Oriole starter Wade Miley took the loss Sunday against the Yankees. Since joining the O’s a few weeks ago, his name has been nibbling at the edges of my consciousness.
I’d seen him pitch in person once before.
On April 26th, 2015, Miley started for the Boston Red Sox. It was the day after a riot swept through downtown Baltimore and included the destruction of a police car and widespread acts of vandalism. Peaceful demonstrations in response to the death of Freddie Gray suddenly spiraled out of control. Just before the game, protesters clashed with Red Sox and Oriole fans alike a short distance from the gates of the ballpark.
I attended that Sunday afternoon game believing the Orioles had lost the night before. The coverage on WJZ had been preempted by the riot and the Birds were behind by a run entering the tenth. Amidst the swirl of helicopters and sirens, the Orioles tied the score. David Lough then drilled a liner into the right field seats to win the game. Still, a newscaster reported that dejected O’s fans were filing toward the parking garages. Baseball was the last thing on anyone’s mind as the camera from above tracked a mob smashing storefronts.
A day after the melee, Oriole bats thrashed Miley and the Red Sox 18-7.
Now an Oriole, Miley lost 5-2 to the Yankees. He was picked up at the trade deadline to bolster the starting rotation and pitched better than previous outings but not well enough for the win. Now their only left-handed starter, Miley is a low-risk acquisition brought in to eat innings before the bullpen takes over.
The Yankees capitalized on Miley’s walks in the first to jump out to a 3-0 lead. He nibbled and painted the corners and his curve fooled some hitters but it wasn’t enough. He lasted longer than the game I saw more than a year ago.
The Yankees never looked back and the Orioles squandered a host of chances to score. New York veteran Chase Headley, reduced to a limited role in the youth movement drove in two runs along with teammate Austin Romine. They waited for Miley to throw strikes. Yankee pitcher Joel Pineda craftily escaped several jams with a nasty slider that dipped under Oriole bats. Still eyeing a trip to the postseason, Manager Joe Girardi said it was the most important game of the year for his team. Girardi is masterfully giving experience to his young players and milking the veterans to keep their postseason aspirations alive.
Miley is 1-4 since joining the team. There are a number of issues related to his acquisition that are vexing to the average Orioles fan. We’ve known since before last season that the pitching staff needed an upgrade. Pitching talent has left Baltimore in recent years. Eduardo Rodriguez was traded for relief specialist Andrew Miller in 2014. He came within a few outs of pitching a no-hitter on Sunday for the Red Sox. Cy Young winner Jake Arrieta now pitches for the Cubs – and that one doesn’t sting quite as much because Jake was floundering in Baltimore and needed a change of scenery away from the threshing machine of the AL East. Wei-Yin Chen and Miguel Gonzalez left before the season and you wonder whether the team would now be better off with them.
General Manager Dan Duquette has done brilliant things but Miley hasn’t been one of them thus far. Throw in free-agent acquisition Ubaldo Jimenez whose delivery often resembles a jockey rearing a horse onto its hind legs and tachycardia-inducing Yovani Gallardo and there are nights when it’s better not to listen at all. These pitchers continuously peck at the strike zone and everyone in the park fidgets and bites their nails.
Just as I wrote that sentence, Jimenez finished two-hitting the Tampa Bay Rays this afternoon. The Yankees toppled the Blue Jays and the Orioles crept closer to the division lead. The baseball gods are listening.
Baltimore writer and former Sun reporter Rafael Alvarez predicted months ago that the division would go down to the final weekend. He claims Buck Showalter’s incessant tinkering and fine-tuning is worth twenty wins a year. Alvarez mostly penned Season Two of The Wire (Frank Sobotka and the Baltimore docks) and has written tantalizingly beautiful stories about his beloved Crabtown including the book, Orlo and Leini. His latest collection is Tales from the Holyland.
After that Sunday game in 2015, my eight year-old son Quinn and I drove over to Little Italy for dinner. We parked and he wouldn’t get out of the car. He was afraid of the riots. I told him they were over. He stayed there for five minutes.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of.”
My hometown had terrified him.
I didn’t know that the next day would be one of the darkest in the city’s history. It was manager Buck Showalter who later put things into perspective. He told the media that he’d never faced the challenges of being a black person in America. He understood the emotion but he couldn't comment because he didn't know what living their lives was like. He went on to say that he wanted the Orioles to be a rallying cry for the city in everything the team did—not just baseball. You understood clearly in that moment that Showalter was far more than a baseball coach.
Over Labor Day weekend across the city, nineteen people were shot. The 2016 Orioles are doing everything in their power to make a positive statement.
Rafael Alvarez writes:
Sports radio shows this season have frequently accepted calls blaming a winning team's current poor attendance on the rioting of April 2015 which led to the unprecedented sight of a ballgame being played in a stadium empty of fans. A pennant this year--not just a wild card win or a league championship playoff--would make all that moot as quickly as it takes a Mark “Trumbo Jumbo” to leave the Yard. A 2016 pennant for the Baltimore Orioles would be a gift from the baseball gods to one of the greatest sports cities in America.
A city I will always love.
Tonight, the Yankees held off a furious comeback by the division-leading Blue Jays and the Orioles beat the Rays, 11-2. Manny Machado belted a towering grand slam to deep centerfield in the droll jai alai stadium in Tampa Bay.
Down 7-5 in the ninth, the Blue Jays loaded the bases in the Bronx with one out and the Yankees behemoth of a closer, Dellin Betances couldn't finish the job. He induced a grounder from Justin Upton and couldn't cover first base in time. The Jays were within one. Girard replaced Betances--despite the pitcher waving his manager back to the dugout. Blake Parker came in and fooled the dangerous Kevin Pillar with a change-up for strike three. He almost a allowed a run to score on a wild pitch but Gary Sanchez somehow kept the overthrown slider that bounced in the left-handed hitter's batter's box from going past him. Parker then faced Justin Smoak who hit a deep drive to left field. Brett Gardner, the soul and grit of this Bomber team raced back to the wall and jumped up to make a snow cone catch to save the game.
"The greatest win of the year!" yelled announcer Michael Kay.
The Orioles are one game out. The Red Sox are leading the Padres and could be tied with Toronto by the end of the night. The Yankees are hanging in there only four and a half games back.
The race is on.