You guys. Are the Orioles...good? Like, making the playoffs good?
Don’t go bristling at the notion. Spare me your Jim Mora “playoffs, are you kidding me?” gifs in the comments. Just look at what happened tonight.
The Orioles played a practically perfect game of baseball. They set or tied season highs in runs scored, home runs, total bases, and extra-base hits, while their woebegone former ace rediscovered the form that made him the AL’s best rookie pitcher last season. And while the Birds were delivering their 11-2 beatdown on the Mets, elsewhere in the state, the New York Yankees lost their fifth straight game, putting the Orioles just half a game back of the final wild card slot with 19 games to go.
So again I ask you: could this rebuilding, expected-to-be-terrible 2020 Orioles team be an actual, legitimate contender? After a night like this one, anything and everything seems possible.
Let’s start with an obvious observation: this team can really hit, even after losing Anthony Santander to a likely season-ending injury. Tonight the Birds battered around Michael Wacha, who held them to two runs in Baltimore last week. The onslaught began in the second inning, thanks to the unstoppable home run machine that is DJ Stewart. The revitalized right fielder crushed an upper-deck moonshot to right with a runner aboard, his fourth in the last three games. (He still has only one hit this year that’s not a homer, giving him an OPS over 1.000 despite a sub-Mendoza batting average. Hard to do!)
An inning later, it was Ryan Mountcastle’s turn. What looked to be a pop fly off the bat just kept carrying and carrying, finally landing over the wall in straightaway center. This kid’s got some power, folks! The two-run blast, Mountcastle’s fourth, doubled the Birds’ run total.
Sloppy Mets defense helped the O’s in the fourth. Pat Valaika led off with a fly to center. The usually sure-handed Jake Marisnick, he of the 73 career Defensive Runs Saved in eight seasons, backtracked to reach it but let the ball clang off his glove for a two-base error. That led to an unearned run when Cedric Mullins tripled home Valaika.
For a team that was an aggressive buyer at the trade deadline and vowed to make noise in the NL postseason race, the Mets tonight looked an awful lot like a team that just didn’t care. The Marisnick error wasn’t the only time their heads weren’t in the game. In the fifth, with Pedro Severino (who doubled) at second base and two outs, Stewart swung at a 3-1 pitch and foul tipped it off the glove of catcher Wilson Ramos, with the ball bouncing into foul territory. But umpire Carlos Torres somehow missed that Stewart had made contact — and bizarrely, so did Ramos, who you’d think would know. Severino scampered to third on what was ruled a passed ball; the Mets didn’t so much as ask for a replay review.
Those extra 90 feet proved important when Severino scored on an infield single by Valaika, who barely beat out shortstop Amed Rosario’s throw (this time, the Mets did challenge the play, to no avail).
Then again, Severino probably would’ve eventually scored anyway, as Rio Ruiz followed with a three-run homer into the right-field seats off Robert Gsellman to make it a 9-1 game. Rio now has a career-high nine-game hitting streak, hitting over .350 during that span, and it began on the same day our Tyler Young wrote about how Ruiz’s season had fallen flat. Tyler, you wield incredible power. Next, please write about how the O’s have no chance of winning the World Series.
OK, so the Orioles’ offense came to play tonight. What about John Means?
I’m happy to report that the left-hander, who entered the game 0-3 with an 8.10 ERA in six starts, was in vintage 2019 form tonight, unleashing an outing reminiscent of some of his best efforts from last year. Means’ fastball command was on point, nicely setting up his changeup and breaking ball to keep Mets hitters off balance all night.
Means gave up three knocks in the first two innings — including a Marisnick homer that accounted for their only run against him — but was unhittable after that. At one point he retired 11 consecutive Mets batters, including three strikeouts and four ground balls. Most importantly, Means attacked hitters; he threw a first-pitch strike to 16 of the 21 batters he faced, issued only one walk, and induced 15 swings-and-misses.
Even as he began to tire in the sixth inning, Means gutted through a 26-pitch frame to retire the side, stranding a runner at first. All told, Means set season highs in innings pitched (six) and strikeouts (five) while delivering his first quality start of the season, holding the Mets to one run and three hits. He continued an excellent stretch by Orioles starting pitchers; in the last four games, Jorge Lopez, Keegan Akin, Dean Kremer, and Means have combined to give up just two earned runs in 22.1 innings, good for a 0.81 ERA. That’ll work.
Speaking of things that’ll work...how about some more dingers? Everyone loves dingers! In the top of the eighth, it was Valaika’s turn; he turned around a Gsellman changeup to center field, his sixth, to put the O’s into double digits in the runs column. The Orioles tied a season high with their four troundtrippers. Later in the inning, Jose Iglesias contributed an RBI single for run No. 11, tying the Orioles’ season high. A Mountcastle double in the ninth gave the Birds a season-high 31 total bases and eight extra-base hits.
The O’s bullpen finished things off, including two innings from Asher Wojciechowski in his first relief appearance since being bumped out of the rotation for Kremer. A McNeil eighth-inning homer was his only blemish as the Orioles finished off their 11-2 win.
They’ll go for the sweep of the mini two-game series tomorrow before heading to the Bronx for a four-game showdown against the Yankees. Things are getting interesting, folks.
Who was the Most Birdland Player for Tuesday, September 8?
This poll is closed
John Means (6 IP, 1 ER, 5 K, W)
DJ Stewart (fourth HR in last three games)
Ryan Mountcastle (HR, double, two RBIs)
Rio Ruiz (three-run HR, extended hitting streak)
Pat Valaika (HR, three runs, two RBIs)