The Orioles entered play on Wednesday night ranked 11th out of 15 American League teams with only five home runs. They did their very best to drag themselves out of that hole all in one night, taking advantage of a bad night by Red Sox knuckleballer Steven Wright to double their season total in one game.
As it turned out, the O’s needed the runs. Ubaldo Jimenez had one of those Ubaldo Jimenez kind of games where despite being staked to a nine run lead, he still couldn’t clear five innings and qualify for the win. Not that pitcher wins mean anything, but come on, dude. When you get a 9-0 lead, figure out how to get through five, right?
Perhaps because it was Jimenez, perhaps because it was in Fenway Park against the Red Sox, there were times where the score felt a lot closer than it was. Well, it did get close. The Red Sox had two at-bats where the tying run was at the plate, even despite the early 9-0 deficit.
Boston made it interesting, but at least as far as the Win Probability graph was concerned, they were never very likely to win. Their chance in their fifth inning rally peaked at a 23.4% chance to win the game. That’s not very much. And the reason why they never got close later is because the Orioles hit them hard early on.
Fittingly enough, it was the first of their five home runs - the only one that wasn’t a solo shot - that helped the Orioles chances of winning the game the most. The Orioles already had a 2-0 lead by the time Trey Mancini stepped to the plate in the first inning, and with back-to-back singles by Mark Trumbo and Welington Castillo putting two men on base, they had a chance to add even more onto their lead.
The Orioles were already in good shape because of the early runs. They had a 67.2% chance of winning the game at that point. Hitting a baseball is hard and it’s hard to score runs, so already having two is pretty good, and you might score more later.
Like, say, on a three-run home run hit by Mancini that (for the moment) blew the game open to a 5-0 Orioles lead. Mancini’s obeisance to the third of the holy trinity of Earl Weaver (pitching, defense, and three run homers) lifted the O’s chance of winning to an even higher 85.3%.
Funny things can happen to a 2-0 lead. It’s a lot harder for things to happen to a 5-0 lead, though Jimenez, to be sure, tried his best to make sure things happened to that lead. It’s a good thing the Orioles hit four other homers.
The biggest blow the Red Sox struck against the Orioles was the bases loaded single hit by Xander Bogaerts in the fifth inning. Bogaerts was the first batter that Mychal Givens faced after Jimenez left. That single, a catchable ball that Mancini got a poor read on in left field, increased the Sox chance of winning by 7.5%. That was the end of their hope for the night.
This was not exactly an epic battle. It was clear early on that the knuckler of Wright wasn’t knuckling on Wednesday night and Orioles hitters, as is their way against anyone, were ready to come out hacking.
Mancini appears to have been following the old saw about facing the knuckleball: If it’s low, let it go. If it’s high, let it fly. Pitch #1 was low and Mancini let it go - although you can see on the strike zone map that it was actually a strike. Red Sox catcher Sandy Leon practically caught the pitch off of his shoestrings. No dragging that one into the strike zone.
Was it a blown call? Sure. You aren’t going to catch me shedding any tears over this great injustice against the Red Sox, though.
Pitch #2 hits the second half of the phrase. If it’s high, let it fly. Was it high? Oh, yeah.
This was not one of those authoritative crack-of-the-bat swings where you know that the ball is gone as soon as the hitter makes contact. It was one of those flick of the wrist swings where the ball just keeps carrying and carrying the other way because that’s how strong Mancini is.
The ball just kept going and eventually it landed in the Red Sox bullpen. A righty driving the ball to right-center field? Catch me if I swoon. Neither of the Sox outfielders who gave chase to the ball ever got very close to it or made you think they might catch it. Wright threw the pitch in at 71mph, Mancini sent it flying out at 103mph.
This dinger had a 27 degree launch angle, an apex of 75 feet, and hung in the air for 4.7 seconds before landing 392 feet away from home plate.
As Gary Thorne always says, good bye, home run! The Orioles were in a commanding position right then, but it turned out to be a good thing they kept scoring. It’s not over ‘til it’s over.
Mancini’s second home run was part of the continuing offensive outburst, and with it, according to the MASN broadcast, he became the first Orioles player ever to hit five home runs in his first ten games. Not bad for a guy who was on no one’s radar this time two years ago.
Season Tally (wins)
1 - Mark Trumbo, Zach Britton, Seth Smith, Hyun Soo Kim, Trey Mancini
Season Tally (losses)
1 - Mychal Givens, Dylan Bundy