The Dan Duquette roster wheel has spun, perhaps for the last time before the regular season ends. Will the addition of Endy Chavez and L.J. Hoes be the trick that boosts the team for the very last of the stretch run? They may not even play tonight. Kevin Gregg certainly will not, which probably gladdens all of our hearts.
A playoff race is stressful. I had forgotten this. Most of the Orioles did not know it. There is no letting up, ever. Tonight is as important as anything: the beginning of three games against the Tampa Bay Rays. The Orioles are one game behind the Yankees, one game above the Rays, one-and-a-half over the Angels. Win and they could be tied for the East again, if New York falters somehow against Boston. Lose and instead it's a wild card tie. Perhaps we can call this a must-win.
Jason Hammel is probably the pitcher you will feel best about that the O's are sending to pitch in this game - provided, of course, that his knee is fully healed, and also the elbow that was struck by a line drive in his last start. Only, we have no way of knowing these things, so all we can do is hope that the pitcher who got off to such a great start, finding new success in the AL East - as improbable as that is to say - with the two-seam fastball is back and healthy and ready to rock.
O's hitters will not be facing any slouch themselves. Matt Moore is off to a good first full season in MLB. We would not mind having someone who was throwing to a 3.66 ERA in 162.1 innings this year. The league is batting .241/.324/.383 against him. Strangely, lefties have a better average and OBP than righties, even though Moore is left-handed himself. It's just a small sample size anyway. Moore gets a lot of strikeouts, and gives up a number of walks - 3.88 per 9 innings.
There are things there to take advantage of, but whether the O's hitters can do it... I don't know, man. Your corner outfielders continue to be Nate McLouth and Lew Ford. It is truly putting Orioles magic to the test. Then again, Mark Reynolds is on fire, and maybe he will continue to be so against a team that isn't the Yankees.
Prepare yourselves for a 9/11 rendition of God Bless America in the 7th inning stretch. The Orioles will also have American flag patches on their usual cartoon bird caps - baseball, perhaps, has finally blessedly abandoned the stars-and-stripes cap scheme. If you have a few minutes before the game starts, I recommend this article, originally published in Esquire in 2002, the account of a man who worked on the 81st floor of 1 World Trade Center and survived.
In the midst of pennant fever for the first time in 15 years, it's easy to forget how little baseball really matters in the grand scheme of things. That is precisely why it matters so much. When everything else seems to be life-or-death, we all need that outlet. But as we enjoy it, let us spare thoughts, too, for all those men and women serving overseas, still out there fighting the fight. May they all come home safe.
|BALTIMORE ORIOLES||TAMPA BAY RAYS|
|Nate McLouth - LF||B.J. Upton - CF|
|J.J. Hardy - SS||Jeff Keppinger - 3B|
|Adam Jones - CF||Ben Zobrist - SS|
|Matt Wieters - C||Evan Longoria - DH|
|Mark Reynolds - 1B||Matt Joyce - RF|
|Chris Davis - DH||Ben Francisco - LF|
|Lew Ford - RF||Luke Scott - 1B|
|Manny Machado - 3B||Ryan Roberts - 2B|
|Robert Andino - 2B||Jose Molina - C|