The Super Bowl is now behind us. The NCAA's March Madness - we hope - lies just ahead. But as far as MASN world is concerned, the really big event is scheduled to begin next week.
In five days - cross your fingers, knock on wood or perform any other superstitious ritual you like to ward off evil spirits and the always looming potential coronavirus-related postponement - pitchers and catchers will report to the Ed Smith Stadium complex in Sarasota, Fla.
The COVID-19 pandemic is far from over, and we must continue to fanatically wash up, mask up and steer clear of crowds, but safe and effective vaccines have begun finding their way into people's arms and there is light at the end of the tunnel. With luck and strict adherence to protocols, we might just get a full baseball season played this year. Some carefully spaced pods of fans might even get to be there for games.
While you're waiting to see how all that plays out, check out the upcoming batch of "Orioles Classics," this week featuring a heavy dose of Matt Wieters.
Friday, Feb. 12 - 11 a.m. - Drafted, released and then re-signed by the Orioles, Stevie Wilkerson has thus far not had the breakout season that would keep him in the majors for good. Instead, he seems destined to vie for a roster spot as a utility man every spring. But he's had at least two moments of great distinction as an Oriole. One came during the final weekend of the 2019 season in Fenway Park, when Wilkerson (whose natural inclination is toward the infield) made arguably the greatest circus catch of all time to rob Jackie Bradley Jr. of a homer. The other occurred on July 25 that same year, and that's the one on tap for today. That was the day Wilkerson became the first position player to ever record a big league save, retiring the Angels in order in the 16th inning to cement a 10-8 win in Anaheim. Dr. Poo-Poo went 1-for-7 with an RBI.
Friday, Feb. 12 - 8 p.m. - Manny Machado has moved on to the greener (as in "long green") pastures of San Diego, but as he helps the Padres climb the mountain in the National League, it's still fun to see him as a green ballplayer in orange and black. For instance, this contest from 2015, a season in which he played all 162 games. It was Aug. 14, and the Athletics were in town for the first of a four-game set the O's would sweep. This victory, though, would take 13 innings. Adam Jones went 3-for-5 with a three-run homer, but it was Machado's two-run blast that gave the Birds a walk-off win.
Saturday, Feb. 13 - 11 p.m. - As your Saturday comes to a close, we bring you a bittersweet page of Orioles history: the day Cal Ripken Jr. finally decided to sit one out. It was Sept. 20, 1998, three years after he'd broken the seemingly unbreakable consecutive-games streak of 2,130. Ryan Minor played third base that Sunday evening, going 1-for-4 as the O's dropped a 5-4 decision to the Yankees.
Sunday, Feb. 14 - 1 p.m. - To Orioles fans, the numerical expressions 2,131 and Sept. 6, 1995 instantly summon the image of Ripken trotting around the warning track at Camden Yards, high-fiving dozens of the 46,000 raining adulation upon him as they celebrated the Iron Man's surpassing the consecutive games streak held by Yankees great Lou Gehrig. It was the last of a nine-game homestand and the rubber match of a three-game set with the Angels. In addition to receiving the cheers, Ripken also collected a couple of hits, including a homer, in the Orioles' 4-2 win.
Monday, Feb. 15 - 7 p.m. - The Tigers played only 161 games in 2016, a makeup game at season's end rendered unnecessary as both the Blue Jays and Orioles won on Sunday, Oct. 2 to negate any chance Detroit had of slipping into a wild card berth. The Orioles secured their date with the Jays by beating the Yankees 5-2. Kevin Gausman gave up eight hits but just the two runs over 7 1/3 innings, and Zack Britton held New York scoreless the rest of the way. Wieters had the big day at the plate, going 2-for-4 with a pair of two-run homers.
Tuesday, Feb. 16 - 1 p.m. - On the penultimate weekend of the 2016 campaign, the O's notched a critical series sweep of the Diamondbacks at Camden Yards. In the opener on Friday, Sept. 23, the two clubs went through 15 pitchers in a 12-inning contest that the home team won in walk-off fashion. The D-backs scored single runs in first and second innings, but Pedro Ãlvarez hit a solo homer in the eighth and Wieters did the same in the ninth to take the combatants to OT. The score stayed knotted at 2-2 until Mark Trumbo led off the 12th with a longball off Matt Koch.
Tuesday, Feb. 16 - 11:30 p.m. - It looked grim for the homestanding O's on Sept. 7, 2013 after White Sox pinch-hitter Conor Gillaspie homered off Tommy Hunter in the 10th. In the bottom half, Henry Urrutia and Nick Markakis had back-to-back singles with one out, but when Nate McLouth took a called third strike, it was up to Wieters to save the day. That he did, pulling a liner up the right field line for an RBI single and the instant win.
Wednesday, Feb. 17 - 3 p.m. - The Birds battled back in the bottom of the ninth from a 5-3 deficit to stun the Tigers at Camden Yards on May 31, 2013. JosÃ© Valverde came on in relief of Max Scherzer and had Markakis in an 0-2 hole leading off, but declined to throw a waste pitch to the keen-eyed O's outfielder. Markakis gave it a ride to right, and Jones and Chris Davis followed up his blast with singles. Valverde recovered, getting Wieters and J.J. Hardy on popups, which brought veteran outfielder (that day playing designated hitter) Chris Dickerson to the plate. The lefty swinger planted the right-hander's 2-1 pitch in the seats in right-center. Orioles 7, Tigers 5. Game over.