Despite what those who would jump at the chance to watch Kevin Youkilis limber up would have you believe, The Orioles-Astros series was indeed extraordinary. All three games had dramatic finishes. All three featured lead changes, timely hitting, clutch pitching and acrobatic defense. Most importantly, I watched all three games from the 3rd base-side lower box seats with my favorite Houston Astros fan. Though perhaps not the most conflict-free dating strategy (I doubt too many Roman boys asked Christian girls to go see Lions vs. Christians in the Colosseum) I am pleased to report that after three summer nights in Baltimore, my favorite baseball fan is still speaking to me.
In what may accurately be called PUSHING MY LUCK, I have decided to write about the series sweep. Over the next few days, I intend to weave my mental notes, our scorecards, and my occasional scribbled side-comments into a narrative which tells the story of 3 games, 3 dates, and 1 very very contented Orioles fan.
The scoreboard operators should have known this was coming. After a night in which any well-trained baboon could have keyed in the parade of zeros which covered the screen, Thursday night will be a lot more colorful. Even our seating arrangements will be chaotic, as, ticket-holders will repeatedly show up over the course of the first few innings brandishing tickets for the seats in which we are illegitimately sitting in my uncle’s 3rd base side section.
But first things first. After Orange Wild Bill Hagy Jerseys on Tuesday, and Retro adjustable hats on Wednesday, tonight’s door prizes are Nick Markakis bobbleheads. It’s a good-looking souvenir, 31,480 folks show up to get one.
The run scoring starts early. Michael Bourn leads off with a bunt base hit. With 2 outs, Bourn swipes 2nd base and promptly scores on a Lance Berkman RBI single. Brian Burres whiffs Carlos Lee for the 3rd out, avoiding further damage.
The Bourn stolen base is not a fluke; the Astros are a running-crazed team. Much to my companion’s chagrin, Cecil Cooper is determined to win games by stealing bases. As of this writing (July 10) the Astros lead the national league in having their runner gunned out on the base paths. 31 Astros have perished in the act of attempted theft. To put that in some perspective, that is as many or more caught stealing as 4 teams have stolen bases. The Astros run a lot.
The top of the second inning starts badly. Hunter Pence, he of the wiry frame and hyperactivity, raps a Burres offering deep into the left field lower deck to give the visitors a 2-0 lead. Burres is starting to look a little flustered as he immediately walks bald-headed Ty Wigginton. I slump a bit in my seat, preparing for an implosion. But, no such calamity is forthcoming. Burres retires the next 3 batters and order prevails.
In the top of the 3rd, Miguel Tejada, who has been irrationally booed for the duration of the 3-game series by many of the
Last night’s hero, Kevin Millar, is at it again in the bottom of the frame. With 2 outs and white and orange-clad runners occupying every base, Millar patiently watches 4 balls go past him for the always sexy RBI walk. Astros lead sliced in half.
Ramon Hernandez, who acquired the nickname “Magnificent Bum” during the Pirates series over Fathers Day weekend, is magnificent in his at-bat leading off the 4th. Hernandez turns around a Shawn Chacon fastball and drives it into the left field boxes to tie the game. 2-2. But more joy is forthcoming. As my companion gets that uneasy look on her face of a fan who is beginning to fear witnessing a sweep, Alex Cintron cracks a big fly into the right-center bleachers. 4 innings are in the books. The Birds hold a 3-2 advantage.
Burres is starting to look sharp. The Astros go scoreless in the 5th. The orioles have no intention of going so quietly. Back-to-back singles by Mora and Huff bring up the fair-headed Kevin Millar. Millar’s RBI binge is not complete. He rockets a double to deep centerfield. Mora scores easily, Huff, laboriously plods to 3rd base. It cannot be overstated; Huff and Millar are painfully slow runners. But this inning, that won’t matter. After a fly out to short right by Scott and a groundout by Hernandez, Jay Payton brings both heavy-footed oriole baserunners homeward with a 2-run single.
6-2 Birds. Not for long. Miguel Tejada makes it 6-3 with a blast to left field. It’s still a 3-run Astros deficit, so the celebration by my game-companion is subdued. Given the absolutely classless and unwarranted abuse that Tejada has taken from the once adoring
With 2 men out in the 6th, Burres walks Ty Wigginton. The tying run comes to the plate in the person of veteran Mark Loretta. Exit Burres. Enter pudgy Matt Albers. Loretta lines out to Cintron at short. Still 6-3 for the home team.
After the singing of Thank God I’m a Country Boy, Aubrey Huff cranks a homerun to right field off of lefty Tim Byrdak. 7-3 Orioles. A sweep is temptingly close. I’m excited. Worn out from lots of driving and 26 innings of baseball, but excited. The girl in the Astros gear sitting next to me seems about ready to strangle either me, Huff, or perhaps most satisfying of all, Cecil Cooper.
The 9th inning dawns and suddenly the brakes have been slammed on the Happy Joyful Train to
2 on. 1 out. Sarfate walks Michael Bourn. Bases loaded. Tying run coming to the plate. Dave Trembley emerges from the dugout and replaces Sarfate with the flat-brimmed George Sherrill. Kaz Matsui elevates a Sherrill offering to right field, but, Markakis easily snags it for the 2nd out. 1 run scores on the play. 7-4 good guys. Miguel Tejada steps into the batters box. Nervous Orioles rooters toss unnecessary invective his way. How ironic, I let myself think, if Tejada were to blast a game-tying homer right now. It’s what the hecklers deserve. No homer is forthcoming. Instead, the former Oriole shortstop hits a high chopper to shortstop, which Cintron drops. Allow me to repeat that last clause: Cintron drops. The official scorer takes pity on the Orioles shortstop and declares the play a base hit. I disagree.
7-5. Go-ahead run striding to the plate in the person of Lance Berkman. He’s 3 for 4 on the night and homered in last night’s game. I don’t like where this is headed. In my nervousness, I fail to observe if my long-suffering game-watching buddy has taken this last-ditch opportunity to smile over the prospects of a miracle comeback. Berkman, batting right handed against the left-handed Orioles closer, gets under a 1-2 offering from Sherrill and skies a game-ending fly ball to Payton’s waiting glove in left field.
The stress of the 9th really zapped some of my energy to enjoy having just seen a sweep in person. The Orioles Magic music video is playing on the over-sized TV in centerfield. A long-suffering, wonderful, and worn out Astros fan walks out of the stadium with me. Her team has blown a lead in all three games. All three contests have ended in dramatic fashion. And, now, defeated, the Astros have an 8th straight loss to show for their efforts. Though my Lions have eaten her Christians three nights in a row, I receive the happy assurance as we leave that there will be more baseball this summer for the two of us.
Of all the wonderfulness involved in seeing my favorite team win three games in a row, the promise of future baseball with the greatest double-X chromosome’d fan is, by far, the highlight of the week.