The 2019 Orioles put together their best stretch of baseball from July 17 to Aug. 4, winning 10 out of 17 games during that span. That's a pretty good streak of baseball for a bad team. Within the doldrums that set in for a team playing at 45-50 win pace, it's easy for individual accomplishments to become a large part of the focus for the players, fans and media.
One such accomplishment came against the New York Yankees Aug. 5 when infielder Jonathan Villar became the fifth batter in Orioles history to hit for the cycle. The other four were Brooks Robinson (1960), Cal Ripken (1984), Aubrey Huff (2007) and Felix Pie (2009). Since Villar's cycle was just the 329th in MLB history, it still stands as one of the rarest of feats in the game.
The night after Villar hit for the cycle, I was watching the Orioles from home when MASN play-by-play announcer Gary Thorne pointed out that Villar had appeared in all of the Orioles' games this season. (At the time, the number was 113). Thorne went on to talk about Villar wanting to play in all 162 games in 2019, a very noble personal goal and one that -- barring injury -- manager Brandon Hyde should have no trouble accommodating.
Of course, the talk about playing an entire season brought back thoughts of the streak of 2,632 consecutive games played by the all-time iron man, Cal Ripken Jr. Just in case you had forgotten how insane that streak was, Ripken started his epic journey May 30, 1982 and didn't sit out a game until Sept. 20, 1998. Folks, that's more than 16 seasons of playing every game.
Sept. 5-6 marks the 24th anniversary of Ripken tying and then breaking Lou Gehrig's streak of 2,130 consecutive games, which seems almost as amazing as the streak itself. Since Ripken's retirement after the 2001 season, the longest consecutive games streaks have been by shortstop Miguel Tejada, slugger Prince Fielder and outfielder Hideki Matsui.
Tejada played in 1,152 straight games for the Oakland Athletics and Orioles from 2000-2007. It's the fifth-highest mark of all time. Fielder, whose career was cut short by injuries, played in 547 consecutive games for the Milwaukee Brewers, Detroit Tigers and Texas Rangers from 2010-2014. Matsui played in 519 straight games with the Yankees from 2003-2006.
Toronto Blue Jays infielder Freddy Galvis' streak of 348 consecutive games played ended April 24, 2019; Galvis was just 2,284 games shy of Ripken's remarkable number. The current leader is Kansas City Royals infielder Whit Merrifield. As for Villar, he's yet to miss a game since showing up in Baltimore. He appeared in the first 119 games of 2019, and he also played the last 54 games of 2018. Villar's consecutive games played streak ended, however, when he only pinch-ran against the Rangers June 6; players need to record an at-bat or a half-inning in the field to keep a consecutive games streak going.
Regardless, it isn't hard to see why Hyde writes his name in the lineup every day. Villar possesses a nice combination of speed, power and flare on a team devoid of dynamic players. Seems the only thing that might keep him out of an Orioles lineup anytime soon would be a trade or an outright non-tender situation during the offseason.
The optics of a non-tender wouldn't look good to a fan base that struggles to find good, old-fashioned reasons to come to the park.
It's interesting that the Brewers traded Villar as part of the package for infielder Jonathan Schoop while they were in contention last summer. Though Schoop is a steadier defensive second baseman than Villar, perhaps Villar's play had rubbed Brewers skipper Craig Counsell the wrong way.
Whatever the real reason for that trade, it sure seems like the Brewers' management wanted to dump the salary and the player, allowing then-Orioles GM Dan Duquette to get the better of that exchange. The return also included right-handed pitching prospect Luis Ortiz and now-19-year-old infielder Jean Carmona.
Meanwhile, as that Sept. 5 date draws near, it's once again a time to wrap your head around one of the most amazing accomplishments in the game. Let the numbers swirl around your head for a minute -- more than 16 full seasons of playing in every game. Not a sore enough arm, a case of the flu, a bum knee ... nothing could stop Ripken from his appointed rounds.
I was there the night he literally was knocked out of a game May 3, 1982. It was Ripken's rookie season, and you can look it up: Ripken was batting .138 when he faced the Seattle Mariners at Memorial Stadium.
Right-handed pitcher Mike Moore was on the mound for the Mariners, and while we know Ripken went on to win the Rookie of the Year Award in '82, this was a very shaky Ripken that came to the plate that night. Moore hit Ripken in the helmet with a fastball in the 94-96 mph range, and Ripken went down.
Dazed and shaken, Floyd Rayford came in to pinch-run for Ripken and stayed in the game to play third base. Ripken's amazing streak would start just 27 days later, and the rest, as they say, is history.
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Photo Credit: Kenya Allen/PressBox
Issue 256: August 2019
Originally published Aug. 15, 2019