Patterson Comes to Play
by Asher B. Chancey
April 20, 2006
The Orioles-Indians series which just concluded today in Baltimore was perhaps the wildest of the early season and may be the wildest we see for a while. (Warning - cross-sport clichι coming) The Indians won the first game by two touchdowns, 15-1, behind the solid pitching of Jason Johnson, of all people, a former Oriole who went 26-46 in four seasons with the O's. The loss just solidified a truism for the Orioles the Orioles always lose when Jason Johnson takes the mound.
The anomalous pitching performance wasn't limited to Johnson Danny Graves pitched a perfect inning, throwing 8 of 14 pitches for strikes!
The lone highpoint in the whitewashing that the O's received was the performance of Brian Roberts, who managed a 4-4 day with 2 stolen bases, a throw back to April of 2005 when Roberts looked like he would be the first ever 50-50 player. Other than Roberts, though, the Orioles had little to report as they eked out only three hits otherwise and managed only one run, and that coming in the eighth once the game was in hand.
The point where the series got truly interesting, and the moment of the early season for the Orioles, came in the bottom of the third inning of game two. That is when none other than Corey "Tools"
Patterson came to the plate to lead off the inning.
If you don't know Patterson's story, you haven't been paying attention. As Patterson strode to the plate, the O's already down 4-1 (series score at this point: 19-2), I grinned to myself at the misguided, wayward Orioles, who for the second year in a row brought in a down-on-his-luck former Cubs outfielder, and for the second year in a row, seemed destined to pay a very large, very embarrassing price for it. As Patterson made his way to the plate, the graphic said it all Patterson's current batting average was .067. He seemed destined to be playing Triple-A ball very soon. But just as I had decided that I could change the channel, the interesting thing happened.
I couldn't believe my eyes. For six long years, Cubs fans had watched as Patterson swung for the fences with all the might that his 5'9" 180 pound frame could muster, and watched him miss far more than he connected (career strikeout to walk ratio 556/111). If only Patterson would become a contact hitter, it was always said, he could let his speed work to his benefit and become a spark plug at the top of the Cubs lineup. If only he would learn how to bunt, he could get on base all the time. If only he was willing
to bunt, and to become a baserunner instead of swinging for the fences, he could become a serious producer for the Cubs. Patterson had power and speed, but always played to his power. Even when the situation called for Patterson to do one of the little things, like bunting, or moving a guy over, or simply trying to get on base, Patterson was swinging for the fences. Patterson could have been Bobby Bonds if only he weren't trying to be Rob Deer.
But last night, suddenly, Patterson was playing within himself. He laid down a perfect bunt. It bounced softly off his bat, and came to a quick stop just too far in front of the catcher, but just far enough away from the pitcher. Victor Martinez fielded the ball and whisked it to first, just a hair too late. Patterson, flying down the line like Gary Pettis, beat the throw by inches. It was fantastic. He
was fantastic. The Orioles were down 19-2 in the bottom of the 12th, and Patterson was doing what he had to do to get something, anything
And you know what? He did
get something started.
The next man up fellow shorty Brian Roberts (5'8", 175) reached on catcher's interference of all things. Suddenly, the Orioles had two men on and none out, looking for their first rally of the series. Jeff Conine would hit the next pitch to centerfield, scoring Patterson from second. Six pitches later Melvin Mora hit a run scoring single and the Orioles had scored as many runs in the third inning as they had in the eleven previous innings.
Two innings later, after having started the scoring in the third, Patterson capped off a seven run fifth inning with a two-run homer. That's right in three innings, Patterson managed to get the Orioles offense started by legging out a bang-bang bunt single, and then capped the Orioles rally with a homerun. In three innings, Baltimore got a look at the power-speed dynamo that the Cubs had been hoping for through six long seasons. Patterson had gotten things started, and he had finished things off.
For the game, Patterson was 2-5 with a homer, two RBI and three runs scored. He raised his average from .067 to .150 (a huge jump if not a still disappointing result). He also managed to not strike out once, a feat he has probably managed so few times one would not need an entire abacus to count them. But more importantly, Patterson did something he so rarely did in Chicago with his team down and virtually out, Patterson used his "Tools" (the nickname is supposed to be ironic) to help his team. Rather than taking his hacks and seeing what turned up, he improvised, and made something happen. That
is the Corey Patterson we had all hoped we would see for many years.
Final Score Orioles 18, Indians 9.
Patterson's bunt was indeed the turning point of the series. After the creaming in the first game, the Orioles simply looked inferior to the Indians. After game two, the Orioles looked like they could break out the bats every now and then to play with the big boys. In game three, the Orioles actually looked like the better team. Erik Bedard improved his record to 4-0 by going six innings and giving up four runs, three earned, with seven strikeouts and two walks. Jim Brower, LaTroy Hawkins, and Chris Ray combined for three innings of scoreless relief. And the Orioles offense stayed lively for the second straight day with nine runs on eleven hits.
Not to be outdone, Patterson kept up the play for another game. Corey went 2-4 with a run and an RBI, plus his fourth stolen base in four attempts. In two games, Patterson raised his average from .067 to .208. Importantly, for the second straight game Patterson did not strike out once! Cubs fans will recall feeling that if Patterson struck only
once a game, it was a victory.
By the end of game three, the Orioles had outscored the Indians 28-24, and won the series 2-1. After Patterson's bunt single in the bottom of the third inning, the Orioles outscored the Indians 26-9! With the win today, the Orioles now have the third best record in the American League. Obvious, it is early in the season, but this performance by Patterson and by the O's is a very good sign.
Disagree with something? Got something to add? Wanna bring up something totally new? Asher resides in Alexandria, VA, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org