Howard Herman: Duquette's O's perfect so far in 2016
BOSTON — It's not his park anymore, but that couldn't keep Dan Duquette from smiling.
Duquette, the Baltimore Orioles' Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations, brought a team with a perfect record to Fenway Park Monday as the Red Sox played their home opener.
"It's a good start for the O's. It's the strongest start for the team since 1970," Duquette said when we spoke on the field prior to the start of the Boston home opener. "We've been getting what you need — good pitching and we've been catching the ball and scoring just enough runs."
The Orioles beat the Red Sox 9-7, for Baltimore's sixth straight win to open the season. The Orioles had never done that before, and their winning streak is 11, dating back to Sept. 30, 2015.
It's year five in the Dan Duquette rehabilitation tour, and the onetime baseball wunderkind hasn't really missed a beat.
Fired by the Red Sox when John Henry's ownership group took over after the 2001 season, the Duke of Dalton spent 10 years out of the majors. That time, as you might remember, included a tenure running the Pittsfield Dukes of the NECBL.
But in 2011, Orioles owner Peter Angelos hired Duquette, and the results haven't been too bad. In four seasons, the Birds have never played below .500 baseball.
Coming into Monday's game at the old ballpark on Yawkey Way, the Orioles had swept the Minnesota Twins at home and then won two games against Tampa Bay.
This Baltimore team was one that didn't come together until late in the process. It's not the way you usually work in the sport, but Duquette said that with multiple roads to go, it was a case of putting the right group of players together.
"It's a fluid process. We try to do the best thing we can today, and try to win today's game today and worry about tomorrow's game tomorrow. In the off-season, we line up the players as we like them and we go down the list and try to sign them for what we think is reasonable for the Oriole market," said Duquette. "It's not a big market.
"At the end of the day, we're looking players that are gritty and want to be in Baltimore. It's a working-class city and people like to play there."
One player who apparently didn't "like to play there" was Chicago Cubs outfielder Dexter Fowler.
For a while, it appeared like the Orioles had Fowler lined up to take a 3-year, $33 million contract. But Fowler elected to return to the Cubs. It was an acrimonious time, as Fowler's agent Casey Close didn't have many good things to say about Duquette and the Orioles.
But any good executive has a Plan B, and if that doesn't work a C, D, or E.
"When we didn't sign Fowler, we had to look for an alternative player. We thought we were going to get a deal with him, but that didn't work out. So we went and took a look at Joey Rickard a little bit longer," said Duquette. "We found out that he's a pretty good player. Then we signed [former Pittsburgh Pirate] Pedro Alvarez. We'll see how that works out."
Rickard, who started Monday's game, is a Rule 5 selection. That means the Orioles have to keep him on the major league roster or return him to Tampa Bay. All he did was go 8 for 18 in the Orioles' homestand with a home run and three runs batted in. If he sticks, it reminds me of when Duquette found Troy O'Leary and Tim Wakefield on the "scrap heap" when he was the Sox GM.
"We've got a versatile group that's played other places. It's been a strength of ours," Baltimore manager Buck Showalter said in the dugout before Monday's game. "We try to match up with things that give us the most advantage.
"If we go to Yankee Stadium, it's the other way around. If you go to Tampa it's different. If you go to our park, it's different."
It wouldn't be different if Duquette and his staff of scouts and analysts hadn't done their jobs.
"It's coming along," Duquette said of the Baltimore minor league organization. "We have some pretty decent players.
"We don't get a lot of publicity the other clubs get, but we have some pretty good players."
So far, so good for Dan Duquette and the Orioles.
Contact Howard Herman at 413-496-6253.
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