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Remembering Sammy Sosa’s lone season as an Oriole

Remembering Sammy Sosa’s lone season as an Oriole

Sammy Sosa’s incredible 1998 season was detailed Sunday night in the documentary Long Gone Summer, ESPN’s latest installment in the "30 For 30" series, which showcased the great home run race of that season between Sosa, Mark McGwire and to a lesser extent, Ken Griffey Jr. 

Sosa, who ended the year with 66 home runs, just narrowly finished behind McGwire in the race. McGwire’s record of 70 home runs stood until 2003, when Barry Bonds hit 73 long balls. 

The year was Sosa’s most famed and exciting of his career, as he won his first and only Most Valuable Player award as the Cubs made the playoffs while he and McGwire took the sporting world by storm.

His lone season in Baltimore in 2005, however, was his most disappointing — for more than just on-field performance. 

Sosa became an Oriole on Jan. 28, 2005, when the Orioles traded utility man Jerry Hairston Jr., infielder Mike Fontenot and right-handed pitcher Dave Crouthers to Chicago for the Cubs’ slugger. 

Sosa joined an Orioles’ team with first baseman Rafael Palmeiro, as the duo became the first members of the 500 home run club in history to join the same team after reaching the benchmark. The move was supposed to give the Orioles two of the game’s most prolific hitters and launch the Orioles into AL East contention. 

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In what was supposed to be a big move for the Orioles and a welcome departure from the Cubs for Sosa, the 2005 season quickly turned for the worst. 

It began in 2003, when Sosa reportedly tested positive for steroids, according to the New York Times. Sosa had never publicly tested positive for steroids, but his public image declined over the years. An ugly break from the Cubs sent him to the Orioles.

Before the 2005 season began, Sosa, McGwire, Palmeiro and other players accused testified before congress about steroid use, in which Sosa said that he would never put something like that in his body.

“To be clear, I have never taken illegal performance-enhancing drugs,” Sosa explained. “I have never injected myself or had anyone inject me with anything.”

In that same hearing, Palmeiro pointed at members of the committee and proclaimed he had, “never” used steroids. He was suspended for a positive test later that season. 

With Sosa’s 2005 season off to a rocky start, his on-field play didn’t help. 

He hit just 14 home runs, his lowest total since 1992 and played in only 102 games — again his lowest total since 1992. As an Oriole, Sosa slashed .221/.295/.376 with an OPS+ of just 78, the second time he didn’t reach the 100-plus mark in the previous 13 seasons. 

Despite the disappointing year from Sosa, Baltimore began the 2005 season as one of the best teams in baseball. They spent 69 days in first place, were 14 games over .500 on Jun. 21 and were 4.5 games ahead of second place just before Memorial Day. Then, the floodgates opened. 

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The Orioles, who started 42-28, finished the season 74-88 — a 32-60 finish in the final 92 games. They finished the year fourth in the AL East.

After a strong start to the season, where Sosa batted .281 in April, he ended each month with a batting average below .247 from that point on, including two months with .158 and .159 averages.

Sosa’s 2005 season was bad enough where the Orioles didn’t offer him an arbitration contract, which made him a free agent and ended his tenure with the club. Despite offers to play for minor league contracts, he declined and sat out the 2006 season before a one-year stint with the Rangers ended his career. 

His 2005 season in Baltimore was a long cry from the incredible success he’d had in Chicago, especially in the documented 1998 season when he slashed .308/.377/.647 and had 158 RBIs. While Sosa’s career was one of the most popular and historical in baseball history, his 2005 season as an Oriole wasn’t one to look fondly upon. 

Despite his gaudy numbers, Sosa has not been selected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

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Orioles bats nearly non-existent once again in third-straight loss to motivated, reconstructed Marlins

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USA Today Sports Images

Orioles bats nearly non-existent once again in third-straight loss to motivated, reconstructed Marlins

At around 10 p.m. Wednesday night, the Orioles finally squeezed out a run, seemingly by divine intervention. 

It happened when a chopper from outfielder Austin Hays bounced off two Marlins infielders and into the outfield which allowed Anthony Santander to score and cut the lead in half. The problem was, it was the Orioles’ first run of the game, third hit of the game and ninth hit of the series. 

The Orioles, up until Hays’ single, had gone 21 ⅔ scoreless innings against a Marlins team that had 18 replacement players from its Opening Day roster due to an outbreak of COVID-19. The Marlins were a team that had to find pitchers that were simply available to throw major league innings, and they retired Orioles batters consistently through the first three games of the series.

Baltimore, operating as the road team at Camden Yards for the second half of a doubleheader, lost their third-straight in a 2-1 loss to the Marlins. The fourth game of the series will be Thursday. 

“I don’t want to take credit away from their guys, I thought they pieced it together fairly nicely out of the pen giving us some different looks,” Orioles manager Brandon Hyde said. “I don’t know if we’re trying too hard, or...I’m not what it is, to be honest with you. It’s one of those little funks that we’ve gone through in a couple days.”

Ever since the second game of the season against the Red Sox, the Orioles have swung the bat particularly well, better than most thought they could. But all of those bats went silent after a series sweep of the Rays on Sunday, a series victory that left some with a brief, optimistic scenario that the Orioles could contend for a playoff spot. 

Since that win over the Rays, though, the offense hasn’t just been quiet, it’s been silent. 

The Orioles were shut out Tuesday and in game one of the doubleheader Wednesday in 4-0 and 1-0 losses, respectively. Were it not for Hays’ single, it would’ve been three straight games with a zero on the scoreboard.

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“I can’t really put my finger on it,” Hyde said. “We’re not driving the baseball. I think guys are trying to do too much, carrying too big of a load, instead of trying to get the next guy up instead of trying to win every pitch. We’re having a tough time just getting on base to start a rally and putting good ABs together after it.”

After blazing starts to the year, some of the Orioles’ best hitters have hit a cold streak at the same time against a Marlins team that was cramped in a hotel room for more than a week.

Anthony Santander is just 2-for-10 in the series, Jose Iglesias and Rio Ruiz have been hampered by injuries and Hanser Alberto, after a staggering start to the year, is 0-for-11 in the series. 

“It’s not fun,” Iglesias said. “We just lost two games, but I think we’ve got to move forward. Tomorrow is another day. We’re going to get an opportunity to play the game and come back.”

But while the bats have failed, the pitching has thrived. In that regard, it makes the previous few days that much more infuriating for the Orioles.

In the last three games, the starters have been excellent. John Means, Alex Cobb and Asher Wojciechowski have combined to throw 14 ⅔ innings and have allowed just eight hits, four earned runs and four walks. They’ve struck out 15 batters, too, as both Means and Cobb each allowed just one run in their starts. 

All three pitchers, however, received losses. 

“I don’t have an explanation for it except I really like the way we’re pitching,” Hyde said. “I think our offense will come around. I don’t think we’re going one run in three games continuously. We have proven we can score runs and we can swing the bats against really good pitchers. This series, for whatever reason, we’re not driving the baseball. We’re not grinding out at-bats the way that we did against the teams we played before.”

The Marlins, who are now 5-1, have seemingly released all their pent up energy through the team’s pitching staff. 

The Orioles, who dropped to 5-6 with the three losses, simply haven’t had an answer for a Marlins team that came out of quarantine with a stout pitching staff.

“I’ve been impressed with their pitching, for those guys to be shut down in a hotel and throw the way they’ve been throwing, they’ve done a nice job,” Hyde said. “I don’t think we’ve helped them out, I think we’ve expanded the strike zone, but I think they’ve come out with energy and we haven’t scored any runs.”

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Major League Baseball changes protocols after coronavirus outbreaks

Major League Baseball changes protocols after coronavirus outbreaks

After COVID-19 outbreaks on both the Marlins and the Cardinals, Major League Baseball has changed its protocols for dealing with coronavirus. 

The goal is to prevent any further outbreaks and continue on the path for a 60-game season.

“We recognize that these changes place additional burdens and restrictions on players and staff,’’ according to a copy of the memo obtained by USA TODAY Sports distributed to all MLB teams. “But if we desire to play, they are necessary to limit infections and, if someone does test positive, to keep the virus from spreading.”

According to the story published by Bob Nightengale, the league has taken some very serious measures in order to keep the spread of COVID-19 contained. 

If a player or member of the organization fails to follow the new protocols, there will be severe consequences.

“Any covered individuals — whether players or club staff — who are found to have repeatedly or flagrantly violated the protocols, including refusing to wear a face covering when required and reminded to do so,’’ the memo reads, “risks being prohibited from further participation in the 2020 season and postseason (in the case of players, subject to the just cause provisions in the Basic Agreement). The Commissioner’s Office will send written warnings prior to any such action being taken.’’

According to Nightengale, new protocols must include wearing face coverings in the dugout and clubhouse, with the exception of players on the field. Teams are now forced to reduce the traveling party to those who are absolutely essential to playing the games. Meetings are now strictly prohibited in hotel rooms, and each team must have a private large room at a hotel designed for eating meals and convening during meetings.

The moves came a week after the league was seemingly on the ropes after the Marlins and Cardinals had a combined 33 members of their organizations tested positive for COVID-19. 

The Marlins’ outbreak forced the Orioles-Marlins series to be postponed a week, and later to be fully played at Camden Yards with the Orioles operating as the road team for two games of the series.

“Everyone must be accountable for their own conduct because the careless or reckless actions of a few can impact the health and well-being of everyone,’’ the memo read.

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