Looking back and ahead

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. - The Orioles have left Tropicana Field. No ’80s hair band promotions, no dogs barking in the upper deck, no Wiggles concerts, no kids introducing batters over the PA system, no rap-artist felines spinning records.

The series against the Rays will be remembered for some costly mistakes by the Orioles and its overall weirdness. And if there’s one thing The Trop can deliver, it’s a healthy dose of weird.

Ryan Flaherty is on the team because he’s regarded as a good defender at every infield position, but he had two big errors at shortstop in the last two games. That’s not typical, but it’s going to turn up the volume on his critics.

J.J. Hardy is expected to start at shortstop tonight in the series opener at Fenway Park. Chris Davis can move to third base and Steve Pearce can start at first.

Jonathan Schoop has struck out 10 times in his last 10 at-bats, and he was removed for a pinch-hitter yesterday. Let’s see whether he gets a night off.

gonzalez-miguel-pitch-grey-sidebar.jpgMiguel Gonzalez is making his 23rd start tonight and his 13th on the road, where he’s 4-4 with a 3.79 ERA and eight quality starts. He’s 3-0 with a 2.61 ERA in six career appearances against the Red Sox, and 3-0 with a 2.70 ERA in four starts.

Gonzalez has allowed four earned runs in 18 2/3 innings at Fenway Park. Most recently, he gave up one earned run (two total) in eight innings on July 5.

How underrated is Gonzalez? He registered a 1.82 ERA in four July starts, a 2.96 ERA in four August starts, and tossed his first complete-game shutout in his only start this month. He’s 4-2 with a 2.11 ERA in seven starts since the All-Star break and has held opponents to a .206 average and .594 OPS.

The Orioles dangled him in trade talks leading up to the non-waiver deadline. What’s the expression about how sometimes the best deals are the ones you don’t make?

I did a search on Red Sox starter Joe Kelly on Baseball-Reference.com and he’s the third name to come up. The first one played from 1926-28 and second from 1914-19.

I’m going with the third one.

Kelly is 1-1 with a 3.89 ERA in six starts since the Red Sox acquired him from the Cardinals at the non-waiver deadline. He’s never faced the Orioles. Only three Orioles have faced him.

Nelson Cruz is 1-for-3 with an RBI, Ubaldo Jimenez is 0-for-2 with two strikeouts and Steve Clevenger is 0-for-1.

Only Cruz will be in tonight’s lineup. Bank on it.

You don’t sit a guy who drove in all seven runs in the previous game.

The Orioles are hesitant to discuss a multi-year extension for Cruz. Manager Buck Showalter has done a superb job of keeping him healthy and in the lineup by practically dividing his starts between the outfield and designated hitter.

A qualifying offer appeals to the Orioles, but Cruz figures to want more of a commitment. I’m curious how it’s going to play out.

Leftover note from yesterday: Reliever Brad Brach was charged with his first loss Saturday since Sept. 2, 2012 in Colorado. He appeared in 82 games between losses and was 7-0 over that span.

Bud Norris said the inside-the-park home run was the second-craziest play he’s witnessed in baseball. I couldn’t let it go.

What ranks as the craziest?

“No. 1, Arizona Fall League,” Norris explained. “I was getting my first official relief appearance and I was closing in a 1-0 game. Full count, the first baseman told me he was not covering the bag. I decided to make a pickoff anyway. I drilled the runner and the ball stayed right there. He did not advance a base and I got the next guy to pop out to center.

“So, I attempted a pickoff with no first baseman there and hit the runner. Did not advance. I think I broke the kid’s rib.”

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