Jays, O's look to reclaim lost glory
Kelly Johnson of the Blue Jays. (Reuters files)
The Baltimore Orioles came to town Friday night. It created barely a ripple.
The public yawned.
Evidently there was clubbing to be done, NHL playoffs to watch, video games to play and what amounted to barely a quorum showed up to hoot, holler and groan at the Rogers Centre.
Once upon a time, this was a rivalry that set both cities on edge, a rivalry that decided championships, turned managers’ stomachs, left players spitting mad and fans in a tizzy of expectation.
This is a rivalry that has drama and intensity. It has fun and vitriol. It just hasn’t had any of it recently.
There has been little about the Orioles to get excited about within the memory banks of those who can’t remember the oddity that is Tippy Martinez, the dazzling Brooks Robinson, who played third base like Nureyev played the ballet. There was Eddie Murray, who could sulk and slug in equally prodigious Hall of Fame proportion.
There was O’s bench boss Earl Weaver, who once got into such a pout when umpires wouldn’t remove a tarp from the Jays’ bullpen mound that he took his team off the field and went home.
The Orioles and Jays in the late 1980s and early ‘90s alternated from a theatre of the bizarre, to a theatre for the ages.
Somewhere in Baltimore there are still T-shirts reading “Cito Sucks,” remnants of the 1993 all-star game when the Jays’ manager left O’s ace Mike Mussina in the bullpen at Camden Yards. Unused. Or, ill-used, by the sounds of the boos that reigned that night.
Brady Anderson remembers it wasn’t all fun and games. An outfielder for more than a decade with the O’s, they were in a pennant race with Toronto in 1989 that came down to the final series.
“We came in and I think they beat us two out of three,” said Anderson, now a conditioning coach and assistant to GM Dan Duquette. “We had a really close race.” Managed by the legendary Frank Robinson, the O’s won 87 games — two behind the division champion Jays.
“If you’re asking about good memories, go ask the Blue Jays,” said Anderson. It’s difficult to blame his reticence.
For instance in 1992, Anderson’s O’S won 89 games. They just couldn’t beat the Jays, who won their first World Series. “As players we don’t sit around and have good memories about other team’s good moments,” said Anderson, who with Duquette, who was hired just this season, is trying to make the Orioles once again significant in the land of giants that is the AL East.
The Orioles have made huge changes — 14 new players since last season. But the pitching is a mystery, the offence which was supposed to be a strength came into Friday’s game batting .180 with runners in scoring position. Meantime, the starters had a WHIP of 1.04 — third in the AL. So, go figure. O’s starter Tommy Hunter gets whiplash watching the Jays hammer balls over the wall Friday.
When these teams meet nothing has to make sense.
Like in 1983 when Orioles pitcher Tippy Martinez picked off three Blue Jays. No big deal, except he did it in one inning. He got Barry Bonnell after a single, Dave Collins after a walk and Buck Martinez was at the plate after Willie Upshaw singled.
“I hit Tippy pretty good in those days,” Martinez said prior to Friday’s game, “and I can still hear Sully (base coach John Sullivan) yelling ‘Don’t get picked off.’”
Of course, one throw over later, Upshaw got picked off.
So, no surprise, Friday, when Adam Jones’ singled, only to get picked off first when Yunel Escobar’s relay caught him off the bag on a wide turn.
Weirder yet. Replays showed Adam Lind missed the tag. Buck Showalter did his best Earl Weaver imitation, short of seeing how far he could stick the bill of his cap into umpire Derryl Cousins’ nose.
Weaver never won his argument; Showalter didn’t either.
In that sense the Orioles and Jays are much alike — franchises trying to rekindle lost glory and regain a place in the hearts of fans. “The Jays are waiting in the wings and about to re-emerge,” says Anderson.
Question is, can the Orioles emerge from the basement? “We’re only six games in,” says Anderson, “so it’s hard to predict.”
But then, what else is new. Dave Stieb once had a no-hitter against the O’s — for 26 hitters, and then a .216 hitter named Jim Traber singled to break his heart. Put these two teams within spitting distance, and somebody is going to slip on the tobacco juice. Guaranteed.
Oops. Left fielder Nolan Reimold just misplayed a liner. Jose Bautista scores. Who’d a thought ...