Brandon Hyde knows what it’s like to have bad days in baseball. While seated in the visitors’ dugout at Fenway Park on Thursday, he told stories about some of the road hotels he encountered as a manager in the South Atlantic League 16 years ago.
Your best bet in some of those joints was to sleep on top of the sheets. One place he recalled didn’t seem to have a name, there was just a checkmark on the sign out front.
Another bordered a busy four-lane road without a crosswalk. Going across the street to get lunch required courage and speed.
So, no, managing the Baltimore Orioles the last few years has not been a terrible experience for Hyde, even with all the games they’ve lost.
And now they’re crossing the street, step by step.
Through Friday, the Orioles held the third Wild Card in the American League with 50 games left to play.
For a team that finished 52-110 and 48 games out in the AL East last season, it’s been a rebirth.
“We’re not there yet,” Hyde said. “But it’s a lot of fun. It’s fun playing for something every single night. We haven’t been in this position. I think our guys are taking it head on. They love the fact we’re playing meaningful games right now in August.”
Hyde was bench coach of the Cubs when new Orioles general manager Mike Elias hired him before the 2019 season. In those early days of the rebuilding process, they weren’t around each other all that often.
“There was so much work to be done those first few years, from starting an analytics department, starting an international [scouting] department, changing the way they scouted,” Hyde said.
“Mike had so much focus on those areas to build something and now he’s spending more time with the major league club this year.”
Outfielder Cedric Mullins has a similar perspective. He was a rookie in 2018 when the Orioles lost 115 games and fans at Camden Yards were rooting for the visiting team.
“Beginning of the year people asked me my thoughts about this team. I was positive. Now you’re seeing why,” he said. “We have a lot of talent on this team. But we also have a plan when we go out there.”
Mullins is 27. Rookie catcher Adley Rutschman, the first pick of the 2019 draft, is 24. Designated hitter Terrin Vavra, who was recently called up and had a .936 OPS in his first 11 games, is 25.
The bullpen has the third-lowest ERA in the league and fifth-best strikeout to walk ratio. The rotation is stable after years of turmoil.
“We’re playing really good baseball,” Hyde said. “We’ve won a lot of series; we’ve played our division tough and we’re playing in the toughest division in baseball.
“I’m really proud of how the guys have played. Our younger players have improved. Our rotation guys have gotten an opportunity and taken advantage and are throwing the ball really well and our bullpen to this point has been really, really good.”
Rutschman made his debut on May 21. His OPS was .513 through 20 games. It’s been over .900 since. Leadership has to be part of the package for a catcher. With Rutschman, the vibe has a Jason Varitek-like feel.
Hyde said without pause that his catcher will be a great player. Rutschman embraces that idea.
“My job is to reach my potential and go out every day and try to get better and make the most of it,” he said. “I put a lot of pressure on myself to do that. I have a lot of expectations and high aspirations and goals. That’s how I look at things.”
More talent is coming. Shortstop Gunnar Henderson, the No. 1 overall prospect in Baseball America’s most recent Top 100, is on track for a 2023 debut. Righthander Grayson Rodriguez, a first-round pick in 2018, had a 2.09 ERA in Triple A before missing time with a shoulder injury. He’s back throwing off a mound.
“It’s very exciting to be around this team right now,” Rutschman said.
Elias stayed true to his plan and traded fan favorite Trey Mancini and closer Jorge Lopez at the deadline to gather more prospects. The Orioles reacted by winning five of the next six.
“We go out there day to day and compete, whatever happens,” Mullins said. “That’s my goal and a lot of guys here feel that way. We have high expectations.”
SO LONG SOX?
What’s next for Martinez?
The qualifying offer was worth $18.4 million last season. If it’s in that vicinity again, can the Red Sox afford to extend it to J.D. Martinez?
Martinez turns 35 later this month. He had a .782 OPS through 96 games, his lowest since 2013, before he made the swing changes that saved his career. Martinez has yet to play in the field and through Friday hadn’t homered since July 10.
Martinez likely would jump at the idea to make $18 million. An aging DH without home run power isn’t going to make that much as a free agent.
Martinez’s five-year, $110 million deal with the Red Sox worked out tremendously for both sides. He’s been excellent for the Sox on and off the field.
But this is probably it unless Martinez wants to return on a one-year contract worth considerably less.
A few other observations on the Red Sox:
▪ It’s increasingly clear Xander Bogaerts wants to test free agency. No doors have closed on the Sox, to be certain. But he’s curious what other teams will have to say.
The laissez-faire approach the Sox continue to take with retaining star players remains confounding.
▪ The Sox have had four rookies make at least three starts this season: Josh Winckowski (11), Kutter Crawford (8), Brayan Bello (3), and Connor Seabold (3).
They haven’t done that since 2006 when it was Jon Lester (15), Lenny DiNardo (6), Kason Gabbard (4), and David Pauley (3). That team won 86 games.
▪ Rafael Devers, José Ramírez, and Vladimir Guerrero Jr. entered Saturday as the only American League players with at least 20 home runs and 20 doubles.
▪ D’Angelo Ortiz hit .329 with 34 RBIs over 43 games for the Brockton Rox in the Futures Collegiate League. It was an impressive showing for David Ortiz’s son considering he joined the team out of high school and was often facing pitchers several years older.
Ortiz’s plan is to play in junior college next season.
Eckersley leaving on his terms
All baseball fans know what a walkoff win is. But did you know Dennis Eckersley came up with the term?
Eckersley, who will retire from NESN at the end of the season, started using it about 35 years ago when he was playing for Oakland.
“It makes sense, right? The home team wins and the other team walks off the field,” Eckersley said. “That’s a walkoff.”
Eckersley was on the wrong end of one of the greatest walkoffs ever: Kirk Gibson’s home run to win Game 1 of the 1988 World Series.
“I didn’t like being associated with it because it brings more attention to Gibson,” Eckersley said. “Now people use it all the time. It’s funny how things happen.”
Eckersley, who turns 68 in October, is moving back to California to spend more time with his two grandchildren. He made the announcement Monday and as days pass, he feels even better about the decision.
“It’s time,” Eckersley said. “I’ve been in pro ball for 50 years. It’s time for me to do something else. You’ll still see me around from time to time. The people here have been great to me.”
Safe at home at BU
Most of Braves Field was demolished in 1955 to make room for campus additions at Boston University. But now, thanks to a creative idea, you can stand at the same spot Hank Aaron, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Jackie Robinson, Babe Ruth, and Ted Williams once did.
Using GPS technology and old photographs, the BU athletic department determined the exact spot where home plate was at Braves Field. It’s now a bright white landmark on the artificial turf at Nickerson Field.
The plate-sized patch is just behind one of the soccer goals.
“We were talking about how we could commemorate where the plate was and used some buildings from that era and aerial photos as touchpoints to figure it out,” said Jill Cardella, the assistant athletic director for capital planning and facilities operations.
“It’s pretty cool that people can walk by and that’s the same spot where Babe Ruth once stood.”
Pieces of Braves Field still exist. What was once the team offices and ticket windows is now home to the BU police station. And the grandstands at Nickerson Field were once part of the ballpark.
Cardella said some recent renovation work at Nickerson Field unveiled old pipes that were remnants from Braves Field.
“It’s part of our history and I’m glad we’re celebrating it,” Cardella said. “It was a fun project to work on.”
Braves Field hosted the 1915 and ‘16 World Series played by the Red Sox as nearby Fenway Park was deemed too small for the occasion. The 1948 Series between the Braves and Indians was there as well, along with the 1936 All-Star Game.
Little has gone as expected for the White Sox, although they remain in position to win the AL Central again. Then there is Dylan Cease, who is challenging Justin Verlander for the American League Cy Young Award. The righthander is 12-5 with a 1.96 ERA. Only Verlander (15-3, 1.85) has a lower ERA. Cease has allowed one or fewer earned runs in 19 of his 23 starts. The White Sox haven’t had a Cy Young winner since Jack McDowell in 1993. Their last ERA champion was Joe Horlen in 1967 with a 2.06 ERA. Horlen finished second in the Cy Young voting that season to Jim Lonborg … Dave Dombrowski has a .527 winning percentage as president of baseball operations of the Phillies. That’s better than Chaim Bloom’s .510 with the Red Sox. Dombrowski’s decision to fire Joe Girardi after only 51 games and elevate Rob Thomson to manager paid off. The Phillies are 10 games over .500 since Bryce Harper went on the injured list June 26 … Tyler Glasnow, out all season recovering from Tommy John surgery, hasn’t started a minor league rehab assignment yet. But he is throwing 98-99 miles per hour, according to Rays pitching coach Kyle Snyder. The Rays could bring back Glasnow as a reliever in September. Glasnow could be a difference-maker given how well he pitched before the surgery … Here’s to Justin Dunn. The former Boston College pitcher returned to the majors on Monday after an absence of 418 days because of a series of shoulder injuries and went 4⅔ innings for the Reds. He allowed three runs in a 5-1 loss but it was still a milestone. “There were a lot of times through that process where I was wondering if I’d even be able to throw a ball again normal and a lot of doubt crept into my mind,” Dunn said … Chandler Redmond is not considered a major prospect. But the 25-year-old Double A infielder for the Cardinals had an all-time game Wednesday when he hit for the home run cycle. He had a two-run homer in the fifth inning, a grand slam in the sixth, a solo homer in the seventh, and a three-run homer in the ninth as Springfield beat Amarillo, 21-4. Redmond was 5 for 6 with 11 RBIs and 17 total bases. His OPS climbed from .745 to .813 in one night. No major league player has ever had the home run cycle. Redmond was a 32nd-round draft pick in 2019. The draft is only 20 rounds now … The Mets are having an Old Timers Game Aug. 27 and have 61 players coming back. Among them are former Red Sox players Rico Brogna, Bartolo Colon, David Cone, Cliff Floyd, Skip Lockwood, Pat Mahomes, Pedro Martinez, Kevin Mitchell, Bobby Ojeda, Jay Payton, and Billy Wagner … Vladimir Guerrero Jr. is the ninth-youngest player in the American League. He went into the weekend having played 454 games — more than the eight younger players combined. This is Guerrero’s fourth season and he’s 23 … Prior to doing it this season on several occasions, the Royals had not fielded a lineup of entirely homegrown players (either originally drafted or signed by the team) since 1990 … This would seem almost impossible with the new extra-inning rule, but Magneuris Sierra of the Angels twice drove in the go-ahead run during extra innings Wednesday in a 5-4 victory at Oakland. Sierra had a single in the 10th inning to drive in the ghost runner. The Athletics tied the game in the bottom of the inning. Sierra got up again in the 12th and doubled to give Los Angeles another lead and this time they held it. He was the first Angel to drive in two go-ahead runs in extra innings since Gary Pettis on May 28, 1987. They were also Sierra’s first two RBIs of the season … The Pirates are starting a team Hall of Fame and announced a 19-man inaugural class that included Roberto Clemente, Ralph Kiner, Dave Parker, Willie Stargell, and Honus Wagner. Noticeably absent: Barry Bonds, who won two MVPs while a member of the Pirates and is fifth in franchise history with 176 home runs … Jackie Bradley Jr. and Whit Merrifield were teammates when South Carolina won the 2010 College World Series. Now they’re teammates with the Blue Jays. Bradley was selected the Most Outstanding Player of that CWS. Since 1970, Bradley, Pat Burrell, Dansby Swanson, and Dave Winfield are the only players to win Most Outstanding Player in the College World Series and win a World Series in the majors … All the best to friend of the column Jim Palmer, who is recovering from surgery. He hopes to be at Fenway when the Orioles are in town Sept. 9-11 … The Oldtime Baseball Game, which is organized by Athletic columnist Steve Buckley, will be Aug. 22 at 7 p.m. at St. Peter’s Field in Cambridge. The game will serve as fund-raiser for the Young-Onset Colorectal Cancer Center at Dana Farber in memory of former Sox pitcher Jim Corsi, who died in January. Eckersley is scheduled to be on hand. For more information go to OldtimeBaseball.com … Happy birthday to Clay Buchholz, who is 38. Buchholz was 81-61 with a 3.96 ERA for the Red Sox from 2007-16 and was a two-time All-Star. He’s also the last starting pitcher of any note drafted and developed by the team. Mark Loretta is 51. He played for the Sox in 2006 and was an All-Star second baseman. He signed with the Astros after the season, which opened the spot for Dustin Pedroia.