More than any other fans I can think of, those of us who pull for the Orioles are more than happy to see 2018 in the rear-view mirror. With new leadership in the front office and in the dugout, fans aren’t sure what 2019 will bring, but it sure ought to be interesting.
Those new guys calling the shots around here have made it abundantly clear that they’re looking ahead, searching for new blood and new ways (to the Orioles, at least) of doing things. But they have also given a firm nod to the club’s past, bringing Brooks Robinson, Eddie Murray and other O’s greats back to Camden Yards, hoping that some of their mojo and optimism might rub off on the young players and the fans.
So it’s fitting that first up among the “Orioles Classics” on offer this week is a game that marked a milestone in the career of another of the guys whose faces would be on the Birdland version of Mount Rushmore. We also revisit bittersweet and triumphant moments (yes, there actually were a few of the latter) from the 2018 season, as well as a couple of memorably quirky moments in Orioles history.
Thursday, Jan. 3, 9 a.m. - The 3,000-hit club is a pretty exclusive fraternity. Of the thousands who have put on a big league uniform over the past century and a half, 32 have reached that plateau. Cal Ripken Jr. did it on April 15, 2000 at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome as the Orioles beat the homestanding Twins 6-4. The Iron Man had no RBIs that day, but during an eventful seventh-inning at-bat, Twins reliever Hector Carrasco’s first pitch of the game got away from catcher Matt LeCroy, allowing Albert Belle to score the go-ahead run from third. Ripken lined Carrasco’s second pitch to center for a single and a piece of history. B.J. Surhoff homered to lead off the ninth and give the O’s an insurance run.
Friday, Jan. 4, 7 p.m. - The Orioles concluded a memorably forgettable season on Sept. 30, 2018 at Camden Yards. The visiting Astros were playoff-bound, but the Birds, mercifully ending a 115-loss campaign, were headed to their respective homes for the offseason, some of them uncertain about whether they’d be back in 2019. Topping the list were Adam Jones and manager Buck Showalter, as both of their contracts were about to expire. With big changes in the wind, the Oriole Park faithful - who do read the papers and the blogs on this site - largely took for granted that the veteran outfielder and his venerable skipper were wearing orange and black for the last time. The fans, some carrying signs emblazoned with well wishes, saw the game as their chance to say goodbye and to thank Jones and Showalter for doing Baltimore proud. The team, already looking to the future, ended its dismal season on a high note, beating the defending World Series champs 4-0. New face Jonathan Villar went 2-for-4 and stole a base. Trey Mancini, Tim Beckham and Renato Núñez each drove in a run. Lefty Paul Fry, who pitched three innings in relief of Jimmy Yacabonis, got the win.
Monday, Jan. 7, 9 a.m. - It’s an unwritten rule: If your starting pitcher has yet to surrender a hit, you don’t yank him. But to every rule, there are exceptions. Maybe a nagging injury’s been aggravated. Maybe the hurler’s fatigued and you don’t want to press your luck. So sometimes a manager has to make a move he’d rather not make. If the relief pitcher can likewise keep the opposition from hitting safely, chances are you leave him in for the rest of the game. But in Oakland on July 13, 1991, a quartet of pitchers pitched in to complete a true baseball oddity. Any combined no-hitter qualifies as a rarity, but four pitchers teaming up for one is practically unheard of. The game took its first turn toward this believe-it-or-not moment in O’s history in the home sixth, when Willie Wilson hit a line drive that struck starter Bob Milacki in the hand, bounced off his leg and then rolled to first for a 1-3 putout. Milacki, fingers tingling, walked the next batter, Dave Henderson, then struck out Jose Canseco for the third out and made his way to the visitors’ dugout, where he was advised to ice down immediately. Mike Flanagan worked the seventh, a base on balls his only blemish. Mark Williamson came on for the eighth, and the Orioles’ closer with the big curve, Gregg Olson, got Henderson on a grounder and struck out Canseco and Harold Baines to seal a 2-0 win.
Tuesday, Jan. 8, 7 p.m. - Hopes among the O’s and their fans ran high as the 2018 season dawned, its horrors as yet unimagined. Opening day optimism is a given, of course, but with one of the most power-laden lineups in baseball and a couple of proven starters added to the rotation, playoff aspirations seemed lofty but not altogether unreasonable. This was the atmosphere wafting through Camden Yards on March 29, 2018. Dylan Bundy and Jake Odorizzi justified their respective places at the top of the Orioles’ and Twins’ rotations, each holding the opposition scoreless during their time on the mound (Odorizzi went six innings, Bundy seven). The O’s drew first blood in the seventh, scoring two off Zach Duke on Caleb Joseph’s triple. After Darren O’Day pitched a spotless eighth, it appeared the O’s would start the year with a tidy little win. But things went haywire in the ninth as Brad Brach gave up two runs on two hits and two walks and threw a wild pitch. So fans stopped gathering their belongings and settled in for extra innings. In the home 10th, Colby Rasmus walked, Joseph bunted him over and the Twins intentionally walked Chris Davis. Paul Molitor then pulled Trevor Hildenberger, calling on closer Fernando Rodney to put out the fire. Rodney promptly gave a up a single to Manny Machado, but it wasn’t enough to advance the runners more than one base. Jonathan Schoop grounded into a double play to end the inning. Richard Bleier gave up a single and threw a wild pitch, but allowed no runs in the 11th. Rodney returned to the mound for the bottom of the inning. Jones belted Rodney’s first pitch over the left field wall for the instant win.
Wednesday, Jan. 9, 9 a.m. - If you’re watching football and you see one of the husky guys who aren’t normally ball carriers pick up a fumble and start to run with it, you’ll hear a commentator say, “That’s every lineman’s dream.” The baseball equivalent might be the position player who fantasizes about taking the mound. Every now and then, it actually happens. Usually, it’s in a blowout situation with a manager trying to carry some fresh arms into the following day. But on May 6, 2012, Buck Showalter got to the point where his bullpen had virtually nothing left. He knew that designated hitter Davis had pitched in high school and college, so when the 16th inning of a Boston marathon rolled around, the Crusher got the call. To the amazement of those still lingering in Fenway Park, Davis struck out the first batter he faced, Jarrod Saltalamacchia, on three pitches. The only baserunner for the Red Sox in that inning reached on an error. Meanwhile, Sox skipper Bobby Valentine was in the same boat as Showalter, and had to put one of his own position players on the hill. Outfielder Darnell McDonald, unlike Davis, pitched like a position player. Wilson Betemit, leading off for the O’s in the 17th, walked, but then got caught stealing. J.J. Hardy doubled. Nick Markakis drew a base on balls. That brought Jones to the plate, and three “pitches” later Jones jacked one to give the Birds had a three-run lead. Davis didn’t look so invincible in the bottom half, allowing a single and a walk to start the inning. But he got Adrián González for his second K, and then got McDonald to ground into a double play to end the game at the six-hour, seven-minute mark.