strains, heartbreak and redemptiOn

If 2010 was Year of Luke, it would be hard not to dub 2011 Year of Vlad. Take your pick, neither vintage had smooth, oaky flavor with hints of chocolate, raspberry, a winning record or playoffs.

Alternatively one could argue 2011 was year of Andy MacPhail’s long goodbye.

Or, if you wanted to be an on-field clinician, you could paint 2011 as year of horrible, painful, paralyzing losses to New York Yankees capped by stirring September win that ushered Red Sox nation into oblivion.

You also could characterize 2011 as Year where Team crossed paths with firearms on at least two tragic occasions and, in Luke Scott’s case, in an ongoing occasion of tragic stupidity.

However you’d care to describe it, here’s how it played out:

New Year’s Eve - Derrek Lee signs one-year, $7.25 million deal to play first base. There is excitement in Birdland even though many suspect he can’t hit any more. Signing comes on heels of trades for J.J. Hardy and Mark Reynolds and things are looking up. Matt Hobgood has a bad shoulder or something, leading to widespread rumblings of draft day ineptitude.

New Year’s Day - Alfredo Simon gets locked up abroad for allegedly shooting his cousin to death. News reports take shots at figuring out truth of situation – suggesting among other things that Simon may have changed out his pistol barrel to pass a ballistics test – but it’s very hard to tell what’s going on.

Jan. 17 - Team does one-year, $3.25 million deal with Adam Jones, essentially punting on whether center fielder is long-term option. News comes as something of surprise since Andy MacPhail had targeted Jones for a more permanent fate by this time. Some tea leaf-readers conclude this means Jones has already intimated to organization he’s going to move on when he can. And, certainly, Jones has never even come close to saying anything like “I want to be an Oriole for life.” Adam’s play and power numbers improve in 2011, meaning long-term deal for eventual suitor is getting pricier.

Jan. 27 - Vlad rumors reach fever pitch. Felix Pie’s fate is tortioning in wind, so to speak, since he’s widely seen as odd-man-out on roster.

Feb. 1 - Simon denied bail in Dominican shooting case. Baltimore Sun says court development “virtually guarantees that the 29-year-old right-hander will not be in Sarasota, Fla., when Orioles’ pitchers and catchers are expected to report Feb. 14.” Don’t take your guns to town, son.

Feb. 4 - Vlad Guerrero signs $8 million, one-year deal with Team. Many are excited. Some are wary. As year progresses the wary become bold and then become angry – and apparently still are very angry with much lingering anger – over this signing. Vlad is coming off a .300 BA, 29 HR season in Texas. He’s seen by Team as short-term solution for black hole in DH spot and, possibly, a leader by example in clubhouse. “He is not a part of the Orioles’ long-term plans,” Sun notes.

Feb. 10 - Legendary Team clubhouse guy and umpire guy Ernie Tyler dies at age of 86. “The Tyler family is synonymous with Orioles baseball,” says Cal Ripken Jr. Which, if you think about it just a little too hard, isn’t a very nice thing to say at this point.

Feb. 14 - Some get roses. Others get chocolates. Fans of Team get pitchers and catchers. Also on this day baseball world is hit with big news from St. Louis when Albert Pujols slams door on future with Cardinals, rejecting their 10-year contract offer. Tony La Russa calls development a “spectacular distraction” and then, um, wins World Series alongside Pu, who then departs for Oranger climes.

Feb. 16 - Fans of Team get excited when Sun’s Jeff Zrebiec tweets Mark Reynolds “was peppering the parking lot with balls during batting practice.”

Feb. 17 - Crazy ol Mike Gonzalez, he of 2010 Opening Day meltdown and DL stints, says he’s going to let his pitches do talking. In retrospect, that’s pretty much what he did. He wasn’t great, but he had some bright moments in 2011 and he stayed out of hot seat for most part before being shipped outta town. Blog of Team surmises anger over Vlad deal wouldn’t be so acute were it not coupled with other contracts such as those given to Gonzalez and Kevin Gregg.

Feb. 18 - Pickin’ machines

Feb. 19 – Vlad tells Buck he’s gonna hit fourth. Buck agrees. Derrek Lee has a bad thumb or something.

Feb. 23 - Brian Roberts leaves camp amid reports of stiff neck. Fan base groans. Tweets @ B-Rob ensue as fans offer any and all remedies they can muster.

Feb. 25 - Civil lawsuit in Dominican Republic against Alfredo Simon dropped. Simon remains in jail on criminal charges.

Feb. 27 - Reports surface that J.J. Hardy is best ping pong player on Team. In months to come reports will surface he is best baseball player on Team too.

March 1 - Peter Angelos says Andy MacPhail will get contract extension. Andy says Humdee humdeee hum, which means nobody really said nothing. Because, in reality, Andy’s done with this horsesh*t. Team pounds out five-home run barrage in Sarasota opener, beating Rays by 12-6. It’s nice to hear Joe and Fred’s voices.


Love me some Ed Smith

March 6 - Sun reports Natty Boh will be available on tap at Camden. Excitement for 2011 hits new high. “Emergency shipments” of hundreds of kegs already on move.

March 8 – Bee effing Rob with his dumb headfirst slides into first base – during Grapefruit games no less! Ugh.

March 15 - Alleged left fielder Luke Scott isn’t getting any time in, um, left field. Also around this time close-listening fans start noticing bizarre kazoo, flute and other elevator music solos during WBAL spring training broadcasts. Also they notice weird computer voice talking about conference calls. It is source of great mirth and assumption is it’s practical joke being played by Joe Angel and Casey Willet.

March 22 - Zach Britton touches 96 mph (154 kph) on Ed Smith radar gun. Let’s talk about Zach for a quick second: Zach Britton rules.

March 24 - Great Baltimore draft hope Manny Machado gets into Grapefruit League game. Sometime around this time Blog of Team predicts Team won’t finish last and Yankees won’t finish in first. Wrong on both counts.

March 31 - Amber moves from field to booth. She’s a big deal now. She gets to chill with Rick Dempsey. Also, Amber will rock a blog post. Don’t even worry about it. What’s going on with those nutty Orioles? Amber gonna tell you.

April 1 – Jeremy Guthrie pitches eight innings and Team beats Tampa Bay and its ace David Price at unusual opener away from Camden.

April 2 - Brian Matusz heads for the 15-day DL after struggling with strained  intercostal muscle. Nicky makes second-best Team catch of season.

April 4 - Blog of Team’s Blingie output plummeted in 2011 but them that were produced showed a transcendent mastery. And that can’t really be debated.


Meetin’ up

This one was inspired by Buck’s handshake with Earl Weaver at home opener, in which Jake Arrieta pitched six strong in a 5-1 over visiting Detroit. There were a couple other good ones to boot.

April 6 - Since you followed Jeremy Guthrie on Twitter, you might also want to follow Ryan Seacrest.


Trending

As 2011 winds along, Jeremy becomes one of MLB’s best tweeters. Pretty good pitcher too.

April 9 - What’s this? Team is 6 and 1 against three eventual playoff teams? Is this the dawn of Adam, Matt, Nick and Brian that fans of Team have so long dreamed of? Is Zach Britton, who runs record to 2-0 this day with 7+ inning shutout game that also features Markakis and Reynolds home runs, the spark that ignites fire under long-suffering Team?

April 14 – In one of many painful losses to Yankees, Wayward O attends $5 seat night game in Bronx and watches Team unravel, 6-5 in 10th inning. If memory serves, this is game where Russel Martin “tagged” pinch runner Felix Pie, hard, in face as Team failed to plate potential winning run in top of tenth inning. Jorge Posada smacks game tying home run off Gregg in ninth. That one hurt.

April 18 - Team had taken a 6-1 record up to Bronx, but it lost two there to Yankees and by this date Team has dropped eight straight. It was almost as if Yankees poisoned Team with smallpox-infused blankets or something.

April 24 - Soul-crushing losses to Yankees are piling up. They would continue to pile up. When they’re not losing to Yankees, games are being postponed or delayed due to rain (there were at least three such postponements in 2011.)

May 4 – Luke Scott shoots off his mouth, questioning President Obama’s citizenship again and telling Kansas City Star that Obama “does not represent America.” But it was just sort of a waning aftershudder of Luke’s 2010 performances, which were well-chronicled, and appears to mark beginning of end for Luke — at least in Baltimore. Team goes on four-game losing streak immediately after Luke’s comments, getting blown out in each game.

May 11 - J.J. Hardy returns from disabled list after what seemed like interminable wait. On May 15, J.J.’s big year would start to take shape with shortstop hitting grand slam in win over Rays.

May 16 - Horseshit umpiring costs Team game in Boston. B-Rob’s latest headfirst slide triggers concussion symptons and by May 24 Team’s second baseman is back to indefinite state of disabled-ness. Going into this game Matt Wieters has thrown out 12 of 22 base runners on season and MLB is taking notice.

May 21 – Alfredo Simon is back with Team in game against Nats after nearly five months. But he’s not out of woods yet, as he still faces criminal charges and a trial.

May 22 – Vlad’s clutch two-run homer off of fancy young left-hander Jordan Zimmermann sinks Nats. Kevin Gregg earns eighth save after Chris Tillman and Jim Johnson keep Team in ballgame. Matty Wieters throws out pinch runner Brian Bixler on a strike ‘em, throw ‘em to end game. Power, pitching and defense. This game was kind of a microcosm of what Team was hoping to see on regular basis during 2011. Team stands at 21-24 and hope still remains.

May 26 - Team runs record back to .500 as Vlad’s run-scoring single caps home sweep of Kansas City in extras. It would be last day Team would see .500 in 2011.

June 1 - In grip of nasty, five-game West Coast losin’ streak, Nicky gets start at first base and Team wins on Jonesie home run. Jonesie also makes ridiculous catch that draws immediate comparisons to Willie Mays.


Image via KIRO

June 7 - Team picks RHP Dylan Bundy fourth overall in draft.

June 10 - Jake Fox, he of 10 Grapefruit League home runs, clears waivers and is sent to Norfolk.

June 11 - Mark Reynolds goes deep twice in loss to Rays. Sometime around this time Jim Palmer starts referring to Reynold’s home runs as “helium balls.”

June 14 - Mark Connor quits job as Team’s pitching coach, gets in car and splits, never to be heard from again. Only later did fans learn from Brian Matusz of lingering tensions with Connor over style, substance, etc.

June 19 - Joining Chris Jakubauskas in starting lineup against Nats are Craig Tatum, Derrek Lee and Felix Pie, none of whom are still part of Team. To put it another way, as of mid-season, Team on field is 40 percent meat. Makes for some hard sloggin’ for fans who tune in regular.

June 25 - Hardy, Jones, Markakis and Wieters all homer in losing effort. Blog of Team and Nicky both perplexed and slightly miffed by Camden Yards wave.

July 15 - Team loses ninth in row with 6-5 loss against visiting Cleveland. Team would lose 20 games in July.

July 30 – Team loses 3-17 on road to Yankees, who score 12 runs in first inning, as Pinstriped nemesis goes on to sweep doubleheader. Blogosphere makes obligatory football score comparison jokes.

Also Team trades a fan favorite, the home run-prone Koji Uehara, to Rangers for Chris Davis and Tommy Hunter. Both imports appear to inject a little bit of energy into Team in apparently hopeless straits. And both arguably could figure prominently into Team’s future. Trade appears to be a decent one, given circumstances.

July 31 - Team flips Derrek Lee to Pittsburgh for a minor league first baseman. Lee says Camden Yards is a nice ballpark, proceeds to help send Pirates into tailspin. Actually maybe said tailspin wasn’t Lee’s fault. Nothing’s Lee’s fault, really, because Lee is a non-factor.

Aug. 4 - Team legend Doug DeCinces settles insider trading allegations brought by Securities and Exchange Commission, agreeing to pay $2.5 million after taking $1.7 million in allegedly illegal profits from trades in Abbott Labs.

Aug. 7 - Jones reaches his offensive output totals from 2010 about seven weeks early.

Aug. 9 - Team gets screwed on call as Nicky gets punched trying to steal third base in close loss to White Sox. Every August there’s one game where year’s worth of frustrations boils over [see: Aug. 20, 2010] and this one is it. Buck gets heave-ho and tensions with Ozzie go up a notch. It’s too bad Ozzie left AL because Buck-Ozzie dynamic was starting to get interesting.

Aug. 11 - Nicky hits career home run No. 100. Everybody complains about Nick’s power numbers, wishes Nicky were more like Ryan Braun. You know, bigger. His physique is so — NORMAL looking. Weird.

Aug. 16 - Brian Matusz returns to majors (again) and gets absolutely pasted (again).

Aug. 20 - One five-game losing streak on West Coast per year is not enough for Team. Kevin Gregg melts down against Angels, hitting batters and otherwise failing, and lets in three runs in bottom of 12th after Team scored 2 in top of frame. This was fourth loss in five-game streak.

Aug. 23 - Felix Pie experiment ends in Baltzmore. Soon Andy MacPhail experiment, which brought Felix Pie experiment to city, would end as well.

Aug. 24 - Mike Flanagan takes his own life. It’s a shame it ended that way, sir. In a memorable on-air eulogy, Jim Palmer says Flanagan “was one of a kind.”


Image via MASN

“He was funny, he was smart, he was tough,” Palmer said. If there’s a single lasting image from 2011, it’s this one. Team and organization close ranks around Flanny and reports of, alternatively, depression and money woes contain sparse details. Suicide note, however, mentioned financial issues, according to police.

Also waxing surprisingly eloquent in tragedy’s aftermath was Nick, who said “we feel for the Flanagan family and the organization and everybody that knew him. But some things happen in life that you don’t know why.” These and other comments continue to prove, incidentally, that Nick is defacto captain of Team, his long periods of quiet notwithstanding.

Aug. 27 - In immediate wake of Flanny tragedy, Yankee manager Joe Girardi make a major fuss about not getting to play a makeup double header on Aug. 26. Not only was Flanagan suicide news still very raw but Team had just returned from a West Coast marathon. Bad style, Girardi.

Aug. 28 – In first game of doubleheader Girardi had wanted to play two days before, Team beats Yankees 2-0 behind seven scoreless Zach Britton innings. It’s Team’s sixth consecutive win and puts fears of 100-loss year into remission. Gregg lucks out by getting A-Rod to smash into around-the-horn double play that very easily could have gone as game-tying double. But it looks like tailor-made double play ball in box score.

Aug. 30 - USA Today’s Bob Nightengale reports that “MacPhail, according to two high-ranking Orioles officials, plans to leave the organization after his contract expires Oct. 31.” For some reason, however, local news coverage of Team can’t seem to grasp this and speculation goes on apace.

Aug. 31 - Team trades Michael Gonzalez, his remaining contract and his baggage to Texas for essentially nothing.

Sept. 6 - Stephen Strasburg takes mound in DC. Big night for Team’s sort of cross-town, interleague rival.

Sept. 8 - Vlad goes yard and Team beats Yankees 5-4 in extras. Yankees win season series 13-5. But those five wins were sweet. Let’s get more than five against them next year, guys. Nicky knocks daylights outta Yankee catcher Francisco Cervelli.

Sept. 19 - After a year of meltdowns, Joe Angel says “it’s official, Kevin Gregg has lost his job” to Jim Johnson.

Sept. 21 - Mark Reynolds hits home run Nos. 35 and 36 including this monster


Image via MASN

in win over Red Sox at Fenway. “Another crushing loss to a Red Sox team fighting for its season,” Sun paper says.

Sept. 22 - Derek Jeter tells New York Daily News that Tony Tarasco “should have jumped.” Douchiest comment of young decade probably.

Sept. 25 - Balt. Sun goes paywall. Bloggers piss and moan. Also, Brian Matusz: the Final Insult: Lefty gives up six runs in five innings to cap a 1-9 season with a 10+ ERA. Buck hedges on Brian’s future with Team but makes it clear Brian will have clear shot to make rotation in Spring 2012.

Sept. 28 - What a night! Team comes back from 3-2 down to hand Boston Red Sox and seriously-hard-to-like closer Jonathan Papelbon their final humiliation of 2011 by knocking them out of playoff picture. Take a seat, Red Sox!


Image via MASN

Win is final straw that triggers crazy re-org up in Boston, amid reports of beer, video game and fried chicken abuse. Benefits of said shakeup are not immediately obvious. As of this writing Bobby Valentine is Boston’s manager. But, Blog surmises, there is non-zero chance he could actually be fired before spring, given tensions in Beantown.

Vlad finishes game 0-4 and grounds into double play, icing cake for his many haters by turning in a .290 BA, 13 HR year that featured probably a dozen glaring miscues on basepaths.


Image via MASN

Vlad’s year featured some hints of Great Player that Was, but overall production coupled with apparent inability to capably run bases, was disappointing. However, at time of signing, this could not have  been known — and in retrospect it’s hard to tell whether Vlad took any of 2011 very seriously.

Also, going back to Sept. 13, Team finishes year on 11-5 tear. One thing we know for sure: Team can win when pressure is off.

Final win of season goes to Jim Johnson, who has quietly become, perhaps, Team’s most valuable pitching asset behind Zach Britton.

October - For 14th straight season, October dawns uneventful in Baltimore, at least insofar as professional baseball is concerned. Bank of America runs a high-profile ad campaign during playoffs that features voice of Joe Angel.

In mid-October Team fires third base coach Willie Randolph, who Buck didn’t want around in first place, really. Willie leaves with characteristic class.

Andy MacPhail leaves.

Nov. 1 - Nick wins Gold Glove after errorless season and Matt wins at catcher after throwing out 34 would be base-stealers. Nice haul for a team that often gets overlooked. (Buck’s influence on sports media guys, perhaps?)

Nov. 4 - Dippin’ Dots files for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Too many dips, not enough dots.

Nov. 6 – After a bizarre and long search, Team hires Dan Duquette, who had been residing in baseball’s “where are they now” file, to become new top executive. Double-D vows to build a “contender” in Crabtown.

Nov. 8 - With no witness able to testify against him and inconclusive ballistics tests yielding no smoking gun, Alfredo Simon is acquitted of manslaughter in Santo Domingo, ending a nearly yearlong legal nightmare for pistol-packing right-hander.

Nov. 19 - Team picks up Matt Antonelli. Not a good sign if you’re reading Brian Roberts tea leaves. Matt, who is a competent blogger, plays second base and third base. MLB announces major changes to playoffs (they’re expanding) and to NL Central (its contracting) that will come into effect after 2012.

Dec. 1 - Team makes big fuss out of expansion … of picnic area. Also, cartoon bird is returning to hats.

Dec. 4 - Duquette hires former Phillies general manager Lee Thomas and veteran scout Fred Ferreira, tasking them with bettering Team’s international scouting efforts. Ten days later came reports that Team would re-focus domestic scouting efforts on finding amateur talent and plans to rely on technology to assess talent already in MLB.

Roch writes “New scouting director Gary Rajsich is going to want to build his own staff, so you can expect more changes to come after next season.”

Dec. 12 - Luke Scott era in Baltimore appears close to coming to close when Team refuses to offer him a contract. Team leaves door open to cheaper, renegotiated free agent deal. As of this writing no word from Luke Scott who appears to be in Venezuela spreading holy word or something.

Dec. 13 - Team signs Japanese lefty Tsuyoshi Wada. “I very look forward to pitch,” says Wada, struggling with his English a little but not with his obvious charisma. Wada will be fun to watch, Blog is quite sure of it.

Dec. 20 - Signing of now-journeyman outfielder Endy Chavez triggers intense speculation about Team’s desire to trade away Adam Jones and build depth in young talent department.

Dec. 30 - Things are quiet as light snow dusts counties that make up Birdland. One or two ill-sourced Prince Fielder rumors are all that’s doing as 2011 winds to its close. But you get sense that, behind scenes, major shakeup goes on inside sad confines of Warehouse as losing seasons pile up.


Con pasión, Senor Mora

Also, Oriole great Melvin Mora retires after playing out his twilight out West. His exploits in Baltimore will not be forgotten any time soon.

Did Blog of Team miss any key moments? Fire away in comments …

4 Responses to “strains, heartbreak and redemptiOn”

  1. Sponsort Says:

    Let’s all hope DD can rediscover the magic that inspired him to trade for Pedro Martinez (from the Dodgers) in exchange for – ahem – DeLino Deshields.

  2. brO Says:

    May 17th- Blog of Team frequent poster “brO” calls “The Mark Viviano Show” on local radio station while sitting in church parking lot waiting for snooty athletic director on application to use field for practice of floundering little league team. After brO refers to Mike Gonzalez as “Major Mike” and drops a few F-bombs Mark Viviano sharply cuts off call (???) then chides caller for blaming the umpires for Team’s woes. “The Mark Viviano Show” is subsequently cancelled, and brO entertains possibility that maybe blog is not the only source of news regarding team.

  3. Bad Horse Says:

    AwesOme. Thanks fOr the read!

  4. ejsweetbutter Says:

    very, very thorough. i would only add that the core of this team reminds me of 12-year olds on a club soccer team, who get all riled up at the beginning and end of the season, but in the middle spend most of their time picking grass and poking at the ball.