It sure wasn’t pretty. But a win is a win. And for a free-falling O’s team that was staring down a winless road trip, their 11-inning, 4-3 victory over the Blue Jays in Buffalo will make their flight back home just a little bit better.
The Orioles won a game in which they hit just .188 with runners in scoring position and committed numerous defensive mistakes in the infield. They won a game in which they had to cobble together a patchwork bullpen after trades left their relief corps depleted. It was the kind of game that, 99 percent of the time, you wouldn’t expect the Orioles to win. On this day, the baseball gods smiled upon them.
At the outset, the highlight of this game was Keegan Akin’s first major league start. I don’t know if longtime O’s pitching coach Ray Miller was watching today’s game, but he would’ve been proud at how well Akin adhered to Miller’s three simple rules of pitching: work fast, change speeds, and throw strikes.
The 25-year-old lefty wasted no time delivering each pitch, a refreshing change of pace from the David Prices of the world who meander and stall and have a light snack between each offering. And Akin went right after his opponents, attacking the strike zone with his fastball while mixing in his offspeed pitches enough to keep the Jays off balance.
Akin set the tone by retiring the side in order in the first, including a three-pitch strikeout of leadoff man Cavan Biggio and a flyout from The Great and Powerful Randal Grichuk. He got himself into a bit of a jam in the second, giving up a double and a walk, but retired Joe Panik to escape the threat. He followed with a perfect, 10-pitch third inning, helped by Ryan Mountcastle’s nice leaping catch in left field to start the frame. In the fourth, Akin racked up two more strikeouts with a Teoscar Hernandez double sandwiched in between, then picked off a snoozing Hernandez at second for the final out.
The Orioles’ offense, though, didn’t give Akin much help. After quickly jumping on Jays starter Chase Anderson for a first-inning run — on an Anthony Santander double and Jose Iglesias RBI single — the bats went completely silent for the rest of Akin’s time in the game. Most of the time, they were swinging at air. Anderson recorded his first six outs via strikeouts, including fanning the side in the second to strand a Chance Sisco leadoff double.
Sisco, in fact, was the last batter to reach base against Anderson, who retired the final 12 batters he faced. He probably could’ve kept dominating the O’s all game, but he was taken out after five innings as he continues to build himself back up from an oblique injury earlier this year.
Akin, like Anderson, isn’t quite as stretched out as he needs to be, and that became apparent in the fifth as the young lefty began to tire. With one out, Danny Jansen battled Akin for a laborious, 11-pitch at-bat that earned him a walk. Panik set in and ripped a double to right to put two runners in scoring position, and at 81 pitches, Akin was done for the day. He left with the O’s still clinging to a 1-0 edge, though he was ineligible for the win regardless since he didn’t get through five innings.
No matter — the O’s quickly blew the lead through defensive buffoonery. Travis Lakins Sr. did an excellent job to (seemingly) pitch out of his inherited jam, striking out Santiago Espinal and getting Biggio to hit an easy grounder to second baseman Hanser Alberto in shallow right field. But Alberto inexplicably air-mailed the throw to first over Renato Nunez’s head, scoring two runs on what should’ve been the final out. Just brutal.
Fortunately, with Anderson out of the game, the O’s tied the score in the sixth. Alberto led off with a single against Wilmer Font and then came home on Santander’s second double of the day, making it a 2-2 game. But the Orioles couldn’t push the go-ahead run across, as Font retired the next three hitters to leave Santander stuck at second.
Bad infield defense nearly cost the O’s again in the bottom of the sixth. Lourdes Gurriel Jr. doubled with one out, then took off for third. Pedro Severino’s throw beat him by a country mile, but Rio Ruiz missed the tag as Gurriel deked him with an athletic swim move, putting the go-ahead run at third. Fortunately, Lakins pitched out of it, with a drawn-in Alberto throwing out Gurriel at the plate on a Daniel Vogelbach grounder before Jansen grounded to short.
The Orioles had ample opportunities to retake the lead in regulation, but squandered them all, stranding two runners aboard in both the seventh and ninth. At that point, the Orioles were 1-for-10 with runners in scoring position. Not a recipe for success!
As the game progressed, Brandon Hyde had to get creative with his bullpen strategy, considering that Mychal Givens and now Miguel Castro have both been traded; Paul Fry was unavailable after pitching 2.1 innings Sunday; Hunter Harvey pitched Sunday and isn’t being used in back-to-back games; and Cole Sulser has been deposed from the closer’s role after two blown saves in this series. Hyde was basically left with the junior-varsity crew.
But folks, those lesser-known names did a marvelous job tonight. Lakins pitched 1.2 scoreless, and after Tanner Scott got two outs in the seventh, Dillon Tate retired Grichuk to strand a runner and followed with a scoreless eighth and ninth. The O’s certainly have some openings for right-handed setup men with Givens and Castro gone, and Tate showed he should be in consideration for that role. He pitched 2.1 hitless innings.
So on to extras we went, with Mason Williams starting the 10th as the automatic runner at second. Hyde employed the questionable strategy of having Alberto sacrifice bunt — or perhaps Alberto did it on his own — which moved Williams to third but cost the Birds a valuable out. (Alberto might’ve beaten the throw to first, but a replay review wasn’t enough to overturn the out call.) In any case, the O’s ended up with nothing. Hernandez caught a Santander fly ball in medium-deep right field and unleashed a stupendous throw to the plate, cutting down Williams for a double play.
The Blue Jays, though, didn’t take advantage in the home half. With Cesar Valdez on to pitch for the Orioles, a groundout advanced the free runner, Panik, to third with one out. Then Hyde got crafty, bringing in Mountcastle from left field to employ a five-man infield. It worked like a charm. Biggio hit a grounder to the drawn-in third baseman Ruiz, who was stationed near where the shortstop would normally be. He held Panik at third and retired Biggio for the second out. That brought up the Oriole killer Grichuk, who probably every O’s fan was expecting to deliver the walkoff hit. Instead, Valdez got him to ground out, continuing to baffle hitters with his junkball offerings. I kind of love Cesar Valdez.
Finally, in the 11th, the O’s got the big hits they’d been looking for all game. Iglesias ripped a leadoff double to the gap that scored the free runner, Santander, to give the O’s a 3-2 lead. Two batters later, Bryan Holaday — who didn’t enter the game until the ninth — roped an opposite-field double to bring home Iglesias.
The two-run lead still wasn’t safe in the bottom of the 11th, especially when Alberto had to leave the game because of a sore knee, forcing the O’s to move Ruiz to second, Nunez to third, and Holaday to first. Valdez retired the first two batters before Gurriel roped an RBI single to cut it to three.
Then came the biggest play of the game — which also ended it. Rowdy Tellez roped a double to right field, advancing Gurriel to third as Santander hustled to field it. He fired the ball back in, but — perhaps because of the Orioles’ unfamiliar infield alignment — there was no cutoff man to pick it up. Gurriel, seeing the ball trickle away, bolted for home. But Iglesias, alertly, rushed over to grab the ball and fire a perfect throw to the plate. Sisco slapped the tag on the diving Gurriel for the final out of the game.
Improbably, the Orioles had escaped with a win, their first against the Jays this year. We’ll take it however we can get it.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Monday, August 31?
This poll is closed
Keegan Akin (4.1 IP, 0 ER, 6 Ks)
Jose Iglesias (go-ahead RBI double, game-ending defensive play in 11th)
Anthony Santander (two doubles, RBI)
Dillon Tate (2.1 IP, 0 ER, 0 H)
Cesar Valdez (2 IP, 0 ER, first win since 2017)