David Hess was cruising. And we’re not just talking about a nice Sunday drive. Hess had shifted into high gear, put the pedal to the metal and was flying down Ontario Highway 401. When all of a sudden, the car came to a screeching halt.
By the seventh inning, Hess had taken complete control of the game. He’d struck out eight Toronto batters, walked just one, and had only thrown 82 pitches in 6.1 innings. Oh yeah, he had not allowed a hit either. That’s why just about everyone was surprised when Orioles manager Brandon Hyde emerged from the dugout and took the ball away from the 25-year-old pitcher.
Hess greeted Hyde with a smile. A genuine grin, but one that stemmed from shock. The Tennessee native would not have a chance to complete what was likely a life-long dream. A modest Toronto crowd expressed their dismay with boos, and Orioles fans back home had the wind taken out of their sails. For most, the initial shock likely gave way to a shrug and conceding it was the right move. But pulling the guy at only 82 pitches? The Orioles still had a game to win.
With the hiring of Hyde and Mike Elias, the Orioles cannon-balled into new school baseball. A team that emphasizes analytics will not be phased by a feel good story on April 1. But flash forward to the ninth inning, with the tying run only 90 feet away, and the focus shifted from “I can’t believe they pulled Hess” to “I can’t believe they’re going to blow this game.”
Baltimore led 6-0 when Hess exited, but Toronto scraped together five runs in the final three innings, and were looking to knot things up. Richard Bleier, who failed to close Saturday’s game in New York, was called upon again. He didn’t leave any room for error, but Bleier struck out Lourdes Gurriel Jr. with a runner on third to end the game. The Orioles beat the Blue Jays 6-5, and moved to 3-1 in the young season.
Baltimore took control of the game before Hess ever stepped foot on the mound. After Dwight Smith Jr. muscled a one-out single to center field in the top of the first, Jonathan Villar turned a 3-1 fastball the other way and over the left field fence for a two-run lead. Trey Mancini reached on an infield single, the Blue Jays botched a potential inning ending double play, and Renato Nunez worked a walk to load the bases.
Chris Davis took a 3-2 fastball that just missed to walk in a run and put the Birds up three. Jesus Sucre struck out on a breaking ball in the dirt, but the ball skipped past Blue Jays catcher Danny Jansen, and Ruiz came around to score. Then Hess went to work.
Hess retired the first two Toronto batters with weak ground balls, before striking out Justin Smoak to retire the side. The three outs felt big, not because they produced a shut down inning after an early lead, but how they came. The righty looked dialed in, and he was. The sophomore pitcher reached 95 mph on the gun and had every pitch working for him.
Baltimore added another run in the second when Mancini drove in Cedric Mullins with a sacrifice fly. Neither team scored until Mancini blasted a solo shot 408 feet over the center field fence in the top of the seventh. The homer proved to be more insurance than the Orioles knew they needed.
Once Hess left, the wheels immediately fell off. Pedro Araujo squandered the team’s no-hit bid right away. After walking Justin Smoak, Randal Grichuk blasted a no doubter to trim the lead to four. Rowdy Telles followed with a single, but Araujo forced Teoscar Hernadez into an inning ending double play.
Mike Wright Jr. pitched the eighth inning and allowed a solo home run to Freddy Galvis. The Orioles led 6-3 entering the ninth.
Wright stayed on in the ninth and immediately gave up a single to Brandon Drury. Hyde called for Bleier, but the bleeding did not stop there. The Orioles caught a break when Smoak lined a ball off of Bleier’s leg, but shortstop Richie Martin made a tremendous play. Martin changed directions, dove to his right, corralled the ball and fired to first to get the first out of the inning.
Grichuck blooped a ball into center that fell between three Orioles fielders, and suddenly Toronto had runners on second and third. Drury scored on a sacrifice fly by pinch hitter Kevin Pillar, but the Jays were down to their final out. Hernandez trimmed the deficit to one with an RBI triple, but Bleier recovered and struck out Gurriel on three pitches to end the inning. Hess, Hyde and Bleier all could let out a sigh of relief.
Hyde said everything you’d expect after the game regarding Hess. He pointed out that it’s a six month season, and that it was the right move long term. Still, it’s easy to imagine the headlines if Toronto completed the comeback. The move looks a lot better after a win.
The game provides everyone with a little more excitement regarding Hess. After winning two of his first three starts last May, he won only one more game in 2018. The idea that the Orioles had to be concerned about protecting Hess’s arm was a foreign notion over the off season, but here we are. If he can come anywhere close to replicating his start Monday evening, it would be a great boost for an Orioles team lacking starting pitching.
Trey Mancini finished 2-3 with 2 RBIs and 2 runs scored. He also made a nifty diving catch in right field to keep Toronto out of the hit column. Villar finished 2-4, and Baltimore tallied only six hits in the game.
The Baltimore Orioles are now 3-1 on the season. “The AAA team”, “the bottom feeders,” the “insert bad team nickname here” have a better record than the Yankees and Red Sox. Winning is fun, let’s enjoy it while we can.
Who was the most Birdland player for Monday, April 1st?
This poll is closed
David Hess (6.1 innings, 0 hits, 8 K)
Trey Mancini (2-3, HR, 2 RBI, 2 runs)
Jonathan Villar (2-4, HR, 2 RBI)