The Washington Nationals followed a familiar script last night. They got a good performance from their starting pitcher, only to see it wasted from lack of run support, eventually losing 4-2 to the Arizona Diamondbacks, who hold a 2 1/2 game lead over the defending World Series Champion San Francisco Giants in the N.L. West.
There are plenty of game recaps from all the usual sources with the details of the game. This is not one of them.
I was 12 years old when Mike Flanagan won the Cy Young and took the Baltimore Orioles to the World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates in 1979. I was, to put it bluntly, devastated when the Pirates came back from being down three games to one to defeat my Orioles. The thought that the Orioles, as good and strong a team as they were, could even possibly lose never entered that 12-year old's mind.
To this day, I'd drive my car off the road if "We Are Family" came on the radio, just so I wouldn't have to hear it again.
The Orioles, and Flanagan, would go on to win their World Series in 1983. It was a marvellous redemption for everyone that was on that '79 team and all of Baltimore, really. And at 16, I can remember jumping up and down just like Cal Ripken did at shortstop when he snared that line drive from Garry Maddox to seal the Game Five win over the Phillies.
But I never did, and probably never will, get over the the sting of losing in '79.
When you're 12, that's a pretty important time in a young person's life; a point where you're old enough to start making decisions based on your own feelings and desires, not just following your parents ideas and opinions blindly. For me, it's when I fell in love with baseball.
I was always a pretty good athlete growing up. And I played everything. Baseball, football, basketball, soccer, hockey, golf. Whatever was in season. But my parents weren't all that big into pro sports. My mom liked football and grew up an Eagles fan and we'd watch Redskins games on Sundays, but my pop really didn't care for team sports and never watched them on t.v.
The summer of 1979, as the Orioles were beating up the rest of the American League, was the first time in my life that I really got hooked on a team. They were my team. I would sneak a transistor radio under my pillow nightly listening to Chuck Thompson and Bill O'Donnell. It was the year "Orioles Magic" was born. "Wild" Bill Hagy.
I remember every single one of them like it was yesterday. Eddie Murray. Rick Dempsey. Al Bumbry. Jim Palmer. Dennis Martinez. Kiko Garcia. The left field combo of Gary Roenicke and John Lowenstein, and all the rest. Every single one of those guys that wore the cartoon bird on his hat -- my pop said it looked like a goofy duck -- is etched in my memory like they were a family member.
But two guys stood out on that team to that particular 12-year old more than all the rest. And now they're both gone.
The two guys I wanted to be like were Mark Belanger and Mike Flanagan.
Belanger was near the end of his career at that point and was being phased out. He was used mostly as a defensive replacement, gathering only 242 plate appearances. But he was still the slickest fielding shortstop in baseball. I still have my Mark Belanger model glove from little league, even though you can no longer make out his signature in the palm from all the baseballs that have been pounded into it.
Belanger passed in 1998 at the age of 54 from lung cancer.
Last night, sitting in the press box at Nats Park just as the game was starting, the first news reports came in that a body was found on the property of former Orioles great Mike Flanagan. I treated the report with interest, but never figured Flanagan was actually involved. The thought never entered my mind.
But as more information slowly came out and it was confirmed that the body was indeed that of Flanagan, it hit me like a ton of bricks. As I type this, it's been about four hours since the news was confirmed, and I'm still stunned.
Flanagan's baseball credentials are impeccable. Cy Young. World Series Champ. Pitching Coach. General Manager. Television Analyst. He may have played for the Toronto Blue Jays for a while, but he was always an Oriole. He was so respected by his peers that he was the last man to throw a pitch in old Memorial Stadium. That was the last day something in baseball moved me to tears.
It's been many, many years since I last felt any emotional attachment to the professional baseball team in Baltimore. The team that plays there now still has "Orioles" stitched across their chest, but they aren't my Orioles. That team has been long gone. And now they are dying.
Details will surface about the cause of Flanagan's death. It's immaterial. Anyone that has ever met Flanagan, and I was fortunate enough to as an adult, knows how much the Orioles meant to him.
Mike Flanagan, and the rest of those Orioles teams, will always be immortal to me.