The Orioles are supposed to be hosting a weekend series against the Astros, but the 2020 season remains on hold.
Fans were supposed to be gathering at Camden Yards to make trash can jokes and boo one of baseball’s cheaters.
Or have we already forgotten the scandal that dominated spring training conversations until the shutdown? Until the coronavirus pandemic shoved it into darkness.
Major League Baseball delivered one of the harshest punishments in the sport’s history after the Astros were found guilty of stealing signs during their 2017 championship season. Executive Jeff Luhnow and manager A.J. Hinch were suspended for one year and the Astros lost their first- and second-round draft picks in 2020-21 and were fined $5 million.
Luhnow and Hinch were fired the same day that the punishments came down.
Now, it feels so long ago that some fans may be surprised that it happened earlier this year. And that commissioner Rob Manfred discussed the topic, and became defensive, at the Grapefruit League Media Day at the Braves’ new complex in North Port.
There’s already an element of interest in an Astros series based on the connection with Orioles executive vice president/general manager Mike Elias and assistant Sig Mejdal, who’s dragging the team into the analytic age. And who could forget last year’s back-to-back games in Baltimore?
A low and a high.
The Orioles already lost two of three in June at Minute Maid Park when the clubs met again two months later.
Wade Miley held his former team to one run in 5 2/3 innings and the Astros won the opener 3-2. I arranged an early birthday dinner with Emily the following night and skipped a home game for one of the few times since I joined the beat. I’d sneak peeks at my phone, holding it under the table or while walking behind her, to get Twitter updates and saw the margin growing to ridiculous proportions.
I finally blurted out, “They’re losing 23-2!”
It went over about as well as cold soup and burnt steak.
Aaron Brooks surrendered four home runs, and nine runs total, in only three innings. Branden Kline allowed five runs in two innings and Tayler Scott allowed six in two. Stevie Wilkerson had to pitch and gave up three runs in 1 1/3.
The Astros sent Justin Verlander to the mound on Sunday while going for the sweep. But sports don’t always make sense, and the Orioles won 8-7 on Rio Ruiz’s walk-off home run off reliever Roberto Osuna.
Mychal Givens allowed three runs in the top of the ninth inning without recording and out and blew his sixth save opportunity.
Jace Peterson led off the bottom half with a double, Richie Martin grounded out and Chance Sisco was hit by a pitch to put runners on the corners. Chris Davis, who struck out in his first four at-bats, lifted a sacrifice fly to left field and Ruiz deposited a 2-2 changeup onto Eutaw Street for his second homer in less than 24 hours.
Were you there?
It was Ruiz’s first career walk-off homer and only the second in the ballpark’s history to clear the flag court, the other by Luke Scott on July 19, 2008 versus the Tigers.
The feeling of euphoria didn’t linger. The Orioles were swept by the Yankees in a Bronx doubleheader the following day to begin an eight-game losing streak that lowered their record to 39-86.
The Orioles won’t play the Astros before 2021, no matter what happens in the next few weeks. The season will be canceled or they’ll compete against teams in both East divisions.
They haven’t swept the Astros in a three-game series in Baltimore since 2008. Jim Johnson, Chad Bradford and Brian Burres were credited with wins and George Sherrill notched a pair of saves.
Doug Brocail, now the Orioles’ pitching coach, took the loss in the opening game of the series. José Valverde let two inherited runners score in the eighth inning on Melvin Mora’s double.
Valverde was the losing pitcher the following night after Kevin Millar delivered a walk-off single in the 10th. Brocail tossed a scoreless ninth to send the game into extras.
Were you there?