A child’s imagination can do wondrous things when placed within the cozy confines of a ballpark. So it was that as a kid I created spurious correlations related to my favorite baseball team. I believed, for example, that my attendance should always inspire the Orioles to win. Think root, root, root for the home team taken to bold levels of naive conceit.
I likewise held a belief in the potency of promotions and their unique ability to inspire excellence in athletes. (See this 2010 Roar From 34 post for a rundown of how that sort of thing plays out in reality.)
I’m older now, perhaps even a shade wiser, and my favorite baseball team stinks. Imbued with a hard-earned sense of ballpark realism, I’ve resorted to rooting for quirkiness. The imagination is still there only minus the optimism.
Score a victory for whimsicality on Monday courtesy of Buck Showalter’s ejection on the night the team distributed Buck “Snowalter” Snow Globes. I had wished for that very outcome in a Tweet earlier in the evening. (The less cynical among us might use the phrase “speaking it into existence.”)
Nelson Cruz returned to Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Monday night as the reigning American League Player of the Week. As I wrote on Twitter, “Salt, meet wound.”
Cruz, who turns 38 on Sunday, has not fallen off toward the end of his four-year contract with the Mariners. Some (many?) in Baltimore anticipated a drop-off after he inked a $57-million deal to head to the Pacific Northwest. (Note: I was one of them.)
In keeping with the theme of an O’s season of little-to-no consolation, Cruz’s continued strength at the plate provides little-to-no consolation for fans of the orange and black. It’s still nice to see him playing in Camden Yards again even if it’s for the wrong team.
Cruz’s current $14 million salary would be about the fifth-largest payout on the 2018 Orioles squad behind Chris Davis ($23 million), Adam Jones ($17.33 million), and Manny Machado ($16 million), and roughly even with Alex Cobb ($14 million), according to Baseball Reference. Cruz would slot in just ahead of Mark Trumbo ($12.5 million) and Zach Britton ($12 million).
But I digress …
Let’s look back at Cruz’s two Player of the Week honors in Baltimore.
Photo Credit: Norm Schimmel
The Atlanta Braves avoided being swept at home by the Orioles with a 7-3 victory on Sunday. Here are some odds and ends from the weekend series.
O’s Win Streak Versus Braves Snapped at Seven
The Orioles had won seven consecutive games against the Braves headed into Sunday’s finale. The streak dated back to 2012 when the Birds took the final two games of a three-game set in Atlanta. Baltimore then swept the Braves in their three-game Interleague match-up in 2015. The seven-game run was the longest win streak for the O’s versus the Braves since Interleague play began in 1997. The Braves have twice had five-game win streaks against the Orioles since ’97.
Sweeps Are a Thing of the Past
The Orioles have swept the Braves three times in Interleague play (1997, 1999, and 2015). The Braves, meanwhile, have swept the Orioles twice (2000 and 2005).
The Orioles’ first sweep of Atlanta came at the outset of Interleague play in a match-up that featured baseball’s two best teams to that point in the season. The O’s entered the 1997 series with a 43-19 record that was tops in the American League by eight games. The Braves were 42-23, which was 3.5 games better than the closest National League team.
Fans who were following the O’s at that time will remember how significant the 1997 sweep felt as the O’s proved their mettle heading toward the midpoint of what would ultimately be a wire-to-wire division-winning season.
Chris Davis sat out the final two games of the Orioles’ series with the Boston Red Sox this week. Fans will therefore have to wait a bit longer to see if he can break another team record. Davis, whose 53 home runs in 2013 were the most in a season for an O’s player, is six games shy of tying the team record for most consecutive games with a strikeout.
Photo Credit: Norm Schimmel
Davis has struck out in 21 straight games between May 12 and his most recent appearance on June 11. That’s a half-dozen less than Steve Barber‘s 27 consecutive games with a strikeout between June 21, 1960, and June 23, 1961.
Barber, you may remember, was a pitcher who played for the Orioles prior to the American League’s introduction of the designated hitter in 1973. He averaged almost one strikeout while batting per game. Barber struck out 247 times in 253 games for the Orioles over the course of eight seasons starting in 1960.
Davis still has some work to do to catch Barber.
Tampa Bay Rays lefty Blake Snell tied an American League record on Sunday by striking out seven consecutive batters to start the game against the Seattle Mariners. Snell finished with 12 strikeouts, which is one less than the baker’s dozen strikeouts he posted versus the Orioles in the final game of the 2017 season. He struck out six of the first eight Orioles batters in that contest.
No Orioles pitcher has put up an effort quite like Snell’s to start a baseball game. Chris Tillman struck out five of the first six Minnesota Twins batters he faced on Opening Day 2016. Wei-Yin Chen struck out six of the first eight Oakland A’s batters, including striking out the side to start the game, on July 29, 2012. Other similar examples can be found. However, not even the team record 15 strikeout games posted by Erik Bedard and Mike Mussina (twice) featured a sizzling beginning like Snell’s.
For this post, let’s focus on one of the first great strikeout performances in Orioles team history, and yes, it featured a fast start.
New York Yankees rookie Gleyber Torres became the youngest American League player to homer in four consecutive games on Friday. The 21-year-old second baseman beat the O’s best effort by roughly a year.
Boog Powell became the youngest Orioles batter to homer in four consecutive games during the 1964 season. The then 22-year-old Powell actually hit five home runs in a four-game stretch from June 2 through June 6, 1964, thanks to a multi-homer game versus the Kansas City Athletics on June 3.
(Manny Machado had just turned 23 when he homered in four consecutive games in 2015, in case you were wondering.)
Have yourself a day Jim Palmer. The Hall of Fame pitcher earned his first win for the Baltimore Orioles on May 16, 1965, against the New York Yankees at Memorial Stadium. Palmer also homered to help the O’s to a 7-5 victory.
Pitching in relief of Dave McNally, who struggled through 2.1 innings of work, the 19-year-old Palmer tossed 3.2 innings, allowing two hits and one run while walking four and striking out one. It would be the first of 268 wins for Palmer, who appeared in 558 career games and made 521 starts.
Palmer hit the first of his three career home runs, this one coming against Yankees righty Jim Bouton, in the fourth inning. The clout scored Davey Johnson and cut New York’s lead in half.
Bouton allowed nine career home runs at Memorial Stadium, which tied with Fenway Park for the most he surrendered at any visiting ballpark. Palmer’s Orioles teammates Curt Blefary and Norm Siebern each totaled three career home runs against Bouton, which tied for the second-largest total of home runs against the future author of Ball Four.