D.J. Stewart picked a perfect time for his first hit. And the Baltimore Orioles knew just how to take it from there.
Stewart broke through for two home runs, the Orioles broke a scoreless tie with five runs in the sixth inning, Keegan Akin led a great team effort on the mound and Baltimore beat the New York Yankees, 6-1.
After losing 19 straight to their division rivals, the Orioles have now won two straight, and can make it three and take the series on Sunday.
Their path to Saturday’s victory wasn’t as smooth as the final score might suggest. Gerrit Cole was on the mound for the Yankees and was looking as dominant as billed, striking out the first four batters of the game, eight of the first nine and nine altogether through five shutout innings.
But he was being matched frame for frame by the lefty Akin, who was making only his second start of the season, but who was stifling bats just as effectively as his far-wealthier counterpart. He fanned eight through 5.1 innings, allowed three hits and four walks, and matched Cole with zeroes on the board.
The Orioles just needed the bats to wake up, and in the sixth, they obliged, with perhaps the unlikeliest option - or perhaps the most due? - leading the way. Stewart came to the plate 0-for-the season, 17 at-bats in particular, and when Cole offered up a 1-0 pitch, Stewart lofted a high fly ball that just got over the tall wall in right for a home run, putting Baltimore ahead 1-0.
The pressure was suddenly off of Stewart, and it seemed the Orioles offense breathed a sigh of relief as well. Hanser Alberto hit a chopper to third one out later that Thairo Estrada tried to throw off balance and threw wildly instead. Cole came back to strike out Chance Sisco, putting him at double-figure punchouts, but Jose Iglesias and Pedro Severino drew back-to-back walks to load the bases and keep the rally going.
The backbreakers came next. Ryan Mountcastle singled to center on a pitch at his shoulders, scoring Alberto and Iglesias to make it 3-0. Rio Ruiz then lined a double down the right field line, allowing Severino and Mountcastle to stroll in for a 5-0 advantage.
In the seventh, Stewart continued to make up for lost time, cranking - and I mean cranking. People in Towson heard it - another home run to right, this time off the fence in back of the flag court, for a 6-0 lead.
It was up to the Orioles bullpen to hold from there, and the relief arms were up to the task. Paul Fry surrendered a home run to Clint Frazier in the eighth and allowed the first two batters of the ninth to get on with singles, but he struck out the dangerous D.J. LeMahieu and got Aaron Hicks to fly out before Cesar Valdez got the final out to wrap up the win.
Those outings followed that of Dillon Tate, who relieved Akin in the sixth and in so doing got the win when the Orioles found their bats in the bottom half. Tate, a former Yankee prospect, struck out two in 1.1 innings of work, lowering his ERA for the season to 2.45.
It’s hard not to feel encouraged by what the Orioles accomplished on Saturday night, taking what was on paper the biggest mismatch as far as starting pitching assignments are concerned, and turning it into a decisive win over the kind of team they need to beat going forward. Baltimore is now 18-21, three games behind the Yankees, and still in the conversation for a playoff spot. A lot of work remains, but stranger things have happened.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for September 5, 2020?
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D.J. Stewart (2-for-3, 2 HR)
Rio Ruiz (1-for-4, 2 RBI)
Ryan Mountcastle (1-for-4, 2 RBI)
Keegan Akin (5.1 IP, 3 H, 4 BB, 8 Ks, 0 R)