The Orioles entered this weekend’s three-game set in Boston as the only team in baseball not to sweep a series this year. They were on track to become just the fifth team since 1961 to play an entire season without a sweep.
It still could happen. There’s one more game on the schedule that the O’s need to win. But snapping that sweepless drought in the very last series of the year would be quite a way for the 2019 Orioles to go out.
The O’s checked the second game off their list with a resounding 9-4 victory in Boston, mashing four home runs to support a solid if not spectacular John Means in his season finale.
Two batters into the game, the O’s built a 2-0 lead against veteran righty Jhoulys Chacin, courtesy of DJ Stewart, who mashed a two-run blast over the Red Sox bullpen. Quietly, DJ has been hitting pretty competently since that 1-for-29 stretch earlier this year. With that blast, he raised his OPS over .700 for the first time since May 29. It might not sound like much but, you know, baby steps.
With an early multi-run advantage and their ace Means on the mound, the Orioles seemed to be sitting pretty, as long as nothing went terribly wrong for Means in the first inning. Aaaaaand...something went terribly wrong for Means in the first inning. Three of the first four Red Sox batters reached base, capped by back-to-back home runs by Xander Bogaerts and J.D. Martinez that gave the Red Sox a 3-2 lead. That’s not ideal.
To his credit, though, Means stanched the bleeding after that, pitching much more like the impressive rookie who became the Orioles’ biggest success story in 2019. He held the Sox hitless in the next three innings, racking up four strikeouts in that span.
Meanwhile, the Orioles wasted little time getting back into the game. An unexpected source tied the score in the second when light-hitting Richie Martin swatted his sixth career home run, and just his second since June 25. An inning later, the long ball barrage continued from a guy who’s more used to them, Renato Nunez, who launched a mammoth home run that sailed clear out of the ballpark and onto Lansdowne Street behind Fenway. Chacin crumpled to the ground as soon as Nunez made contact, knowing he’d made a huge mistake, and in fact that home run brought about his exit from the game.
The 4-3 O’s lead continued into the bottom of the fifth, when Means’ escalated pitch count began to catch up to him. With two outs, Rafael Devers and Bogaerts lashed back-to-back singles, suddenly putting the tying and go-ahead runs on base for the dangerous J.D. Martinez. The slugger put a scare into Means and the Orioles with a drive to deep right, but Stewart hauled it in on the warning track.
At 96 pitches, Means’ day was done after five innings. He recovered nicely after that rough three-run first inning. And he finished his remarkable debut season with a 12-11 record and a 3.60 ERA in 31 games (27 starts). I could get used to this guy being in the Birds’ rotation for the next few years.
Knowing their bullpen was about to come in, the O’s offense set to work building up a more comfortable cushion. They did it against a familiar face, Andrew Cashner, who’s now toiling in middle relief for the Red Sox after being a solid starter for the Orioles in the first half. Boy, did that trade not work out for Boston, although it’ll be a long while before we know if the two Venezuelan 17-year-olds the O’s got in the return package turn out to be anything.
Cashner had the type of outing that made you wonder how he ever got anyone out as an Oriole, let alone posted a 3.83 ERA. Chris Davis greeted him with a double into the left-field corner, reaching base for the third time, and two batters later he scored on an Austin Wynns bloop RBI single. Martin then continued his stalwart afternoon at the plate by rocketing a double off the Green Monster, scoring Wynns. A terrible throw by Jackie Bradley Jr. moved Martin to third.
Jonathan Villar followed with a hot shot to first that Brock Holt couldn’t spear, bringing home Martin. As a cherry on top, Villar promptly achieved a milestone, swiping second base for his 40th steal of the year. He’s the first Oriole with 40 steals since Brian Roberts in 2008, and Roberts happened to be broadcasting from the MASN booth today to see Villar’s achievement. So, that’s neat! Villar scored on Trey Mancini’s RBI single to extend the O’s lead to 8-3. The Orioles cashed in on Cashner, who gave up four runs and retired just two batters.
That left four innings to be covered by the O’s bullpen, which is always a dicey proposition, even with a five-run lead. Shawn Armstrong came first and put two runners on base, followed by a bloop RBI single to shallow left by Sandy Leon that Martin lost in the sun. That’s the point where I was sure the Orioles were going to blow the lead. But they didn’t, as Tanner Scott retired Bradley on a grounder to strand two runners.
The bottom of the seventh was another big ol’ mess. A walk and an infield single put two aboard against Branden Kline, who then induced a comebacker that could’ve been a double play. Kline whirled and threw to second base, where...nobody was covering. Martin and Villar were both well off the bag, and everybody was safe, loading the bases. The heck? Figure out your coverage, people! Now this time, I was certain, the Orioles were definitely going to blow the lead. And yet, they still didn’t. Kline kept his composure and prompted another double-play grounder, this one to second base, and this time the O’s turned it perfectly. Crisis averted.
In the eighth, the Red Sox again put two runners on base. Now this time, they’re going to...ah, forget it, I’m not going through the whole rigamarole again. The O’s got another double play to get out of the jam once more.
Mancini walloped the Orioles’ fourth and final home run of the afternoon, a solo blast in the ninth, and the O’s enjoyed a drama-free bottom half, with Richard Bleier and Dillon Tate combining on a perfect inning. It’s always nice to bag a win at Fenway, even when the Red Sox have nothing at stake and clearly weren’t putting in their most intense effort. The O’s have just one game to go, and maybe they’ll finally notch that elusive first sweep.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Saturday, September 28?
This poll is closed
Trey Mancini (2-for-5, HR, two RBIs)
Richie Martin (2-for-4, HR, two RBIs)
John Means (decent start, fantastic season)
Jonathan Villar (2-for-4, 40th stolen base)