No matter how well the Orioles do this season, perhaps the most improbable moment of 2014 for those who have followed this club over the past several years occurred in the third inning of the All-Star Game in Minnesota in July — and it had little to do with the current Orioles.
Cincinnati Reds right-hander Alfredo Simon stepped on the mound at Target Field as a National League All-Star and faced Derek Jeter, Mike Trout, Robinson Cano and Miguel Cabrera. He retired three of the four — Jeter singled — for a scoreless inning.
"I did everything 100 percent, and every dream came true," said Simon, who returned to Camden Yards this week for the first time since pitching for the Orioles from 2008 to 2011. "I didn't ever think about the All-Star Game. I just wanted to do my best. Once I was there, I faced all the big All-Stars. Jeter, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera. I just feel proud of myself."
A little more than three years ago, there was question as to whether Simon would ever pitch again — anywhere.
In January 2011, he was detained in a Dominican Republic prison and charged with involuntary manslaughter after he was accused of firing a gun that killed a 25-year-old man and wounded his 17-year-old half brother during an early morning New Year's Day celebration. He was acquitted of those charges in Nov. 2011.
Simon also had some legal troubles this year when he was sued by a woman who had accused him of rape in April 2013 in a Washington, D.C., hotel room while he was on a road trip with the Reds. Law enforcement officials never filed charges in that case, but the civil lawsuit seeking $15 million is still pending.
In 2011, the Orioles were forced to put Simon on the restricted list to start that season, and he didn't rejoin the major league team until June. He was 4-9 with a 4.90 ERA in 23 games (16 starts) and was viewed as a potential member of the rotation. The year before that, he was pushed into the closer's role and saved 17 games before losing that spot.
In the spring of 2012, days before the season started, the Orioles placed Simon on waivers and he was claimed by the Reds, ending a tumultuous career with the organization in which he never truly fulfilled his potential.
"I didn't want to leave Baltimore, but at the same time, I was mad because I knew I had the stuff to be there, but they needed my spot and put me on waivers," Simon said Wednesday. "I felt like I had a great arm, and I tried to do a lot, and they put me on waivers. So it was like they don't care about me. The Reds picked me up and gave me the opportunity, and I'm here and I'm happy now."
Simon posted two sub-3.00 ERAs for the Reds in the past two seasons as a reliever. He told new manager Bryan Price — his former Cincinnati pitching coach — that he would like to start again if the opportunity arose.
Because of injuries to Mat Latos and Sean Marshall, with whom Simon was competing for a rotation spot this spring, Simon got his wish. And he ran with it.
Simon went 12-3 with a 2.70 ERA in 18 first-half starts, and he was a late addition to the NL All-Star team. He's 1-6 with a 4.62 ERA in nine starts in the second half. He would have been on turn to start Thursday's series finale at Camden Yards, but a day off Monday pushed everyone back a game.
"I did want to face them. It was my team, and I asked my manager if I could face them the last day, but Mike Leake has to pitch [to stay on turn] and I have to pitch Friday at home," Simon said. "But I am glad to be here and say, 'Hi' to my old teammates."