then Nolan Reimold, with two strikes and two outs, doubled, driving in the tying run and Papelbon blew the save. Now with two out and the winning run on second, Robert Andino (who had hit an inside the park home run two nights before) doubled and drove in the game winning run for the Orioles! The Orioles fans erupted, the players rushed onto the field and the strains of the 1979 classic "Orioles Magic" played over the PA. Ain't the beer cold, baby! While Orioles fans cheered and Red Sox fans looked stunned and as the song came to a close, Evan Longoria hit a game winning home run in Tampa in the bottom of the 12th, exactly three minutes after Andino drove in the winning run in Baltimore. In a span of three minutes the Red Sox season ended and the Red Sox fans in attendence looked shell-shocked. It was amazing drama and I was so glad to be there and experience it!
Finally, my personal season ended with the following post script: On October 22, 2011, the on-call gods were kind enough to allow me to attend the dedication of the Brooks Robinson statue downtown. It sits between the ball park and Pickles Pub, even with third base inside the ball park and Brooks is positioned as if getting ready to throw across to first. Brooks Robinson was teary-eyed and overwhelmed as moving speeches were given by the Governor, Senator Mikulski, the sculptor, the sponsor, and Baltimore's own, actor Josh Charles (The Good Wife, Sports Night, Dead Poets Society). I wasn't sure Brooks was going to get through his remarks... The 40-year-old actor, Charles, ended his remarks by envisioning that one day when he has children he will bring them to game here and walk past this statue, but his children won't ask him who that is because, like everyone else in Baltimore, they will already know. It was a great event!
So for me, this 69-93 season is full of wonderful baseball memories. Now if only next year the Orioles can figure out how to win when I am not there...