Orioles thoughts on Jeffrey Maier, Tony Tarasco, Miguel Gonzalez, Nathan Showalter

Who could be the odd man out in the Orioles' rotation? Right now, it looks like Miguel Gonzalez.

When I saw that the infamous Jeffrey Maier glove -- the black Mizuno used by the 12-year-old Maier to deflect a fly ball into a homer in Game 1 of the 1996 American League Championship Series at Yankee Stadium -- is being auctioned off this week, I had to laugh.

Every few years that moment comes up again -- one of the most painful in Orioles history. Over the years, I have gotten to know Maier a little bit; he’s a down-to-earth guy who did what most 12-year-old kids would do -- and many adults -- at a ballgame. He then was feted -- albeit too much -- in New York while being forever despised in Baltimore. He has handled it all very well after those first few overwhelming days.

I have talked to Maier several times about his role in that infamous home run by Derek Jeter that tied the game in the eighth (one the Yankees eventually won in 11), but I had never spoken to Orioles outfielder Tony Tarasco about it until this summer while researching the subject for my soon-to-be released Orioles book.

All of these years later, Tarasco has an interesting take on that moment. He said he’s a big believer that things happen for a reason, and he just thinks Jeter and the Yankees were destined to win. So it wasn’t surprising, in retrospect, that something bizarre helped to trigger the Yankees’ dynastic run. Something, that is, besides a 12-year-old kid and an umpire who completely blew the call. All that said, with a smile, Tarasco will tell you that he’ll forever feel he was robbed.

We’ll never know what would have happened if Tarasco had caught that ball. The Orioles likely would have won Game 1 and went back to Baltimore 2-0, instead of tied 1-1. The Yankees then swept all three at Camden Yards, capitalizing on every break on their way to their first World Series title in 18 years. Starting with 1996, the Yankees won four in five years.

When I last wrote about that incident, back in 2012 when the Orioles returned to the Bronx for a playoff game, several people -- and at least one museum -- asked me whether Maier still had the home run ball. The answer: he never had it. After it hit his glove, it caromed away, and a fan in his section jumped on it. So Maier, who arguably made the most famous home run “catch” by a fan in baseball history, didn’t actually catch the ball.

** I’m sure many of you can’t wait for the first pictures, stories, blogs and tweets from Sarasota, Fla., this week. Friday is the first workout for pitchers and catchers.

It’s going to take weeks, but the storyline that most intrigues me is what happens with the six pitchers for the five-man rotation. These things usually have a way of working themselves out in the simplest ways. One sore shoulder and there is no longer a logjam.

But if not, I get the sense that Miguel Gonzalez, who has proven his worth as a major league starter, could be the odd man out. Given the hefty contract Ubaldo Jimenez possesses, he’s going to get a real shot to seize a rotation spot. And given his unorthodox delivery, he should have some spring training success against Grapefruit League lineups that aren’t brimming with top talent. So a solid March for Jimenez buys him some time.

Gonzalez, Kevin Gausman and Wei-Yin Chen all can be sent to the minors without passing through waivers this year, so that may be one way to lessen the crowded rotation. Chen is the only left-hander, and Gausman could be the most talented of the group, so Gonzalez could be the most likely to be sent to Triple-A Norfolk, at least temporarily, until the rotation becomes clearer. He also could end up in the big league bullpen.

Regardless, that would be a tough conversation for manager Buck Showalter -- and a tough one for Gonzalez to hear. Gonzalez is a pro’s pro, but he wants to get the ball every fifth day in the majors. So we’ll monitor that situation throughout the spring. It’s my experience that questions in February are often answered in March without any tough decisions being made.

** As Fox Sports reported Monday, Showalter’s 23-year-old son, Nathan, has joined the team as an area scout. It has been in the works since late last year, but only became official recently.

Nathan Showalter scouted for the San Diego Padres in 2014, and had other offers this year, but his heart was in his father’s organization. He’ll be scouting high school and college players in North Texas and Southern Arkansas. His father said the region has roughly seven potential first-rounders in it this year, and so it’ll be a good test for the younger Showalter.

Nathan Showalter also could do some international scouting in the future. He is fluent in Spanish.

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Editor's note

A previous version of this blog incorrectly stated the sequence of results after Game 1 of the series. The Sun regrets the error.

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