The Orioles acquired a big-time character guy when they traded two prospects for 41-year-old slugger and proven winner Jim Thome.
Let's hope it's not too late.
The O's are still a few games above .500 and entered Tuesday night's game among the top five teams in the American League, but they are looking less and less like a wild-card team and more and more like a group of frustrated, inconsistent guys who have an excellent chance to arrive at the All-Star break in fourth place.
Thome certainly isn't going to change that with his bat. He's a no-doubt Hall of Famer who is 41 years old and has hit 609 home runs for a bunch of other teams, but he really isn't that Jim Thome anymore. What he brings to the table now is a veteran presence in the middle of the lineup and a positive influence on a group of younger players who are in the midst of a serious confidence crisis.
And why wouldn't they be?
They raised everybody's expectations during the first couple months of the season and now they're trying to get by with half a decent starting rotation, one solid everyday outfielder and two guys playing out of position on the infield. If that isn't a prescription for the kind of deflating performance like the one that revived the punchless, last-place Seattle Mariners on Monday night, we can only wonder what kind of indignities will be wrought when they head south for that four-games series against the Los Angeles Angels.
Manager Buck Showalter continues to insist that the team will not be reduced to a "woe is me" mentality. One of his favorite sayings when the Orioles get a bad break or lose a key player to injury is that nobody's going to feel sorry for you.
Well, that's not entirely true. I certainly feel sorry for them and I also feel sorry for the fans who stayed up well into the night to watch a terrific, gutsy performance by Jason Hammel unravel because of an almost inexplicable misplay by Robert Andino in the seventh inning.
If you didn't stay up for that midnight horror movie from the West Coast, Andino failed to catch a perfect throw from Matt Wieters that would have completed a strike-em-out, throw-em-out double play to clear the bases. He turned his head to look at the runner before actually catching the ball and closed his glove a split-second too soon. Instead of Hammel having two outs and nobody on with a two-run lead and the unhittable combination of Pedro Strop and Jim Johnson waiting to finish off an uplifting win, the Mariners got an extra out and an extra runner in scoring position and went on to score three times to take the lead.
Hammel still had to bear some responsibility for walking a couple of batters after that, but he was way past his optimum pitch count because he had to pitch out of a couple of tough situations after an earlier error on a fairly routine grounder by Andino and a dropped fly ball by fill-in left fielder Steve Pearce.
So, instead of picking up a nice win before having to face Felix Hernandez on Tuesday night and inching back closer to the first-place Yankees, the Orioles did something they have done way too often for a team that wants to consider itself a playoff contender. They revived still another struggling team that would have been content to continue struggling without their help.
The Mariners had not scored more than three runs in any of their previous nine games, but they scored three in one inning after there were supposed to be two outs and nobody on base. They ought to send the Orioles defense a fruit basket. The Orioles, meanwhile, managed just three hits against a young pitcher (Hisashi Iwakuma) making his first major league start and none against three Seattle relievers.
Lest anyone forget, the Cleveland Indians were in the midst of a five-game losing streak when they arrived for a four-game series at Oriole Park last Thursday. They not only won three of four, but did it in such resounding fashion that by Sunday the Orioles were reaching back into Indians' history for someone (Thome) to save their deteriorating season.
The Orioles have had some magic moments this year. They've played well against their divisional opponents and shown great mettle in a number of tight situations (including a string of nine straight victories in extra-inning games), but for reasons both real and intangible they have not been able to get fat on the teams that good teams are supposed to beat.
Maybe that will change when Thome gets comfortable in the American League again and Nick Markakis gets back into the lineup, but most of the key indicators are not pointing in a positive direction.
Let's hope it's not too late already.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck in his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here" on baltimoresun.com and listen when he co-hosts "The Week in Review" Fridays at noon on WBAL (1090AM) and wbal.com.
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