Unforgettable symbol of decade

August 24, 2007|By RICK MAESE

You've got to squint your eyes and study it closely, but sure enough, it's all there. Thirty runs, 29 hits and in between the lines, a full decade of frustrations. In the modern era of baseball, there has never been a scorecard quite like this one, and many years will surely pass before there's another one.

"It's like an abstract piece of art," says Mark Jacobson, the official scorer who was responsible for recording every hit, run and putout of the Orioles' epic 30-3 loss to the Texas Rangers on Wednesday night.

It's art like a minivan is a hot rod. The scorecard is messy, chicken-scratched into confusion.

"It's just this inkblot," Jacobson says. "A Rorschach scorecard."

For a stat-loving scorekeeper, a bona fide keeper of oddities, it's a rarity indeed. A first-edition Hemingway. A misprinted stamp. A Honus Wagner baseball card.

Something Jacobson will surely remember forever while just about everyone else associated with the Orioles is trying their damnedest to forget. It wasn't easy yesterday. The drubbing was a national story and a once-proud organization served as the butt of jokes for anyone who's halfway literate in the storied language of baseball.

For fans and players alike, the feelings shifted from frustration to anger to embarrassment to bewildered amusement over the absurdity. Even the next morning, you didn't know whether to cry or laugh.

Historians spent the entire day feeding their sweet tooth in a record-book candy store. Experts tried to one-up each other with statistical nuggets. As bloggers raced to make the obvious jokes, out-of-town family and friends had no problem burning up their anytime minutes to make sure Orioles players and fans knew that the nation took notice.

Reliever Paul Shuey, who allowed the Rangers' last nine runs in two innings, answered his phone after the game. "Were you even trying?" a friend asked. "Yeah, I really was," was all Shuey could muster.

How do you respond? How do you reflect? How do you move forward? "It was just one of those nights," second baseman Brian Roberts said.

"It was like all the stars were perfectly aligned for them," outfielder Jay Payton said.

"I've never even heard of anything like that," Aubrey Huff said. "Maybe in Little League."

Not really, though. Yesterday, the televisions in the clubhouse were actually tuned to Little League baseball, which looked like fine cinema compared to the low-rate horror flick the Orioles produced a night earlier. No one was really paying attention, and players certainly weren't spending energy dissecting the debacle among themselves.

That's how baseball works: When you win, you ride the momentum like a freight train with broken brake lines. But when you lose, you plead ignorance. Your memory becomes as fuzzy as a Congressional witness and you keep telling yourself the world is nothing but tomorrows.

This one wasn't about a single game, though. The gift of hindsight wasn't necessary to put the historic loss in context. It became symbolic as soon as the game officially entered the record books. It's almost as if one game -- less than 3 1/2 hours of baseball -- was an entire decade in the making.

None of it was about the second half of the season. It wasn't about Dave Trembley or Sam Perlozzo or the bullpen or anyone on the roster. In fact, it wasn't about 2007 at all. It will stand for something much bigger -- an era of Orioles baseball.

Whenever baseball fans or experts reference the fallen state of the franchise, Aug. 22, 2007 will be trotted out as Exhibit A.

Thirty runs. Twenty-nine hits. A collective giggle from the rest of the baseball world. Thousands of baseball fans rubbing their eyes when they saw the line score, immediately making an appointment to visit the optometrist. They might as well have seen a UFO. That can't be right, can it?

Players are resilient, at least. They've spent a lifetime looking ahead to the next game. Players, coaches and managers can quickly move on, and fans should be fortunate for that.

For the rest of us, though, this one won't soon fade. It's the stain you see every time you sit on the couch, conjuring the memory of a house party, your child's terrible 2s or perhaps your first marriage. You store it away, let it collect dust. But it's always there. Years from now, when anyone discusses 10 years of losing baseball, the score 30-3 will represent something much bigger.

Jacobson has been scoring Orioles games since 1992. He's seen some good ones, many he won't soon forget. In fact, his scorecard from the night Cal Ripken Jr. broke Lou Gehrig's streak is stored in Cooperstown. The 30-run scorecard might never get out of the hall of fame that is Jacobson's attic, but it's a keeper nonetheless.

"I'm convinced that no matter how long you've been around the game, you'll always see things you haven't seen before," says Jacobson, who's a mathematician for the Department of Defense by day. "This was certainly something I hadn't seen before."

Following the direction of their manager, the Orioles are the type of group that will move past the loss. But no one will forget it.

rick.maese@baltsun.com

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