They say baseball is a funny game. They say the game isn’t played on paper. On any given night, they say, the worst team in the league can beat the best team in the league.
Well, yeah, theoretically they can. But most of the time, the best team in the league will make mincemeat of the worst.
That’s exactly what played out at Camden Yards tonight. The Orioles, sparked by the debut of Cedric Mullins, dared to dream, dared to feel optimistic after taking a five-run lead over the Red Sox through three innings. And then, their house of cards came crumbling down as the vastly superior team did vastly superior things.
The game started, as you might have expected, with the Red Sox doing early damage. Dylan Bundy was making his first start against Boston since he coughed up three homers July 25 that were fortunately wiped out of the record books by rain. Bundy didn’t take advantage of his weather-aided second chance, letting the Red Sox stomp all over him again tonight. Xander Bogaerts tagged him for a three-run homer in the top of the first, giving the Red Sox a quick multi-run edge.
Still, the O’s brought their heavy lumber to the park, quickly erasing the deficit against Sox starter Nathan Eovaldi. The fireworks got started in the second with a Chris Davis home run, and the next two hitters reached on a walk and a single, bringing up the just-promoted Cedric Mullins for his first major league at-bat.
It went quite well. On a 1-1 pitch, Mullins laced a sharp liner into right field for a run-scoring double, collecting his first hit and RBI in one fell swoop. Nicely done, Cedric! What a way to make an entrance. MASN showed his family clapping and cheering in the crowd while his father studiously videoed the proceedings on his phone. He does know this game is being recorded on television, right? They’ve got HD cameras and everything.
Mullins wasn’t done making an impact in the second inning. With two outs, Adam Jones ripped a hard-hit single to left field. The ball got to left fielder Andrew Benintendi so quickly that most Orioles runners likely would’ve been held at third base. Cedric Mullins is not most Orioles runners. The speedster blazed around the bag and scurried home ahead of Benintendi’s off-line throw, giving the Orioles a 4-3 lead.
The O’s offensive onslaught continued in the third. With one out, back-to-back singles put two aboard for Caleb Joseph. He swatted a gapper to right-center field that Jackie Bradley Jr. impressively ranged a long way for, but the ball glanced off his glove as he tried to make the catch. One run scored on what was (a bit harshly, IMO) ruled an error on Bradley.
Next up was Mullins. He came through again, scalding a hot-shot bouncer that drawn-in second baseman Brock Holt couldn’t corral. Mullins was credited with an RBI single (although that looked to me like an easier fielding play than Bradley’s), giving him two hits and two RBIs in as many big league at-bats.
Boston’s defense continued to disappoint. With runners at the corners, Jonathan Villar laid down a bunt that Eovaldi snared. But instead of throwing to the plate, where he would’ve had a play on the runner, Eovaldi lobbed to first instead, conceding the run. Mullins advanced to second on the play, then motored home when Tim Beckham singled to left field to end Eovaldi’s night.
The Orioles had scored eight unanswered runs, they’d chased Eovaldi after 2.2 innings, and they carried an 8-3 lead to the fourth inning. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, I’ll remind you again: the Orioles are the worst team in the major leagues, and the Red Sox are the best. Soon enough, the O’s were hit hard by the bitter sting of reality. But, more specifically, they were hit hard by the Red Sox.
Bundy’s evening was a huge disappointment. Staked to a huge lead, he frittered it all away. The Red Sox plated two runs in the fourth, the first on a Bradley triple to left-center that Mullins somehow almost caught despite starting the play half a world away. No other O’s outfielder would’ve been anywhere close to that ball, so I’m going to applaud Mullins for his range rather than criticize him for not hauling it in. He might also have been screened by left fielder Trey Mancini, who was galumphing around the vicinity to the benefit of nobody.
Bradley scored on a Joseph passed ball to cut the lead to 8-5, though Bundy then managed to work through a scoreless fifth despite putting two runners in scoring position. With the starter clearly laboring and having already been tagged for seven hits and five runs, I thought for sure Bundy would be pulled after the fifth, lucky to be in line for the victory.
Buck Showalter had other ideas. He tried to coax another inning out of Bundy, with disastrous results. Bundy coughed up a Holt homer on his first pitch of the sixth, then surrendered a walk and a single before Showalter mercifully gave him the hook. I get that Showalter doesn’t trust his bullpen, but I knew he was playing with fire by bringing Bundy back.
Then again, the bullpen proved that they truly do stink, so maybe we’re both right. Or we’re both wrong? I guess there’s nothing Showalter could’ve done to prevent this game from becoming a complete train wreck, short of going back in time and building a better roster this year.
Miguel Castro came in and poured gasoline on the fire, walking Mookie Betts to load the bases. After a force at the plate, Mitch Moreland lofted a long sac fly to cut the O’s lead to 8-7. Showalter elected to intentionally walk J.D. Martinez, which was somewhat understandable considering how awesome a hitter he’s been, but also risky because it re-loaded the bases for a wild Castro. Sure enough, he walked Bogaerts to knot the score at 8-8.
What’s more embarrassing than walking home the tying run? Walking home the tying run AND the go-ahead run. That’s precisely what the Orioles did, with Donnie Hart performing the latter with a free pass to Rafael Devers. Adding to the madness, Holt collected his second and third RBIs of the inning with a single up the middle off Beckham’s glove, extending Boston’s edge to 11-8. Just like the Orioles earlier in the game, the Red Sox had scored eight unanswered runs.
After a brief O’s comeback attempt in the sixth — thanks to a Beckham solo homer and a Davis sac fly — the Red Sox removed all doubt by further destroying the Birds’ bullpen. Benintendi blasted a three-run homer in the seventh off Hart, the alleged O’s lefty specialist who retired none of the four lefties he faced.
Evan Phillips, the rookie righty from the Kevin Gausman trade, was tagged for three runs in the eighth on a Betts bases-loaded double, and Tanner Scott charged another run to Phillips and one to himself on a Martinez two-run single. By the middle of the eighth, the Red Sox had a 19-10 lead. They got those 19 runs on just 16 hits, taking advantage of 10 walks by Orioles pitchers. O’s fans everywhere were ready to put their head into a wall, if they hadn’t already.
Mark Trumbo’s eighth-inning homer accounted for the Orioles’ 11th run, and Mullins added to his sensational debut with a ninth-inning double, scoring on a Villar single. Mullins finished his night 3-for-4 with a walk, three runs scored, and two RBIs. It was truly one of the best MLB debuts I’ve ever seen from an O’s prospect. Too bad his effort was overshadowed by the Orioles’ pitching meltdown.
The O’s ended up scoring 12 runs on 17 hits and still got blown out. The Red Sox are extremely, unbelievably good. And the Orioles are extremely, unbelievably bad. That’s how games like tonight happen.
And that’s how a team gets mathematically eliminated from the division race on Aug. 10 — which is also what happened to the Orioles tonight.