Gonzalez, Bean Balls, and Ballots

May 19, 2011 | Erich Hawbaker

Once again, the Orioles just find a way to lose to the Yankees. Twice in extra innings they manage to load the bases, and twice they can’t push one stupid run across to win. This game really did have everything: Two fantastic starts by Colon and Britton, a 1-3 double play, a blown save by Rivera, a pitcher used as a pinch runner, a base runner put out by being hit with the ball, and of course, Mike Gonzalez giving up the lead and then hitting a guy in the head a couple pitches later.

There’s a good reason why I haven’t written in awhile. I was a candidate for magistrate judge up here in my town, and for the last three months I’ve been working hard on the campaign trail. I knocked on over 1800 doors, stood at the polls in the rain all day on Tuesday (Primary Election Day here in Pennsylvania), and in the end I lost by just 90 votes. This was a three-way race, and both of my opponents were roughly twice my age (I’m 28) and both spent more on their campaigns than I did on mine. I lost, but I’m still pretty proud of myself. I ran a good race, I never went negative (both of them did), and I made a good impression on a lot of people. It’s highly unlikely that I’ll never be a candidate again in the future, and at least now I have something to build on.

So why do I bring that up in a sports column? Well, it’s because I learned something very important from that whole experience- perception is reality. I know, it’s not fair and a lot of people may not agree, but I absolutely believe it. And now, for the second time in this young season, we’ve seen Orioles pitchers throw a bean ball after blowing a game against the Yankees. And this time, the culprit was a guy I haven’t liked ever since he came to Baltimore- Mike Gonzalez.

I don’t know if he hit Chris Dickerson in the temple on purpose or not; the only ones who know that for certain are him and God. What I do know is that Gonzalez has been mostly awful this year (again), and that it’s now officially on the radar that Buck Showalter’s Orioles are not above venting their frustration on the batter who comes up after somebody just got a big hit. Showalter kind of sidestepped the question tonight in the postgame press conference, and it was the first time that I’ve been really upset with him. What he should have done was make it perfectly clear: “I DO NOT condone hitting anybody on purpose and I DID NOT instruct any of my guys to do it tonight. Such conduct is a disgrace to the game and it won’t be tolerated on my watch.” You have to do better than, “Oh well, we know he can be a little wild sometimes…”

And then there’s the issue of Gonzalez himself. The guy is a dud. Period. I took a lot of heat from a certain WNST personality for saying so last year. Clearly, the front office made a very bad investment in him. It happens to every team in baseball sometimes, and I don’t fault them for it. What I do have problem with is this notion of “We’re stuck with him now, so let’s use him even tho we know he probably won’t get the job done so we at least get something for our $6 million a year.” That way of thinking is completely antithetical to winning, and I actually think Buck Showalter gets that, unlike his predecessor. Did you notice that he didn’t go to Gonzalez last night until he literally had no other choice? It’s a very pleasant surprise, but a mere 5 games separate the first and last place teams in the AL East right now (would be just 4 had the O’s not snatched defeat from the jaws of victory last night). If your objective is to win, you don’t arrange your pitchers and hitters according to their salaries; you do it by who gives you the best chance to beat your opponent.

I’m curious to see whether or not Jeremy Guthrie will start tonight after coming in in relief last night. Perhaps the lineup decided to save it for him because they sure didn’t have it last night and they always seem to forget how to hit whenever he’s on the mound. If his lack of run support continues I might suggest that Buck opt not to use the DH for a game and let the poor guy try to help his own cause at the plate. He’s done everything to win except picking up a bat. Any thoughts on that? 🙂