The Orioles avoided a sweep and kept their (slim) hopes of reaching 50 wins alive by beating the Blue Jays 2-1 in Baltimore on Wednesday night.
There was not nearly as much excitement in this game as there was in Tuesday night’s affair. College Park alums and WWE superstars were part of the sparse Camden Yards crowd, but fireworks on the field were kept to a minimum.
It was a quick one, too. If you were hoping to catch the last inning after your favorite hour-long drama ended at 10, then you were sorely disappointed. The AL East foes completed eight-and-a-half innings in just two hours and 34 minutes. Pace of play, baby!
The two teams combined for just one base runner (an error on Toronto third baseman Aledmys Diaz) through the opening two-and-a-half frames. As a result, there was no score until O’s rookie DJ Stewart took Blue Jays starter Marco Estrada deep, clanging a long fly ball off of the right field foul pole for his first (real) major league home run.
Yesterday, his first Major League hit, a little league home run.— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 19, 2018
Today, his first Major League HOME RUN!@GOOODJ8 #Birdland pic.twitter.com/ljcbKFg7ho
The round-tripper came off of Estrada’s trademark changeup. It was not a wonderfully located offering, but it’s still encouraging to see a young player identify a pitch, keep their weight back and dole out the punishment that the ball so clearly deserved.
Apart from that dong, Estrada had a fairly quiet night on the mound. He tossed six innings with just the one run allowed on four hits, a walk and five strikeouts. The O’s didn’t have any other runners reach second base against the 35-year-old hurler.
On the flip side, Jimmy Yacabonis started for the Birds and delivered, arguably, one of his best outings as a big leaguer. The right hander didn’t allow any runs over four innings while striking out two, walking one and serving up two hits.
In fact, Yacabonis’s first three innings were perfect: nine up, nine down, four strikeouts. The end of the third inning also concluded his first trip through the Toronto lineup. Things typically go just fine for Yacabonis when he faces hitters once in a game. It’s that second time where issues start to pop. It would be no different in this game.
Billy McKinney, Lourdes Gurriel Jr. and Justin Smoak began the fourth inning with a single to right field, a bunt single to third base and a six-pitch walk, respectively. No outs, bases loaded. This did not look great for Yacabonis. FanGraphs tells us that when teams load the bases with no outs they can expect to score, on average, 2.282 runs. The odds that the Orioles would leave this inning with the lead were not great.
However, the Orioles are not the only MLB team with a tendency to make poor decisions. Kendrys Morales followed the previously mentioned trio with a shallow fly ball to Adam Jones in right field. Jones settled under the can of corn, caught it, took a crow hop, and fired home in plenty of time for catcher Austin Wynns to collect the throw and reach back across the plate to tag out McKinney, who had attempted to tag up from third base.
☄️ @SimplyAJ10 #Birdland pic.twitter.com/gfxwuG1S7g— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 20, 2018
The bad baserunning bailed out Yacabonis, who was clearly struggling to throw strikes and, therefore, get outs. There was further evidence of this in the next at-bat, where the O’s starter plunked Kevin Pillar to load the bases once again. He was able to finally end the threat with another fly out, this time by Diaz, to close out the fourth inning. If the Blue Jays hadn’t “given” him the second out on a questionable decision to tag up, who knows how many runs they could have scored. But it happened, and they didn’t score any!
Yacabonis looked good, overall, in this game. He also provided another reason to doubt his ability to be a traditional starter that can thrown five or more innings. That’s OK. The Orioles may do well to adopt a forward-thinking approach as the Rays have this season with their “openers.” It’s tough to find five quality starters and keep them all healthy for an entire season. It’s slightly less difficult to find a handful of guys that can reliably throw three-ish solid innings and stack them in a given game. If the O’s do employ such a strategy, Yacabonis should be a key part of that set-up. Otherwise, he could be a useful middle relief option.
The only other Orioles scoring in the game came in the seventh inning when two rookies, Stewart again and center fielder Cedric Mullins, combined to double the Orioles advantage. Stewart battled Danny Barnes throughout a 12-pitch at bat, which ended with a Stewart gapper to right-center field, the first two-bagger of his big league career. After Stewart advanced to third on a Wynns fly out, Mullins bounced a single past the third baseman to drive in his teammate and make it a 2-0 lead.
+1 @cedmull30 #Birdland pic.twitter.com/YG9cdBIuQP— Baltimore Orioles (@Orioles) September 20, 2018
That insurance run would prove to be necessary as McKinney smacked the first pitch he saw from O’s reliever Miguel Castro into the seats beyond center field and make it a one-run difference once again.
Has this kid been awesome or what??— Toronto Blue Jays (@BlueJays) September 20, 2018
Billy McDINGERS strikes AGAIN! pic.twitter.com/Lhg0Vg9szC
There would be no drama in the ninth inning. Mychal Givens came in for his eighth save of the season and sat down the Blue Jays hitters in order. His was the last in a line of impressive performances from the Birds bullpen on this night. Yacabonis, normally a reliever, tossed four scoreless innings. Mike Wright Jr. didn’t give up any runs in two innings of work. Castro did allow the home run, but was solid in the rest of his 1.2 innings. And Tanner Scott needed just one pitch to finish off the eighth inning.
The O’s are off on Thursday before beginning a three-game series in the Bronx on Friday. Yefry Ramirez (1-6, 5.50 ERA) is on the mound for the good guys. The Yankees have not announced a starter just yet because they still have to finish up a set against the Red Sox on Thursday. Not that it really matters from the Orioles perspective, but it would be pretty cool to give the Bombers a fight this weekend and make them sweat about traveling for the AL Wild Card game.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Wednesday, September 19, 2018?
This poll is closed
Jimmy Yacabonis (4.0 IP, 0 R, 2 H, 4 SO, 1 BB)
Mike Wright Jr. (W, 2.0 IP, 0 R, 1 H, 2 SO, 1 BB)
DJ Stewart (2-for-3, first career HR and 2B, 2 R)
Cedric Mullins (1-for-4, game-winning RBI)
Adam Jones (throwing out McKinney at home)