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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 5-2 loss to White Sox

Posted on 15 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles losing another series in a 5-2 defeat to the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Chris Tillman persevered through five solid innings before things unraveled for him in the sixth, but the Orioles lineup scoring one measly run until the ninth inning won’t cut it, especially with a pitching staff struggling to even be competitive most nights.

2. We haven’t discussed it much since the Orioles have rarely even been in games over the last week, but it’s alarming how undermanned the bullpen is with both Zach Britton and Darren O’Day on the disabled list. I could understand Buck Showalter trying to push Tillman longer in the sixth.

3. Even the best clubs go through periods when they struggle to pitch or hit, but botching a bunt coverage in a tie game in the sixth is the stuff of bad teams. Tillman took responsibility for it, but that cannot happen when the opposition is giving you an out.

4. Jimmy Yacabonis pitched well enough at Triple-A Norfolk to receive a promotion, but his performance Thursday should probably send him back in the minors. Allowing hits is one thing, but walking three out of the four hitters you face is unacceptable.

5. Jonathan Schoop’s drive in the sixth looked like the go-ahead three-run home run off the bat, but Melky Cabrera caught the ball in front of the left-field wall. It was one of many opportunities in which the Orioles failed to capitalize as they went 1-for-8 with runners in scoring position.

6. There was no doubt about the fourth-inning homer off the bat of Matt Davidson, who hit a long ball in all four games of the series. He’s just the latest hitter to wear out the Orioles in recent weeks.

7. The unflattering result shouldn’t entirely dismiss some encouraging signs from Tillman, who showed solid fastball velocity and threw first-pitch strikes to 21 of the 28 batters he faced. The struggling veteran entered the day throwing first-pitch strikes only 44.4 percent of the time in 2017.

8. Tillman is still struggling to put away hitters as was the case in an 11-pitch at-bat with Kevan Smith in the second. Despite quickly getting ahead 0-2 on a catcher sporting a .637 on-base plus slugging percentage, Tillman couldn’t finish him off as Smith eventually singled.

9. I understood Showalter not wanting to remove Joey Rickard against right-hander Anthony Swarzak in a key spot in the fifth because of his short bench, but Hyun Soo Kim should have been used as a pinch hitter for Rickard against closer David Robertson in the ninth.

10. Manny Machado swung at three pitches outside the zone for a fourth-inning strikeout. After making great strides to improve his plate discipline over the last few years, the third baseman has walked only six times over his last 131 plate appearances. That’s very telling of his approach.

11. Seth Smith (back) and Mike Wright (shoulder) were both unavailable on Thursday. The Orioles’ health continues to plummet almost as rapidly as their record.

12. Baltimore has now allowed five or more runs in 12 consecutive games. I’d be curious to know what the major league record is, but it was sobering enough watching the 1-7 road trip as it was.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 6-1 loss to White Sox

Posted on 14 June 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles dropping their sixth straight game in a 6-1 final against the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. Matt Davidson’s grand slam in the sixth inning finished it off, but the Orioles stranded a runner in scoring position in each of their five turns at the plate leading up to that. Big opportunities were there with Manny Machado and Mark Trumbo each failing to capitalize twice.

2. Alec Asher walking Todd Frazier to load the bases with no outs in the sixth should have marked the end of his night. Understanding he has an undermanned bullpen, Buck Showalter still could have provided therapy for a battered rotation by attempting to preserve some semblance of a good outing.

3. Speaking of the Orioles bullpen, how exactly does it line up with Darren O’Day having joined Zach Britton on the disabled list last week? I suppose never coming close to having a lead late in the game alleviates that problem.

4. Derek Holland deserves some level of credit for allowing only one run over six innings, but the Orioles expanded the strike zone a lot in some important at-bats to help him out.

5. It was fitting that Davidson’s grand slam came after Welington Castillo just missed barreling one that would have been the go-ahead two-run home run in the top half of the inning. So close, but so far away.

6. Asher pitched well the first time through the order, but he struggled in his second and third  encounters with the middle of the Chicago lineup. His best role would be middle relief as he showed last month, but this is what happens when you have one trustworthy starter right now.

7. After what we’ve seen from the starting rotation over the last week, I was reluctant to make any comment about Asher’s solid performance through the first five innings. It felt like I would be jinxing a no-hitter in the ninth.

8. The Orioles fortunately have depth to endure Chris Davis’ right oblique strain that will land him on the DL, but I’m surprised to see David Washington apparently being the one to join the club. I’m not sure what that says for Pedro Alvarez at this point.

9. Adam Jones sure looked banged up in the late innings of Tuesday’s loss. He’s as tough as they come and takes pride in posting up, but it’s clear he’s still dealing with the hip and ankle issues that sidelined him last month.

10. Jimmy Yacabonis tossing two scoreless innings was encouraging to see, albeit in a 6-1 game. Showalter needs to find at least a couple more trustworthy relievers to back up Brad Brach and Mychal Givens in the current bullpen.

11. Baltimore has now allowed five runs or more in 10 straight games. Back-to-back ninth-inning comebacks against Pittsburgh last week accounted for the only victories over that stretch. At least the staff didn’t give up 10 runs again.

12. The Orioles have fallen below the .500 mark for the first time since the penultimate day of the 2015 season, but Toronto’s loss meant they would avoid falling into last place for at least one more night. So, they’ve got that going for them, which is nice.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-0 win over White Sox

Posted on 07 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles completing a three-game sweep in a 4-0 victory over the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. No one quite knew what to expect from Chris Tillman after he gave up four home runs in his last rehab start pitching for Triple-A Norfolk, but everyone invested in the Orioles would have gladly taken the five shutout innings he threw in his season debut.

2. Perhaps we shouldn’t have been surprised given his history of first-inning struggles, but seven straight balls and two walks to open the game made you wonder if Tillman would make it out of the first. Despite quite a few deep counts, he walked only one more after those first two.

3. Tillman’s fastball velocity wasn’t his best, but he comfortably sat at 90 mph and went no lower than 88, which is good enough for him to succeed. He also threw good secondary pitches, inducing all eight of his swinging strikes with those over the course of his outing.

4. The results were good to see, but how Tillman feels Monday and Tuesday is more important than anything occurring in his first start. He and the training staff have put a great deal of work into strengthening his right shoulder, so you hope that pays off.

5. The Baltimore lineup didn’t square up many against White Sox lefty starter Jose Quintana, but it was important to get Tillman an early lead after he escaped a bases-loaded jam in the first. An early 4-0 lead probably had Chicago thinking about getting out of town more than anything else.

6. Drawing the walk clearly isn’t a big part of the Orioles offense, but Adam Jones and Manny Machado came around to score after reaching on free passes in the first. You’d like to see a few more of those every now and then.

7. After homering off a right-hander the night before, Trey Mancini continues to make a strong bid to become an everyday player with a 3-for-4 performance that included a two-out RBI single in the first. His average now sits at .297 as he continues to maximize his chances.

8. Alec Asher was two outs away from the unorthodox three-inning-plus save before being lifted in favor of Brad Brach, but he did a superb job giving the bullpen a breather. His 2.55 ERA in 17 2/3 innings between starting and relief hasn’t gone unnoticed.

9. Francisco Pena said he’ll be OK for the start of the Washington series after his right thumb and much of his right arm cramped up in the eighth. If not, the Orioles will have an interesting decision on their hands with starting catcher Welington Castillo already on the disabled list.

10. The Orioles are 20-10 despite Tillman and Zach Britton missing significant time, Kevin Gausman struggling mightily, and Mark Trumbo slugging .314 with only two home runs so far. Just like Buck Showalter and Dan Duquette drew it up, right?

11. Jonathan Schoop missed his second straight game after being hit on the hand by a pitch in Friday’s win. The timing isn’t ideal with him swinging the bat so well and having reached base in 22 straight games, but Showalter hopes to have him back for the Nationals series.

12. Sunday marked the 2,000th game in the history of Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Needless to say, the last six seasons have been far more enjoyable than much of the park’s history. The Orioles are now 11-3 at home in 2017.

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Twelve Orioles thoughts following 4-2 win over White Sox

Posted on 06 May 2017 by Luke Jones

With the Orioles beginning a five-game homestand with a 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox, I’ve offered a dozen thoughts, each in 50 words or less:

1. The news of Zach Britton again experiencing left forearm discomfort took the fun out of an improbable win in which the Orioles lost their starting pitcher in the first inning. As I noted after Thursday’s win in Boston, Britton’s sinker didn’t look right in two appearances since being activated.

2. Wade Miley was hit by two vicious liners in a three-pitch period to force him out of the game with two outs in the first. Fortunately, he suffered only a contusion on his left wrist and doesn’t expect to miss his next start, but I’ve never seen anything like that.

3. Gabriel Ynoa couldn’t have been much better in his Orioles debut, turning in six scoreless innings of relief to collect the win. With Miley’s exit occurring two nights after Kevin Gausman was ejected in the second inning at Boston, Ynoa’s 101 pitches were a godsend for a strained staff.

4. Ynoa really impressed with his slider as he used the breaking pitch to record 10 of his 13 swinging strikes. His numbers at Triple-A Norfolk were less than impressive in April, but he showed the kind of stuff Friday that makes him an interesting option moving forward.

5. Few had faith in Baltimore’s starting pitching depth entering the season, but it should be noted that Alec Asher, Jayson Aquino, and Tyler Wilson have all turned in quality starts in addition to Ynoa’s quasi-start on Friday. Those contributions have been huge with other starters ailing or struggling.

6. Chris Davis hit his first home run — and collected his first multi-hit game — since April 14 in a 3-for-3 night that also included a walk. The Orioles hope that’s the kind of game that gets the big first baseman going after an extended slump.

7. It’s a bit more understandable after we learned that Britton wasn’t available, but I’m still surprised that Buck Showalter allowed the newly-recalled Stefan Crichton to start the eighth inning with only a 2-0 lead. His leadoff walk issued to Melky Cabrera led to the first White Sox run.

8. Joey Rickard’s RBI double in the eighth proved to be the winning run after Brad Brach ran into some difficulty in the ninth inning. Those insurances runs become even more critical now with the incomparable Britton sidelined once again.

9. Seeing J.J. Hardy mishandle two potential double-play balls in the ninth was disconcerting as he continues to look shaky in the field. His defense needs to remain strong to help offset the decline in his bat over the last few years.

10. Old friend Miguel Gonzalez turned in the type of performance we frequently saw over his four seasons with Baltimore. His outings were rarely fancy and he struggled in the second half of 2015, but jettisoning him last spring was an obvious mistake.

11. Chris Tillman felt good after his workday on Friday and will make his 2017 debut for the Orioles on Sunday. Of course, the results in his four minor-league rehab starts and his underwhelming velocity have everyone holding their breath over whether he can at least be close to himself.

12. They’ve still managed to go 4-4 going back to last Friday, but this is easily one of the strangest weeks of Orioles baseball that I’ve ever witnessed. What else can happen at this point? Well, maybe we shouldn’t answer that.

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Orioles closer Britton again experiencing left forearm discomfort

Posted on 06 May 2017 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Orioles closer Zach Britton is again experiencing left forearm discomfort just days after being activated from the disabled list.

Manager Buck Showalter broke the news after Britton did not pitch the ninth inning and setup man Brad Brach instead collected his sixth save in Baltimore’s 4-2 win over the Chicago White Sox on Friday. After pitching a scoreless inning in Thursday’s win at Boston, Britton woke up feeling discomfort and underwent an MRI on Friday evening.

The left-hander was originally placed on the DL with a left forearm strain on April 16.

“There’s some talk about what the next step to take with him [would be],” Showalter said. “He woke up this morning and felt some discomfort. He came in today. It got a little better as the day went on, but we’re trying to decide what our next step is.”

Britton was activated on Tuesday after missing more than two weeks of action. He completed two scoreless one-inning appearances in the Red Sox series, but his two-seam fastball lacked its typical sinking action, making it possible that his forearm was bothering him before Friday.

In the standout closer’s absence, Brach has gone 6-for-7 in save opportunities while veteran Darren O’Day has gone 1-for-2. Both blew saves in last weekend’s series with the New York Yankees, a reminder of how remarkable Britton’s 2016 campaign was in which he converted all 47 of his save opportunities and posted an amazing 0.54 ERA on his way to being named the American League reliever of the year.

The two-time All-Star closer underwent an initial MRI on April 21, but he and Showalter said that exam did not reveal any structural concerns with his left elbow. The Orioles hope the second test will not show any new damage, but the recurrence of the forearm discomfort is obviously concerning.

“How we proceed will probably be derived from those findings,” Showalter said. “We’ll just compare it to the one they just took [last month]. It’s the same – forearm strain – I think. That’s what I was told. I talked with Zach today and Dr. [Michael] Jacobs and Richie [Bancells] and Roger [McDowell] and just trying to gather all the information to decide which direction to go.”

Despite allowing 12 hits and four walks in nine innings this season, Britton has converted each of his five save chances.

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Sunday proved to be well worth wait for Orioles

Posted on 07 August 2016 by Luke Jones

The Orioles were the worst team in baseball when they selected Manny Machado with the third overall pick of the 2010 draft.

They were stuck in last place in the American League East a year later when they took Dylan Bundy fourth overall.

Both have experienced their trials — Bundy more so than Machado, of course — but it was gratifying to see the pair shine together in Sunday’s 10-2 win over the Chicago White Sox. It’s what Orioles fans only dreamed about five years ago, but the 23-year-old pitcher has finally joined the three-time All-Star third baseman in the major league spotlight.

Machado has provided plenty of highlights in his young career, but he became the first major leaguer to hit a home run in each of the first three innings of a game since Carl Reynolds in 1930. His seven RBIs were a career high and the highest single-game total from an Oriole since Nelson Cruz in 2014.

More importantly for the Orioles, it capped off a reawakening of the 24-year-old’s bat this weekend as he had hit .209 with a .621 on-base plus slugging percentage since the start of July before turning in a three-hit performance on Friday night. Much focus has fallen on the struggles of first baseman Chris Davis in recent weeks, but Machado is Baltimore’s best player and needs to play at a high level over the final eight weeks in the push for the division title.

Of course, Machado was most responsible for the breathing room afforded to Bundy on Sunday, but the young right-hander responded exactly as manager Buck Showalter wanted to see. Throwing a career-high 92 pitches, Bundy completed six strong innings and allowed just two runs while registering a career-high nine strikeouts in his fifth major league start.

His 14 swinging strikes were a career high as Bundy set the tone for the outing in the first inning with three swinging strikeouts — one each with his fastball, changeup, and curveball. He arguably had his best curve we’d seen all season — striking out three more with it — but the most encouraging part of his outing was seeing see him finish off Justin Morneau with a 95 mph fastball for a strikeout to end the sixth.

Everyone will continue crossing their fingers as hard as they can regarding his health, but Bundy only appears to be getting stronger in a starter role. His season strikeout rate is now 9.0 per nine innings after so much discussion centered around his inability to miss bats early in the year.

While Machado has been an established star for a couple years ago, Bundy has pitched a lot like one for over two months now, posting a 2.28 ERA over his last 47 1/3 innings dating back to May 27. It’s sure been fun watching him play catch-up after three injury-riddled seasons that threatened to derail his development.

Winning just their ninth road series of the season was more important to the Orioles than how the details played out on Sunday, but there was something special about seeing both Machado and Bundy shine together in the midst of a pennant race.

It was a reminder of how far the Orioles have come since the two were drafted a year apart.

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Orioles, Britton hoping he can avoid trip to disabled list

Posted on 01 May 2016 by Luke Jones

(Updated: 6:15 p.m.)

BALTIMORE — Despite using crutches to walk around the clubhouse on Sunday, Orioles closer Zach Britton told reporters he doesn’t expect to go on the 15-day disabled list with a sprained left ankle.

The 2015 All-Star selection was injured trying to field a bunt in the ninth inning of Saturday night’s 8-7 loss to the Chicago White Sox. Britton had to leave the game and was limping as he walked to the dugout with head athletic trainer Richie Bancells, but his prognosis hadn’t changed since initially being labeled as “day-to-day” a night earlier.

“Not much swelling. I think he’ll be a pitcher shortly — hopefully,” said manager Buck Showalter, who later revealed after Sunday’s game that Britton would undergo a precautionary magnetic resonance imaging exam on Monday. “It’s the left one. I actually kind of like that a little better than the right one. I’d rather have that one as opposed to the landing foot, but it was more like he kind of jammed the capsule in there a little bit as opposed to turning it. The lack of swelling kind of reiterated what Richie thought it was looking at the tape.”

It remains to be seen whom Showalter might use as his closer in Britton’s absence, and he was predictably tight-lipped about it when asked by reporters.

As the Orioles prepared to conclude a four-game set with Chicago, Showalter acknowledged there were a “couple” relief pitchers he wouldn’t use on Sunday, adding more intrigue to the possibility of a save situation. Having pitched in three of the last four games and throwing 35 pitches over the last two nights, primary setup man Darren O’Day was likely to be unavailable on Sunday. Givens also pitched in two of the first three games of the series and tossed a combined 50 pitches in those outings, leaving his status for the series finale in question.

The Orioles will be off on Monday, which will give Britton another day to recover and Showalter an opportunity to better set up his bullpen for a three-game series with the New York Yankees.

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Potential rotation option for Orioles finds work elsewhere

Posted on 09 February 2016 by Luke Jones

Still uncomfortably thin in their starting rotation, the Orioles watched another veteran free-agent option find a home elsewhere on Tuesday.

The Chicago White Sox agreed to a one-year, $3 million contract with right-handed pitcher Mat Latos as the 28-year-old will try to rebuild his value after a disastrous 2015 campaign. The Orioles had reportedly shown some interest in the longtime National League pitcher this offseason, but free agent Yovani Gallardo has been linked to the club more frequently.

Though considered by many to be a handful from an attitude standpoint, Latos owns a career 3.51 ERA in seven major league seasons and is only a year removed from a 3.25 mark in 2014. A lingering knee problem contributed to the worst season of his career in 2015 as Latos posted a 4.95 ERA split among Miami, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Los Angeles Angels.

His low base salary with the White Sox could lead one to believe Latos isn’t fully healthy and may not have even passed the Orioles’ rigorous physical exam. Of course, a one-year pillow contract pitching at Oriole Park at Camden Yards may not have been too appealing for a pitcher competing in a new league in 2016, either.

If those weren’t major factors, you have to wonder why the Orioles wouldn’t have shown more interest in a still-young starting pitcher who owns a strong track record and comes at a very low cost. Of course, this signing makes a marriage between the Orioles and Gallardo even more logical with the start of spring training less than two weeks away.

The current contenders for the No. 5 spot in the Baltimore starting rotation include Vance Worley, Odrisamer Despaigne, Mike Wright, and Tyler Wilson.

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MLB #GiveASpit Ballpark Ranking: No. 12 Chicago White Sox

Posted on 29 August 2015 by Nestor Aparicio

Chicago White Sox – They’ve tried a few times to make this place more comfortable since it was outdated from the moment it opened. It always gets compared to Wrigley Field because it’s 11.4 miles away. When I was syndicated at the turn of the century and had many occasions to attend them both, and I always preferred Comiskey (or U.S. Cellular Field or whatever they’re calling it these days) and this tour did nothing to change that. The food is better. They have elotes. The fans are more legitimate and not a bunch of drunk frat idiots. It’s better equipped to handle people at every turn. There are many more quality seats close to the field. When I’m in Chicago, this is where I prefer to go to watch baseball.

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A memorable day we hope never happens again

Posted on 29 April 2015 by Luke Jones

BALTIMORE — Accompanied by the punchlines and photos on social media was a sadness as a recording of the national anthem played at Oriole Park at Camden Yards on Wednesday afternoon.

As if the sight of an empty ballpark moments before the start of an Orioles game wasn’t strange enough, it had just hit me that we wouldn’t hear the customary “O!” that we’ve come to expect at any major sporting event in Baltimore over the years. Out-of-towners don’t get it and even some within the community don’t care for the practice, but there are few things more “Baltimore” than our own Star-Spangled Banner trademark you’ll even hear when fans follow the Orioles or Ravens on the road.

It was just the latest reminder of how far from ideal the concept of playing a baseball game without fans truly was, but that’s when I heard the faint but audible “O!” from a few dozen fans standing beyond the left-center gate. The sound warmed the heart in a week filled with much tension and sadness in the city of Baltimore, and it suddenly made more sense for the Orioles to be playing a game at home before embarking on what will now be a nine-game road trip.

“Oh, they were heard,” said a smiling Buck Showalter when asked about those fans cheering from afar during an 8-2 win over the Chicago White Sox.

Of course, the Orioles returning to the field is of little consequence compared to the real problems our city is facing and will continue to deal with in the coming hours, days, and weeks. The decision not to allocate the law-enforcement officials required for a regular game was a wise one, but the quiet atmosphere was a reminder of just how important fans are to the product.

As one of the select few able to watch the game in person, I enjoyed the previously-unheard sounds of Jimmy Paredes sliding into third base or first base coach Wayne Kirby calling for Delmon Young to run out a popup, but the atmosphere reminded of a junior varsity baseball game without the pings of aluminum bats. It may have been a day that made major league history, but we can only hope it never happens again as we look ahead to the return of both the Orioles and fans to Camden Yards on May 11.

“It’s something that we hopefully don’t take for granted,” said catcher Caleb Joseph, who jokingly pretended to high-five fans and sign autographs before the game. “Days like today definitely remind you if it weren’t for them, we wouldn’t have jobs. Hopefully, everything can be resolved as quickly as possible.”

A game being played without any fans wasn’t what anyone truly wanted, but if it represented baby steps toward some normalcy, we’ll take it. After watching so many parts of the city burn on Monday night, just seeing baseball being played at Camden Yards again was movement in the right direction.

For those watching on television or listening on the radio on a weekday afternoon, the surreal game at least provided a temporary distraction.

“They’re always watching. You all know that,” said center fielder Adam Jones, acknowledging more fans viewing on television than those attending any game under regular circumstances. “Cameras are always on. It was good to come out and get six [runs] in the first [and] get a stronghold off a good pitcher.”

The day was helped by the Orioles rolling over starter Jeff Samardzija and the White Sox to win their third consecutive game. While players were quick to note the insignificance of winning a baseball game in the city’s current climate, you still sensed their purpose of wanting to do something positive for fans despite their inability to attend the game.

Of course, the run of baseball-related distractions and sacrifice isn’t over for the Orioles as they’ll now play a “home” series — with home uniforms and all — against the Tampa Bay Rays at Tropicana Field in St. Petersburg this weekend. But leaving town on a winning note helps.

“You tried to stay focused on the competition and us trying to get where we want to be at the end of the season,” Showalter said. “But I also talked to [players] about the people who are going to be sitting around our city watching this game. How many things have really gone on normal here in the last few days in our society?”

Yes, the perception of playing in an empty stadium was less than appealing, but it beat the alternative of canceling a third consecutive game at an abandoned Camden Yards. If it served as even a few minutes of leisure from the tension that currently exists in our city, the unorthodox measure was worth it.

There are much bigger issues at work in Baltimore — ones that won’t be solved overnight — but to hear cheers from those fans standing beyond the gates was a reminder of just how important something so unimportant can be. It isn’t a coincidence that we’ve occasionally heard the “Seven Nation Army” chants from protesters over the last couple days, either.

Sports have brought and will continue to bring us together, which is why I look forward to once again seeing a packed Camden Yards — hopefully as early as May 11.

“The last 72 hours I think in this city have been tumultuous, to say the least,” Jones said. “We’ve seen good, we’ve seen bad, we’ve seen ugly. We’ve seen our games canceled, postponed, relocated, a lot of families relocated.

“It’s a city that’s hurting, and a city that needs its heads to stand up, step up, and help the ones that are hurting. It’s not an easy time right now for anybody. It doesn’t matter what race you are. It’s a tough time for the city of Baltimore.”

One day at a time.

As unusual and less than perfect Wednesday’s game was, it was comforting to have a diversion.

It was good to hear that familiar “O!” in the distance.

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