Keep your shirt on

Here’s what bothered some Orioles fans the most about being swept out of the American League Championship Series by the wild-card Royals: Jeremy Guthrie’s T-shirt.

Guthrie is a depth starting pitcher in the postseason for the first time in an 11-year career, half of it spent in Baltimore. He held the Orioles at bay for the first five innings of Game 3 and then was seen again in the celebration of the Royals’ penultimate one-run victory wearing a T-shirt that said: “These O’s Ain’t Royal.”

Maybe Orioles fans were transferring their disappointment, but that’s all it took. You’d have thought Guthrie said Brooks Robinson couldn’t guard the line. Or all Cal Ripken did was not take a sick day. Or you’d have thought Guthrie’s shirt said, “Bodymore, Murderland.” Or was a sarcastic depiction of the Baltimore statue of Chief Justice Roger Taney (really? the guy who authored the Dred Scott decision gets a statue? Where people can see it?)

Guthrie’s T-shirt was a takeoff on a song “Loyalty” by musician Chris Brown, and Orioles fans were either upset at the song’s lyrics, Guthrie’s disloyalty or that their 96-win team was losing in straight sets to a team that won seven less games and had a differential 85 runs worse.

I’m guessing the latter.

(I looked up the lyrics to “Loyalty” and if it’s poetry it’s no Casey At The Bat, although Brown’s lyrics are closer to what you might hear in a dugout than Casey was.)

But the response from fans was louder than that from the Orioles’ offense. Guthrie apologized on Twitter and called a news conference for the next day and then said he was going to throw the shirt out. “You’ll never see that shirt again,” Guthrie said.

If so, it’s an overreaction that makes cable news’ response to the Ebola virus seem measured. Maybe the problem wasn’t Guthrie’s shirt, but the sensitivity of Orioles fans. They’re offended by “These O’s Ain’t Royal”? Maybe, like the Royals, they should reinforce their defenses. And maybe if Guthrie was so worried about the goodwill of Orioles fans, he might have pitched better in his five seasons there (47-65, 4.12 ERA).

(Chris Brown, the musician, is not to be confused with Chris Brown, the former third baseman, who was a high school teammate of Darryl Strawberry’s. That Chris Brown was a second-round pick of the Giants, played from 1984-89 for the Giants, Padres and Tigers, made an All-Star team, worked for Halliburton during the early years of the Iraq war and died in 2006 in a house fire in Texas).

If Orioles fans were offended by Guthrie’s shirt, they don’t want to know what their favorite players wear under their favorite team’s logo.

Hall of Famer Bert Blyleven was once photographed in the locker room with a shirt that said “I (picture of heart) to fart.” You have to think the stall next to him wasn’t a desired location. But Blyleven’s pro-flatulence view is probably shared by Phillies pitcher Cliff Lee, who finished a post-game interview this July with a loud one and then asked the press corps, “Did y’all get that on tape?”

I’m guessing reporters didn’t jostle as much to get to the front the next time Lee was interviewed.

  • Giants 6, Cardinals 3: The Giants have won seven of their last eight NLCS games against the Cardinals, and 15 of their last 17 postseason games in all, dating back to 2012. The Royals have won their last 11 postseason games, but their streak stretches back to 1985, and was assisted by Don Denkinger. You’ll hear that name a lot over a weekend which has no baseball. It’s not the first time two wild-card teams have made the Series (Giants vs. Angels in 2002), but each of these had to win the wild-card game as well. The winner will be the sixth wild-card team to win a Series (Marlins in 1997 and 2003; Angels in 2002; Red Sox in 2004; Cardinals in 2011).
    Two points from Thursday LCS finale. Number one: Travis Ishikawa was the opening-day first baseman this year for the Pirates, who needed him far more than the Giants. He played left field in the NLCS only because of injuries to Angel Pagan and Michael Morse, the latter of whom was recovered enough to tie Thursday’s game with a pinch-homer in the eighth. Ishikawa had played only 11 games in the outfield in his seven major league seasons, which would explain his poor defense on John Jay’s double. Last year Ishikawa had more teams (three: Orioles, White Sox and Yankees) than he had RBIs (one in 19 at-bats). He played 15 games this year for the Pirates, batted .206 in 34 at-bats and was cut before April ended. The Pirates moved on to Gaby Sanchez and Ike Davis, Ishikawa moved on to the Giants — his original team — and spent half the year at Fresno, in AAA. Ishikawa has 129 RBIs in seven major-league seasons and 881 at-bats; he had one postseason RBI in 23 at-bats entering the NLCS. He had seven on two hits in the NLCS. You can study stats all winter and consult personnel all season, but neither sabermetrics nor scouting could predict that outcome.
    Number two: Cardinals manager Mike Matheny is being assailed for turning Game 5 over to Michael Wacha, and perhaps rightfully so. Wacha hasn’t pitched since Sept. 26, and wasn’t very good when he did so, allowing 20 hits and seven walks in 16.2 innings in September after missing 10 weeks with a shoulder injury.
    But if not Wacha, who should Matheny have brought in? His closer Trevor Rosenthal, who couldn’t save Game 2 and had to be pulled? Randy Choate, who threw Game 3 away? Carlos Martinez, who had pitched 2.2 scoreless LCS innings but had given up three hits and three walks? Rookie Marco Gonzales, who lost the lead in Game 4 before Choate lost the game? Seth Maness, the Cards’ best reliever in the series, who had pitched in every game (and threw the home run that turned last year’s World Series around)? Who, exactly, was Matheny supposed to tap? Bruce Sutter? Al Hrabosky?
    We know Matheny shouldn’t have brought Wacha in, because he did and he lost. And it’s easy now to say the Cards were in an elimination game and should have used their closer because closers are a team’s best reliever. Two problems with that: Rosenthal has been awful this postseason — 3.2 innings, seven hits and three walks — and the Cards’ best reliever is Pat Neshek, who had given up the lead in the eighth. Matheny had nothing but bad choices, and it’s hard to make a good decision when that’s all you have.

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