This isn’t Lew Ford’s first pennant race. Far from it. He was part of the Minnesota Twins teams that played in the American League Division Series in ’03, ’04 and ’06, and was a regular outfielder in the middle of those years when they were ousted by the New York Yankees in four games.
But the 36-year-old with a slightly receding hairline, who is part of the remarkable year coming down the stretch in Baltimore, has not seen anything to match this season. I do not believe it is merely that his own comeback via the Long Island Ducks of the Atlantic League after four full seasons out of the major leagues is so dramatic itself.
“You don’t get a break,” Ford told me in the hallway leading to the Orioles’ clubhouse barely three hours before he would be starting in right field in the opener of one more crucial series, this one against another of the American League East’s prime contenders, Tampa Bay. “It is a little different here. Every series you are playing a good team.” The Yankees just left after a four-game split. After the Rays, the Orioles fly west to take on Oakland, another postseason contender. Well, you get the idea.
Ford’s year started with him openly wanting to be a part of bringing a championship to the Ducks, which he smiles about now. His contract was purchased by the O’s May 17 (when he was hitting .333). Then he hit .331 in the next 62 games for Triple-A Norfolk, VA before finally returning to the major leagues July 29. To put it somewhat into context, the 6-foot right-handed hitter went 1,774 days between major league hits.
Ford’s role has evolved into primarily starting against left-handers, especially since veteran starter Nick Markakis suffered a broken thumb last weekend which thinned the outfield corps. He is hitting only .183 (11-for-60 in 20 appearances), but he started one rally with a single up the middle in the thrilling 14-inning win Thursday (he was stranded at third base), and has three key home runs, all off contending teams. Two of the round-trippers were in back-to-back games against Chicago and one was against the Yankees. He also has made some sterling outfield plays, and has the fans freely hollering for Loooooo.
Don’t think for a moment Ford has forgotten Long Island.
“It would surprise a lot of people who have not seen a game”, he explained, of the quality of play in the Atlantic League. He also understands what happens in an Independent league. “It’s not money or fame. It’s camaraderie, there’s not the politics (of affiliated play). It’s baseball.” I hear similar comments over and over. This time it is from Lew Ford, now involved in a major league postseason chase.Powered by Sidelines Follow paulmbanks