After the Ravens triumphed over the Patriots in January’s AFC Championship, perhaps it was only fair to send a Flacco to the New England area.
On Friday, the Orioles traded first baseman Mike Flacco — younger brother of the Super Bowl XLVII MVP — to the Boston Red Sox for cash considerations or a player to be named later. In a feel-good story, Baltimore’s baseball team drafted Flacco in the 31st round of the 2009 amateur draft out of CCBC-Catonsville.
Spending most of his season at Single-A Frederick last year, Flacco hit .214 with eight home runs and 35 runs batted in in 107 games played with the Keys and Double-A Bowie. The 26-year-old played at first base primarily but also spent time at third base and the corner outfield spots. He has a .253 career average in four minor league seasons.
Though it was a fun connection between Baltimore’s two major professional franchises, the younger Flacco clearly wasn’t progressing at a rate necessary to consider him more than organizational depth in the lower levels of the system. The dream of a Flacco on each team simply wasn’t going to come true and the Red Sox had an organizational need for more first base depth in the minors.
Of course, that won’t stop some from insisting this wouldn’t have happened if his brother had simply taken a little less money.
BALTIMORE — If you’re caught up in the hysteria of the Orioles’ impossible run to the postseason looking more and more like reality, you may not have noticed Friday marked the one-year anniversary of the 2011 season finale.
Of course, the final day of last season may go down as the most exciting in the history of major league baseball with division races coming down to the final inning of the year. Tampa Bay completed an improbable comeback win over the New York Yankees while the 93-loss Orioles knocked Boston out of the playoffs with a dramatic 4-3 walk-off win that ended with a Robert Andino hit to score Nolan Reimold in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The famed “Curse of the Andino” had been born as the Orioles celebrated like they had won the World Series. Yes, it was a fun moment in a make-believe sort of way and players were entitled to a night of celebration after the grind of a 162-game schedule, but the celebration was artificial — no matter how good it may have felt to eliminate the Red Sox from the postseason — knowing the Orioles had just completed their sixth straight season of 90 or more losses.
A year later, the roles are the opposite of what we’ve come to expect over the years as the Red Sox limped to town with a lame-duck manager and a gutted roster on the cusp of 90 losses. In contrast, the Orioles won their 90th game of the season in a 9-1 series-opening win over Boston and reduced their wild card magic number to three to clinch their first postseason berth since 1997.
Not one to gush over individual moments or buy into media concoctions, manager Buck Showalter was asked prior to Friday’s game whether the 2011 finale was the catalyst for the unexpected prosperity the Orioles found this season. His answer was surprising, even if it was delivered in Showalter’s unassuming way.
“I can’t say it didn’t help. It does,” Showalter said. “You create your own intensity and this is a self-starter group. I think once again, we fed off the emotions of our fans, too.”
No one should buy too much stock into the final game of the 2011 regular season being the main reason why the Orioles stand only a game behind the Yankees in the American League East entering Saturday. Just take a look at the roster and you’ll see too many different faces to believe what happened last Sept. 28 was a franchise-altering moment.
But it might have offered just enough of a taste of motivation to the holdovers from 2011 to push through the tough times while also remembering how difficult it was for the Red Sox to complete their postseason mission despite being in excellent position only weeks before the 2011 finale.
With a plethora of unlikely heroes contributing on any given night, the Orioles turned to second baseman Ryan Flaherty and starting pitcher Chris Tillman on Friday night to begin the most crucial series of the season — to this point, anyway — against Boston. Flaherty’s grand slam in the first put the game out of reach as the Rule 5 selection collected a career-high five runs batted in after languishing on the bench for most of the season.
A year ago when the Orioles were knocking the Red Sox out of the playoffs, Flaherty was stuck in the Cubs’ minor league system, uncertain where his future might take him. Now he finds himself in a platoon with Andino, receiving regular starts against right-handed pitching.
“It seems like every night it’s someone new, whether it’s a pitcher, hitter, a play in the field, something,” Flaherty said. “Just keep on riding it and, tomorrow, nine more innings.”
Not even invited to join the club last September despite being on the 40-man roster, Tillman began the 2012 season in Triple-A Norfolk as a virtual afterthought behind the other tabbed members of the cavalry in Jake Arrieta, Brian Matusz, and Zach Britton. Just over five months later, he’s the only one of the four in the starting rotation as Tillman looks to be a virtual lock for the potential postseason rotation.
He took Friday’s crucial start in stride as he didn’t allow a hit after Scott Podsednik led off the game with a bunt single and retired the final 14 batters he faced in eight stellar innings of work to improve his record to 9-2.
“There is not one game bigger than the other,” Tillman said. “I always try to go out there, go deep in the game and give my team the best chance to win. We are getting to the nitty-gritty here, but we have to focus on tomorrow’s game and not look ahead.”
Showalter’s best accomplishment among many this season has been his ability to balance out his players’ emotions on a daily basis. They’re never too high when they win or too low in defeat. And they’re never caught up in how big a certain game might be, an attitude that will serve them well over the season’s final week and into October.
These days, the Orioles clubhouse is anything but celebratory after wins as an outsider wouldn’t have a clue in figuring out whether the team had won or loss that night.
It’s a stark contrast from the on-field dog pile of a year ago over something that just wasn’t all that meaningful in the long run.
Or, so we thought.
No matter how you view the “Curse of the Andino” and what it meant to this club heading into the 2012 season, the Orioles have a real reason to celebrate this time around.
It’s no longer about playing the role of a spoiler or basking in the glow of a make-believe celebration because there’s nothing better to look forward to. The Orioles are for real and their slaughtering of the down-and-out Red Sox on Friday night was just the latest example in proving that.
Instead of deferring to the heavyweight and hoping to get lucky, they’ve become the team delivering the knockout blow.
I’ve never shied away from expressing my distaste for the sacrifice bunt, and the strategy cost the Orioles in their 6-3 loss to the Boston Red Sox on Thursday night.
Holding a 3-1 lead in the bottom of the second, the decision by right field Nick Markakis to lay one down with runners on first and second and no outs was questionable at best and turned disastrous when it resulted in a double play after Markakis didn’t run to first, thinking the ball was foul as it died at the plate. Shortstop J.J. Hardy then singled into right, but Omar Quintanilla was gunned down at the plate to end the inning.
Just like that, a once-promising inning was over without further damage.
The miscue gave Boston starter Clay Buchholz new life as he recovered to pitch eight strong innings to collect the victory.
Making Markakis’ decision to bunt even more perplexing was the fact that it came after Buchholz had walked Quintanilla on four pitches. Instead of taking a pitch or looking for a fastball to drive early in the count, Markakis may have been thinking too much in an effort to give the Orioles two runners in scoring position.
Based on his post-game comments, it was clear Buck Showalter had not called for the bunt, but the manager eloquently revealed whose call it was without painting his leadoff hitter in a negative light.
“I like the thought process; he just didn’t quite execute it,” Showalter said. “Nicky is a guy that’s always trying to do what’s best for the team, and I applaud him for the thought process. Maybe if he gets it down in a better spot, it might turn out really well.”
The decision to insert Markakis into the top spot in the order has worked beautifully for the Orioles after the production in the leadoff spot had been horrendous over the last 2 1/2 seasons with the absence of a healthy Brian Roberts. Entering Thursday night, Markakis was hitting .321 with five home runs and 14 runs batted in while posting a .371 on-base percentage since willingly accepting his new role on July 13.
However, the second-inning bunt appeared to be a rare instance in which the outfielder was trying to act too much like a leadoff hitter and not the run producer he’s more than capable of being when given an opportunity with men on base. Considering how much Buchholz was struggling, the time was right to play for a big inning and a knockout blow instead of settling for small ball.
You’re only guaranteed 27 outs over the course of a game, and I’m a big believer in not wasting them unless playing for a single run in the late stages of the game or it’s the rare instance of a low-scoring duel between two dynamic pitchers. Buchholz has been one of the best pitchers in baseball over the last month, but Baltimore starter Chris Tillman did not fall into that category after throwing 51 pitches through the first two innings.
And though Showalter was right about the bunt potentially turning out well if Markakis had laid it down in a better spot, it still doesn’t mean it was the right decision.
The failed bunt doesn’t change the fact that Tillman only got through 4 2/3 innings and reliever Luis Ayala gave up the three deciding runs in the sixth, but it certainly appeared to be the turning point in a game that appeared ripe for the picking in the early innings.
Instead of potentially busting the game wide open by trying to become the fourth straight batter to reach in the inning, Markakis was willing to give up an out — a second one was lost in the process — and the Orioles never really threatened Buchholz again after that second inning.
It was a rare misstep from a cerebral player, but the failed bunt factored heavily early on in the Orioles’ inability to complete a three-game sweep of Boston.
Chris Davis might be the best example of what the 2012 Orioles are all about.
Entering the season with untapped potential and more failure than success at the big-league level, both Davis and the Orioles have blossomed in the first 2 1/2 months of the season, surpising critics and even the most optimistic fans in what’s been Baltimore’s best start since 2005.
The 26-year-old Davis has morphed into a fan favorite in his first full season with the Orioles, not only becoming one of the team’s most productive hitters but providing one of the craziest memories in club history when he pitched two innings to earn the win in a 17-inning marathon at Fenway Park on May 6.
Add a broken-bat home run against Pittsburgh last week and his first games in right field at the big-league level this past weekend in Atlanta and you have all the makings of a folk hero in Baltimore.
Much like the 39-27 Orioles, at times, it’s difficult to believe what you’re seeing when watching the designated hitter/first baseman/right fielder/pitching extraordinaire.
But there’s no understating how important Davis’ emergence has been this season, especially with stints on the disabled list by Nolan Reimold, Mark Reynolds, and Nick Markakis. Center fielder Adam Jones has emerged as a superstar by leading the Orioles in batting average, home runs, runs batted in, slugging percentage, and runs scored, but Davis ranks second or third in all five of those categories in becoming a legitimate middle-of-the-order threat in the lineup.
His 12 home runs and 60 strikeouts in 211 at-bats entering Monday night aren’t overly surprising given Davis’ reputation when the Orioles acquired him in the Koji Uehara trade last July, but his .294 average defies what we saw over his last three years in Texas where Davis went from looking like a future star in 2008 to a player fitting the mold of a “Quad-A” hitter before being dealt.
The raw power has never come into question — evident by his broken-bat homer to right field off Pittsburgh reliever Tommy Watson last Wednesday — as Davis hit 17 home runs and batted .285 in 295 at-bats during his rookie season with the Rangers in 2008. However, the left-handed slugger quickly earned the reputation of a hitter who struck out too much, didn’t walk enough, and struggled to handle plus-fastballs in the major leagues. Those flaws led his batting average to plummet to .238 in 2009 and .192 in 2010, causing Davis to bounce back and forth between the Rangers and Triple A in his final three years in Texas.
It was difficult to project Davis as anything more than a less-patient, less-powerful version of Reynolds entering the season, which didn’t speak highly for his potential when considering how flawed Reynolds is as a player.
In 2012, Davis hasn’t made any dramatic changes to his overall approach — 60 strikeouts to just 13 walks — but his improvement against plus-fastballs has led to the substantial increase in average. A career .204 hitter in 255 career at-bats against power pitchers (those in the top third in the league in strikeouts plus walks) entering 2012, Davis has handled them at a .286 rate in 42 at-bats this season.
Davis has also handled left-handed pitching at a far more successful clip, batting .327 in 53 plate appearances against southpaws in 2012 after hitting only .236 against lefties in 275 career at-bats entering 2012.
While his high strikeout and low walk totals aren’t indicative of a hitter that will continue to hover around the .300 mark, Davis has been a model of consistency through his first 57 games this season. Aside from an abysmal seven-game stretch in May in which he went 3-for-28 and struck out 14 times, the left-hander has consistently sat somewhere between .290 and .310 as we reach the final two weeks of June. His .355 batting average for balls put in play indicates Davis has been fortunate, but it’s actually lower than the .366 combined clip he posted last year for the Rangers and Orioles.
When seeing the ball well, Davis shows exceptional power to straightaway center and the opposite field has eight of his 12 home runs have traveled in either of those directions.
After Markakis was placed on the 15-day disabled list with a broken hamate bone, manager Buck Showalter turned to Davis to hold down the No. 3 spot in the order as the Orioles were depleted even further offensively. He’s hit only .206 in 34 at-bats batting third, but the lineup shift could present an interesting decision for Showalter when Markakis returns — projected to be some time during the next homestand, according to the right fielder.
Should Davis remain around the .300 mark, would you consider keeping him in the third spot and moving Markakis to the No. 2 slot? The move would allow Showalter to drop J.J. Hardy in the order, which would make sense with the shortstop hitting only .253 despite 11 home runs.
Whatever the Baltimore skipper decides, it’s a good problem to have.
For a team suffering its fair share of injuries and not receiving the same power numbers it enjoyed from Reynolds a season ago, Davis’ emergence has been one of the most pleasant surprises of the season.
His willingness to do whatever is asked of him reflects the spirit of the 2012 Orioles.
Need someone to pitch? Not a problem.
You want to put me in right field in a National League ballpark, even though I’ve never played there in the big leagues? Sure thing.
Whatever it takes to win.
Much like watching the Orioles, you keep waiting and wondering if it’s going to last, but Davis has given no indication of slowing down any time soon.
And he just might be realizing the potential so many saw in him when he first arrived in the big leagues.
Perhaps you’re not familiar with WNST.net MLB analyst Allen McCallum. Allen was once the Ballpark Reporter at WNST, covering the Baltimore Orioles on a daily basis. He’s remained with us in the years since then, appearing once a week in studio (currently with Thyrl Nelson on “The Mobtown Sports Beat”) to talk Major League Baseball and Baltimore Orioles.
Allen is a really good dude, but is decidedly un-American in my book. You see, Allen doesn’t like football. I don’t understand it either, trust me. I have every reason to believe he celebrates the 4th of July and enjoys a good slice of Apple Pie, but he loves baseball and just doesn’t care about our national pastime.
Despite this obvious flaw, I’ve maintained a level of friendship and (as much as is possible for someone who I have to imagine may be a communist) respect for Allen. I don’t dislike him, I just don’t understand how someone like him can exist in this country. You see, football is our beautiful game. It’s a game fathers play in the backyard with sons. Baseball is okay when there aren’t real sports to watch, but is clearly inferior to football in every way.
I’m kidding. Well I’m kidding a LITTLE bit anyway.
The reason my lede is about our resident purveyor of Orange Kool-Aid is because Allen likes to make a point during the course of baseball season that is relevant to both sports. As Birds fans have a tendency to freak out over the results of a couple of games (or one game…or a couple of innings…or a single at-bat), Allen likes to send out a reminder that “this isn’t football. There’s 162 games to be played.”
It hasn’t always been good news in Charm City that the O’s have to play 162 games, but the point he makes is relevant. During Ravens season we tend to overreact to one particular game, but we do that knowing that one game reflects roughly six percent of the season. While a NFL team can certainly recover from a stretch of two or three bad games, a bad streak can quickly spiral into killing a quarter of a football season. At the same time, a bad streak of three or four games during baseball season does not even represent the same six percent of the season that one football game represents.
Let me try to step away from math for a second. A single football game is more significant than a single baseball game. But you already knew that.
Seven days ago (which as I type this would have been June 4), there was reason for great concern amongst Baltimore baseball fans. After getting off to a 27-14 start, the Birds were mired in a streak that saw them drop 10 of 13 games. Sitting at 30-24, the Birds had appeared to already be well into their annual “June swoon” and seemed destined to find themselves on their way to the cellar of the AL East.
But something funny happened in the six games that followed. Instead of continuing their free fall, the Birds stabilized. They won two of three against the Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, then returned home to take two dramatic extra inning contests against the Philadelphia Phillies at Oriole Park at Camden Yards in front of thousands of stunned supporters who had made their way down I-95 from The City of Brotherly Love.
Durham plated two unearned runs in the top of the 10th inning, sending Norfolk to a 3-1 loss Sunday afternoon at Harbor Park.
With the score tied 1-1, Henry Wrigley opened up the 10th frame with a grounder to third base, but Miguel Tejada short-hopped his throw into the dugout, allowing Wrigley to advance to second. One out later, Reid Brignac plated pinch-runner Shawn O’Malley with a single to right off of Jon Link (0-2), giving the Bulls the lead. Former Tide Jeff Salazar later added a single to left-center to plate Brignac, extending Durham’s lead to 3-1.
Norfolk starter Jason Berken was extremely effective, but once again was left searching for his first victory of 2012. Berken, who entered the contest ranked 6th in the IL with a 2.50 ERA, allowed three hits and two walks while striking out five in seven shutout innings, lowering his ERA to 2.12.
Sunday was the third time this season that Berken left a game with a lead, only to see the opponents rally against Norfolk’s bullpen.
The Tides scored their only run of the contest in the seventh inning, as Joe Mahoney led off the frame with a walk and scored on a two-out triple by Blake Davis.
Tejada finished 1-for-3 and was hit by a pitch in the contest, and he’s now hitting .375 in seven games since joining Norfolk.
Hideki Matsui had a single in four plate appearances for the Bulls.
The Tides travel to Pawtucket on Monday to start a four-game set with the Red Sox. Zach Clark will be making his first start for Norfolk since being promoted from Double-A Bowie, and he’ll be opposed by right-hander Doug Mathis (3-2, 4.23). First pitch is slated for 4:05.